You prepared yourself for this back in July.
You saw frustration etched on the face of the Best Pitcher in Baseball.
You saw tears shed by his wife.
Why, you asked over and again, couldn't the team just get it over with and spare him, her and us even more pain and anxiety?
Then last week you sat and thought a lot about the Best Pitcher in Baseball.
You remember a day when you looked into the team's clubhouse to see grown men acting like children. A competition was at hand to see who could throw a rolled up tape ball into the tiny hole at the top of a recycling receptacle from the furthest distance. Boys being boys, money, jokes, insults and loud laughs were being exchanged. In the middle of all of this, sitting quietly on a couch, reading the same pages from the same dog-eared book he read before every one of his games was the Best Pitcher in Baseball. He never once looked up. He never once flinched. In the midst of all this tom-foolery and carrying on, the Best Pitcher in Baseball carried on with his own pregame ritual. You watched in amazement for a few minutes until he finished his chapter, closed the book and got up to walk over to his locker. His deferential teammates quickly stepped aside to clear the way without him having to say a word. You admired his focus.
You remember a day in Florida. The Best Pitcher in Baseball had invited his team's most promising prospects to join him for his pre-dawn workout. You heard later in the morning most struggled to finish it and some threw up from the effort. You smiled knowing this was part of the same routine the Best Pitcher in Baseball followed on almost a daily basis throughout the offseason. You admired his work ethic.
You remember being asked one question after another about the Best Pitcher in Baseball. The one doing the asking was the Flame-Throwing Free Agent. "What's he really like?", he asked as you drove. Hard-working, dedicated, committed, you said thinking that even those words didn't properly suffice. "Does he really get up at 6 every day of the offseason?". No, you replied, he's already begun working out at that hour. "You watch", said the Flame-Throwing Free Agent. "I'm going to be like his shadow". He was true to his word. The two became fast friends, each pushing the other to get better. You watched this last fall as the Flame-Throwing Free Agent enjoyed his greatest success. You knew that success was shaped in large part by time spent with the Best Pitcher in Baseball. You admired his effect on others.
You remember taking pages of media requests to the Best Pitcher in Baseball and being greeted by the same glare that most hitters saw on 3-2 counts. The Best Pitcher in Baseball doesn't like interviews or cover shoots. It's not that he has a problem with reporters or photographers. It's not that he doesn't understand the job they have to do. It's that it interferes with the job he has to do. Every hour of every day between his games is carefully regimented. Everything with a purpose. Everything with a reason. You admired his dedication (even if you were a little intimidated -- OK, a lot intimidated -- by the stare).
You remember seeing the Best Pitcher in Baseball with his beautiful wife and two wonderful sons. Unrelenting on the mound, he offers them unconditional love. You can see their love in return means more to him than any complete game or shutout. You have seen the Best Pitcher in Baseball with sick children. Uncompromising and merciless in competition, he gives of himself with these gravely ill youngsters in a manner that you know isn't just for show. This is no photo op. This isn't a PR stunt. The Best Pitcher in Baseball can't stand photo ops or PR stunts. This is real. This is genuine. This is heart-warming. You admired his humility and humanity.
You think of all of this and suddenly you don't want to think anymore. You don't want it to happen. You don't want to admit it makes sense. You don't want to hear about promise and upside.
You tried to prepare yourself for this back in July.
But now, here in December, you know that you're still not ready.
How, you find yourself quietly asking, could the team take away the best part of summer in the cold dead of winter?
Will Hill spent seven seasons in the upper management with the Toronto Blue Jays.