Monday, January 6, 2014

Retire like Willie Mays

Growing up I was a Los Angeles Dodgers fan. It remained that way until the day I was sitting in the upper deck of then Joe Robbie Stadium watching the first ever Florida Marlins game. My loyalty to the Dodgers was difficult as a kid since I lived in New Jersey and viewing Dodger games weren’t as accessible as they are today. Yet I stuck with them all through my youth and into my late thirties.

My viewing choices as a kid were mostly limited to the Yankees, Mets and Phillies. I was too young to see Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays in their prime. I did see Mike Schmidt in his. I remember watching Mets games with an over forty year old Mays sometimes struggle at home plate as a late inning pinch hitter, wondering why he would continue to play knowing he must have realized his best days as a player had long faded.

I wasn’t ever a Giants or a Mets fan, but I wanted Mays to hit a home run every time up, even against the Dodgers. When I was young, I would read the sports pages. At times, the reporters weren’t kind to Mays, which might have been why I rooted for him. To me, it didn’t matter why Willie Mays was still playing, it only mattered to me that he was. He was going to decide when he stopped doing what he loved doing. No sports reporter or team executive was going to tell the “Say Hey Kid” when to stop playing ball.

Not everyone is Willie Mays. Not everyone gets to decide when to stop doing what they have a passion for. Sometimes your skills diminish to the point where you can’t do it any longer. Maybe it’s no longer a joy to do what you do. I remember the day Mike Schmidt retired. I remember seeing him cry on television because he wanted so badly to continue playing but he felt he couldn’t do it at a high enough level to make him happy. He decided when to quit.

Sometimes I wonder when is enough, enough? Over the past few years, I think I have gotten better as a writer and have improved with each book. But when do you make that decision about staying the course and trying to become a full time author or find a job that pays more money? I love to write but I also have to eat and pay bills. This is one day when I wish I was Willie Mays or Mike Schmidt and could make a decision on my terms, not a financial one. I wonder how many authors or others doing what they have a passion for are forced to make the same tough choice?