“Hey Dan, I need to speak with you in my office.”
I knew what that meant.
I hadn’t been pitching well for a number of weeks, and we had just taken the bus back from Southern Maryland to our home ballpark in Long Island, New York. It was maybe 2am when we returned home from our weeklong road trip, and the team hurriedly grabbed their travel bags from the bottom of the bus to get home and get some sleep. I had to wait.
It was that talk. My manager explained that time with the team ended that night.
By the time our meeting was over and my fate sealed, everyone else had departed. I dreaded packing up and saying goodbye — I never knew what to say, getting released is an awful experience and a lot of emotions run high.
The clubhouse was nearly empty as I cleaned out my locker; I was thankful for the quiet and lack of prying eyes. When a guy was cleaning out his locker, whispers passed around as the news of his fate spread. But this time, there were no eyes on me; I was nearly alone as I took my time restoring my locker to its spring condition.
I had some close friends on the team; but they were gone, rushed home after a long bus ride. And I’d be gone before they returned for tomorrow’s game.
There was no goodbye.
The Packed Bag and the Bro-Hug
He walks over in civilian clothes with a tightly packed three-foot long duffle bag thrown over his shoulder. He taps you just as you’ve pulled your jeans up after showering. You’re caught off guard as you look for the deodorant in the top cubby of your 2-foot wide locker.
You turn around, look at his solemn expression and his duffle bag, and you know. You know he’s no longer a part of this team; he’s heading home. Released is the term for being no longer contractually obligated and obliged to provide the skilled labor of a professional athlete.
Leave your jersey and get out.
What do you say to your fallen comrade in that moment as he says goodbye at your locker? You’re staying. He’s going and you’re not happy that he’s going, but you’re also glad that it’s not you.
What does that goodbye look like?
I never had the words. How could I dispense meaningful words to a friend to whom I’d gotten close over numerous months and years? You spend every waking minute with your teammates:
- sitting in the bullpen
- shagging batting practice
- running sprints
- playing catch
- doing tedious exercises to stay healthy
- getting pre and post-game tape, meds and treatment
You do all of it together.
Then one moment, he taps you on the shoulder, duffle bag bursting and his jersey hanging with a lonesome drape in a desperate locker.
To Me, Goodbye Is a Merely a Look.
I never had a meaningful word to say in one of those moments. To my close friends when they departed, or when I was the one given the boot, little came to mind. I’m good with words but failed to muster much of anything.
I thought about it often.
Was I a bad friend?
Why didn’t I have something great to send them out on, to tidily sum up our friendship and let them know that things wouldn’t be as good after they departed?
Many of my teammates I never saw or heard from again, and I knew that would likely be the case immediately after they were gone. But others, I knew we’d talk again sometime down the road. And when we did, we picked right up and reminisced like it was yesterday.
Because You Both Know.
I decided that a nod, brief eye contact, and a take care was enough. In no way profound, but a look was enough to simply acknowledge our bond. Our time spent was good, and we’ll remember it that way.
The good times you share with another aren’t amplified by some profound final words, nor are they diminished by them. Cherish those in your life while you have them, and think fondly when they’re gone.
Don’t worry so much about goodbyes — give a nod, move on and keep the memories in your back pocket.