Monday, July 23, 2007

Where Have You Gone, Donnie Elliott?

You've read this story before. Former prospect has been out of pro baseball for years as the result of an injury that ended his career before it even had a chance to get going. He's coaching high school now, and watching as the guys he came up with put the finishing touches on their Hall of Fame, or at least very highly paid, major league careers. It really goes one of two ways, right?

A) Guy gives it one last shot and becomes an against-all-odds inspirational story; or

B) Guy reflects on what could have been, but not with much remorse. Offers a few words about how, despite the tough break, God put him where he was supposed to be and that the years he has spent and the lives he has impacted helping turn young kids into young men on that high school diamond are worth far more than the major league career that wasn't.

OK, that's a lie. Option A only really happened once. It's always Option B, for the simple reason that reporters tend not to write whatever-happened-to stories that aren't at least slightly uplifting. Flameout phenoms who don't end up happily imparting life lessons to awestruck kids in some picturesque farming community tend not to get their stories told.

Unless, of course, you're Donnie Elliott:

Baseball hasn’t always been an easy topic for Elliott. Three shoulder surgeries stunted what was once a promising career when he was just 26.

He stopped communicating with many of his friends in the game, including Javy Lopez and Ryan Klesko. The thought of what his baseball career could have been was just too much. He was in the Braves organization, a couple of years older and ahead of Jason Schmidt. There were a lot of comparisons between the two. . .

. . . Elliott had a tough time accepting that his own career never had much of a chance because of his shoulder. . . . . . “That was my whole identity, baseball, baseball player,” he says. “It was tough, because I had to quit. There’s that lingering question in the back of my mind, how good could I have been if I hadn’t been hurt? It would have been easier if I got to a level where I just wasn’t good enough. . . .As much as I enjoy coaching, there’s nothing like it,” he says. “I tell my kids all the time, ‘I’d rather be playing, no offense.’ I love my kids, I love coaching, but I make no bones about it, I’d rather be playing.”

Elliott's story is certainly no tragedy. He is coaching kids (even if they are using him to get autographs from his famous ex-teammates), and he says he enjoys it (even if he freely says that he'd rather still be hurling a baseball in the bigs). But the absence of that familiar lemonade-out-of-lemons vibe certainly makes this particular whatever-happened-to story ring a bit more, I dunno, true than the others, doesn't it?

I'm guessing that in reality, most of those "Option B" stories aren't all that different than Donnie Elliot's, but that the quotes and reporter-supplied context are massaged in such a way so as to give them that feel-good spin.

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