Staying afloat in the big city

for The Brooklyn Paper
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In life, as in baseball, it’s sink or swim.

I volunteered as a missionary a little more than five years ago and was assigned to Las Vegas, where I worked with Spanish-speaking residents. I spent two months at a training center learning the language and developing my teaching skills before setting off for Sin City.

My teammate in Vegas didn’t speak a lick of Spanish, and after I spoke with the first Spanish-speaking man I met, I became convinced I had been taught the wrong language. I was in a city I hadn’t been to before, trying to speak a language I hardly knew, and was completely overwhelmed and unprepared. Keeping my head above water wasn’t easy.

But that experience helped me immensely with my latest life’s journey — my visit to Brooklyn to cover the Cyclones, where I once again find myself in a huge city, virtually alone, attempting to learn a style and a side of the professional world with which I’m not familiar. Those overwhelmed and unprepared feelings came rushing back.

But at least this time, I was used to them.

A few of the Cyclones players have had a similar experience with the team. During an extra-innings game on July 1 against the Staten Island Yankees, the Cyclones’ bullpen was running thin in the 11th. So manager Rich Donnelly called on shortstop Ismael Tijerina to take the mound.

Tijerina last pitched in a game in high school in his hometown of Monterrey, Mexico — more than five years ago. But T.J. didn’t ask too many questions. He took the mound and pitched more than one inning, even getting a strikeout. Man, did he ever swim.

Matt Oberste grew up playing third base, but a couple of arm injuries took away the positions he was familiar with, and he ended up this year at first base – a position he had never played, and was now having to learn against professionals — and he’ll tell you he’s done a fine job on the opposite side of the field, where his job requirement is to catch balls more often then he throws them.

Tijerina, Oberste and I have all been thrown into the figurative deep end of the pool and told not just to just swim, but to do so while fully clothed. None of us have complained, however. We’re out here to do whatever we’re asked so we can make it to the big leagues.

I am proud to say, eight months after I spoke with that first Spanish-speaking gentleman, I became fluent in Spanish. It came through hard work, help from other people, and a little dose of miracle. Similarly, I can say with a certain degree of confidence, I have begun to understand the style and the nuances of journalism in the professional world and am on my way to increasing my own versatility. That too has only come from consistent work.

Tijerina, who will never be listed as a member of the Cyclones bullpen, and Oberste, who might return to his natural position at third base once he heals, have the opportunity to be more versatile and increase their prestige for teams in the show. But like my Spanish and my adjustment to Brooklyn journalism, they’ll need to make sure they can keep their heads above water.

Hopefully, we’ll all get a little dose of miracle.

Scott Hansen, an awesome intern from Brigham Young University, will be comparing his life to those of the Cyclones all season long — even after he goes back to school.
Updated 3:41 pm, July 16, 2013
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