That’s all it was, just a little pop.
I noticed that first, even before the pain came. I knew what it meant as my teammates helped me limp off the field. Your career at Yale is done. Your entire career could be done. Those are the thoughts that run through your mind over and over again. Was it worth it? Was that little play worth your entire career? The answer obviously is no, but that doesn’t change anything. There’s no “undo” or “rewind” button. What’s done is done … You’re done.
When these two words finally sank in for me, a few weeks had passed and I was sitting with my parents waiting for the doctor to arrive and explain my options. As I listen to him speak, I looked up and saw my parents holding back tears. I hadn’t even noticed that I was starting to tear up listening to the doctor explain my injury. As far as options are concerned, there’s really only one. Surgery to repair my fully torn hamstring. Six- to 12-month recovery. Six weeks without walking. I can’t help but think back to the night of the injury.
It was one of the most normal baseball games I’ve played in during my Yale career. My roommate Scott was pitching well and we had a 4-1 lead over a talented University of New Orleans team. As the first baseman and closing pitcher, I had warmed up the inning before and was ready to come into pitch from first base once Scott tired. In the seventh inning, a perfect double play ground ball came to my other roommate Simon, our shortstop. He turned and threw to me. I stretched way out in front to catch the ball, felt my foot slip and … pop.
As I talk about it with my friends who weren’t there, they joke and say it wasn’t even a cool way to get injured. They’re right. It was a stupid, freak accident. It will also cost me between six and 12 months of recovery to get back close to where I was before New Orleans. It will probably cost me a pick in this year’s MLB draft and a spot on a professional baseball roster. It will also cost me most of my senior spring of college, and the ability to walk normally on stage to receive my Yale diploma, that piece of paper that has been four years and so many hours of studying in the making. Was it worth it?
Season-ending injuries happen to athletes every year. They all suck. What sucks even more is when your own peers and classmates have no idea what you feel, and how much this little pop has changed you. After working at something six days a week for 11 months of the year (the average amount of time a Division I baseball player spends on the game), only to have all that ripped away from you? Not even five games into the season? Now that feeling is hard to understand or replicate.
When I talk to friends and let them know I had surgery, the response is usually the typical “I’m so sorry. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” That actually is comforting to some extent, except that’s not the real pain I’m feeling.
What they don’t understand, is that it’s really not the pain or the surgery that is the scary part of the process. What hits you hardest is thinking about the road behind, the road ahead, and what you’ll be missing. Behind you are countless days of early lifting, long practices, stretching and icing recovery, diet and rest. Ahead of you lies the same, but it will be so much worse before it gets any better. It freaks me out. Every day, for however many months it takes to heal, I’ll be asking myself: Was it worth it?
I haven’t even mentioned my team yet. The Yale baseball team has been the single biggest part of my life for the past four years. Although I know nobody could’ve predicted that the injury would happen, I can’t help but feel that I betrayed the team in a way. I couldn’t look anyone in the face the night after my injury. The team is in a worse place now, and it’s my fault. The Seniors on this team have become my brothers. I live with them, I eat with them, I study with them, I go to parties with them, I lift with them, I practice with them, I play the game I love with them. We have won championships together and we’ve suffered last-second defeats in championship games together. We give up our afternoons, our weekends, our spring break and even summer internships for each other and this game. These are the last few months we’ll ever live together as a group, and I’ll be limping around the whole time. In our Senior Day photo, everyone will be in their uniforms ready to play baseball, except me.
When I found out the news that I would be out for the year, this is the message I sent to my class:
Hi guys- so I just got back the preliminary report on the MRI and it looks like almost a complete tear which is possible/likely to require surgery. Either way it’s unlikely I’ll be back this year. Wanted to tell you all first, and say it’s been an absolute honor being able to play and live with you guys and be a part of this class. The 4 years on this team have been the most fun of my life. I’m sad to know that I won’t be as big a part of it moving forward, but I know this team is going to win it all again this year.
I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I’ve poured my heart into this team for four years. Over and over and over again. Now it’s gone. That’s all there is to it. How do you say goodbye to something like that over a text message?
When I texted my coaches the news, they offered me their sympathies; they understand how badly I want to be out on the field. I let them down too. All the time and effort they concentrated on molding me into a better player over the past four years gone up in smoke with one slip. I was the last one recruited in the 2019 class, and only as a pitcher, so they’ve always seen me as somewhat of a bonus addition to an already outstandingly talented class. They’ve seen me transform from an average high school player with very few recruiting options to a standout in the Ivy League. I owe my success to them. They’ve helped me grow as both a player and a person over my time at Yale. Now, that time has been cut short. There will be no more opportunities to help lift up my team at the plate or on the mound. I won’t be able to run out on Yale Field again in front of my friends and family. It’s not right. It’s not the way it was supposed to be.
After the admissions scandal news broke, my class joked together about which one of us had “bribed” his way into Yale. We laughed about how the next article to come out in the News will be another argument against athlete recruiting and admission in general. Although good for a light laugh, it hurts that something to which I, and literally thousands of other athletes, have devoted so much of our time and Yale experiences towards, can be so publicly devalued because of some coaches’ repulsive decision. This team and Yale Athletics have meant everything to me for a long time now. None of this changes that. It has been a privilege and honor to represent this amazing university and be a student-athlete in the truest sense. No matter what people may write or pretend that they know about our lives, it does not diminish the meaning of family within each team or the unique growth that Yale athletes experience during their four years.
As I think about lessons that can be learned from my injury, I struggle to find any of real substance. People tend to say “everything happens for a reason”, or corny lines like that. I disagree. This was a random, useless moment. It goes to show that shit happens, and not all chapters end like you had planned.
I hope this reflection offers you some perspective on work. Many unlucky athletes have had it worse than I did. There’s no reward for the injured. We understand that. We don’t want your sympathy. We want, and demand your respect. Although the price can sometimes be high, I still wouldn’t want to trade places with anyone.
Thank you, Yale Athletics.
For the last time,
Benjamin Wanger | firstname.lastname@example.org .