The Times West Virginian

December 11, 2013

COLUMN: A message for the snubs: Prove me wrong

By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — I still remember sitting by the phone, waiting for the call that never came.

I was 12 years old, and all summer long my singular objective was to make the Little League All-Star team. I was obsessed. I’d do anything — even my homework if that’s what it took — to be on that team.

Near the midpoint in the season, I caught wind that the coaches were meeting to pick the team one evening — presumably in some dingy room filled with cigarette smoke, personal agendas and small-town politics — so I stayed home with my dad, phone in hand. Waiting.

The meeting was to start at 6 p.m., according to the rumors, and would take about two hours. Using the nifty addition skills I learned in school, I figured that meant I’d probably get word around 8.

But 8:30 p.m. came and went without a call. 9:30 p.m. … 10:30 p.m. ...

By 11:30 p.m., I got worried and made a call to my friend. He told me that the coach called him at 7:30 p.m. He made the team. Obviously, I did not.  

At this point in the story, you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you this. Well, for one, column writing is a lot cheaper than a therapy session and you’re a captive audience. (Just kidding.) The real reason I tell this story is because over the past couple weeks I’ve found myself on the other side of the process when the West Virginia Sports Writers Association selected its All-State soccer, football and volleyball teams.

Let me tell you, it was no easy task. Those who were selected should feel honored, and to some degree, lucky. You rose above some of the best athletes the great state of West Virginia has to offer.

But really, if you’re on that list, this article isn’t for you. Your pats on the back and congratulatory handshakes are in the other article on this page. Rather, this is a message for the snubs — the countless deserving athletes who were left off the list.

First of all, I want you to know that I fought, almost to a fault, for athletes from all the Big 10, especially Marion County. Every sports writer was mailed a ballot to vote, but Matt Welch and I rubbed our eyes and took off for Wheeling at 5 a.m. last Saturday to personally lobby for local players from all the schools in our region.

We took with us our Big 10 stats pages to quantify your skills (even though I personally feel stats can be deceiving and aren’t always the best measurement for the best athlete.) I also vouched for your character off the field, telling the other writers that there wasn’t a delinquent, serial killer or Johnny Manziel in the bunch.

I wish you all could have made it. But I was one voice of many, and with so many outstanding performances this season, a line had to be drawn somewhere.

Let me tell you from experience, I know what it feels like to wind up on the wrong side of that line.

Back in Little League, I was the one cursing the selection process, reciting my stats: Three home runs. An undefeated pitching record. Most concession stand hot dogs consumed in one ball game (OK, maybe I made that last one up.)

When my frustration finally wore off, I took an honest look in the mirror. What did I see? Aside from the most handsome 12-year-old on this side of the Mississippi, I saw a good athlete. Did I deserve to be on the team? Maybe. Maybe not. But was I the best athlete I could be? No.

I used that experience to fuel me through extra reps at the gym, and — as the baseball-sized holes in my bedroom wall still prove — many, many more swings off the tee.

While I never made it to the Major Leagues or played Division I baseball, I was good enough to make and start on the high school baseball team, ahead of many of the same kids who took my spot back in Little League.

Being left off that team was one of the decisive moments in my young life — a constant reminder I will be doubted and overlooked time and again. I understand that this can be one of the worst feelings. But, used correctly, it can serve as an even greater motivator.

So to the snubs: Use this feeling as fuel. When your anger dissipates and you’re done cursing the system, take a look at yourself. What are the flaws in your game? Do you need to get in the weight room? Improve your tackling form? Become a more precise route runner?

Whatever your weakness is, find it. Work on it. Make it your strength, so that next year in Wheeling, the sports writers can’t afford to keep you off that list.

Do whatever you can to prove me and the rest of the sports writers wrong.

Email Mike DeFabo at mdefabo@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.