Second chances

I was a young, naive 18-year old minor leaguer in the summer of 1970. I was in the Montreal Expos organization competing against a dozen pitchers for a roster spot. Many players had just graduated from high school; some signed from college baseball programs; and some came from Latin America. We all had dreams of playing major league baseball. Few achieved those dreams.

Some of the coaches guiding us in the Gulf Coast League formerly played in MLB; we had watched them on TV. Greats like Lou Burdette, Harvey Haddix and Larry Doby graced us with their knowledge and confidence; yet, few extended any compassion, patience or grace to us.

I was fortunate to have a roommate who had played college baseball. Perhaps the Expos planned it that way… putting a ”wet behind the ears” 18-year old country boy in the same room with a 22-year old man from Chicago. Bobby showed me more patience than I deserved; he was a great guy and a good hitter. I admired him for his experience.

One afternoon after a game against another rookie league team, Bobby and I decided to call a cab and escape from Pirate City for a few hours. Then, the Pirate City complex was located out of town and away from things remotely attractive for a young man. The cab drop us off at a supermarket; and within a few minutes we met a couple of young girls who proceeded to take us to the beach.

We had not left the Pirate City complex during the entire first week of training. The idea of walking the beach at night with a couple of attractive girls sounded truly romantic. Bobby seemed to enjoy his time away from the baseball routine more than I. eventually anticipating the 11:00 curfew, I said, “Hey, Bobby, we better getting back; they may check our rooms tonight.” Unfortunately, Bobby responded, “I will take my chances, go ahead.”

I made it back just in time; one of the Expos coaches checked our room. He asked me the whereabouts of Bobby, and I lied saying he was using the payphone. About a half hour later, the coach checked our room again; Bobby had not returned. He demanded we meet him in the conference room at 7:30am.

They talked to Bobby first; he looked very dejected when he left. When they called me in, the coach who had checked our room told me how he hated liars. He said Bobby had just been released from his contract. I kept thinking that Bobby had just hit two doubles in his last minor league game. I just knew I was gone, too.

Larry Doby

Larry Doby

Larry Doby was the other coach in the room. Everyone knew him as a great hitter and the first African American player to play in the A.L. Larry kept silent while the other coach informed me that there was no room for liars in the Expos organization. Finally, he spoke. Larry was looking into my eyes but talking to the other coach, “Keith has made a mistake. He lied. But, I will tell you one thing, he is the kind of roommate and teammate I would like to have if I were still playing!” Then he said, “That’s all, Keith.” And he put his hand on my shoulder as if to say everything will be OK.

I was thankful and took advantage of the grace extended to me. I made it to the triple A team the next year at the age of 19. Without forgiveness and grace, I would have lost my chance to pursue my dream.

This is a valuable lesson for both players and coaches. For players: follow the guidelines your coach or organization sets for you; otherwise, your fate may be the same as Bobby’s. For coaches: show some grace; if a player is remorseful, give him a second chance.

If it weren’t for Larry Doby, my baseball career could have ended on that hot June morning in 1970. Because I was given a second chance, I played for 4 more years and then coached for 28. Thank you Larry!

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