A tribute to Sal

October 25, 2008 | By | Add a Comment

This note is loosely based on the career of Sal Fasano and the Jeff Pearlman article linked below.


He doesn’t know what to think anymore or how to act or what he’ll do in a few years. He scatters seed, but doesn’t see much fruit. You see, when you put in so much work, you need reassurance that the effort was worthwhile. It’s like growing rotten tomatoes or babies who never smile. It’s like fairy tales with unhappy endings or no ending at all. The promising star gets lost in the divine shuffle and struggles to find his way in a world that has long since moved on without him, without even giving him a second thought.

He was a promising young athlete 15 years ago. A catcher. Rated Rookie, Future Star – You name it. You might have even separated his card from your stack. “This one”, you said, “could be worth something”. You put it in a case or perhaps one of those glossy pages with the other standouts. “This guy”, you said, “has a future”. The sky was the limit for Sal.

Every year you realized that you were outgrowing your hobby. Cards were big in middle school, but you knew that people never brought them into high school. You knew it would be a survival of the fittest and you had to survive. There would be no more lunchtime trading sessions. Others moved on to cigarettes and parties and fast cars. You changed on the outside, but couldn’t grow up on the inside. Every morning you ran to get the newspaper to check for the box scores. Two hits for this guy – his value is sure to go up. An injury to that guy and we’ll never know what player he might have become. Neither will he.

He travels from ballpark to ballpark by bus now. He plays before small crowds. He’s 36. He knows when to call a slider and how to calm down a young pitcher. He looks old for his age. He’s run down and has $20 to spend each day on fast food. His knees don’t hold up as well as they did in his early days. He needs extra time to stretch before the game and takes extra time to sign autographs after the game. Of course, not nearly as many people are asking for that signature. He often wonders why anyone would even want it.

You started making teams. You started getting popular. You knew there was a strong link between the two.  You even started drawing attention from the women.  Things didn’t always go your way, but you were blessed. You really were. There were even younger fans who wanted your autograph. You wanted it so bad that you couldn’t relax. You showed flashes every now and then, but you knew you were better than others thought you were. You always had to prove yourself. Just knowing that you were good wasn’t enough. You wanted others to know. You needed others to know. But I know everything and I’m proud of you anyway.

He had a feeling things were headed south. He started getting bounced from team to team and could never seem to get his break. “If only I could have one more chance,” he thought to himself, “one more shot in the bigs to show what I can do”. Like coming indoors on a sunny day, he could still see the sun but he knew it was fading away. Management kept breaking their promise just as his peers kept breaking the rules. He thought about taking that stuff too, but he couldn’t go there. He couldn’t disrespect the game like that. He needed to be able to look in the mirror. Still, he saw bodies being transformed over the course of the offseason and those same guys being chosen over him.

You had a sense at orientation that you had picked the wrong college. “What becomes of the brokenhearted” was playing on the radio as you entered the city on that first trip to school in the fall. You had an eery feeling that the song would be closely tied to your fate over those next four years. You didn’t have much of a choice now, because it was the only place you could afford. It took years for the pieces to be put back together. They’re still not fully together. You’re still not sure if they ever will be. Sometimes, though, the fragments are worth more than the whole.

He’s not sure when exactly he knew that his dreams would never come true. Instead of his tire bursting, it was more like a slow leak. He alternates between feelings of anger and sadness and loneliness. When he’s back at the hotel room, sometimes he has to turn off the TV if the Royals are playing. It’s almost too much to watch. For the most part, he is empty inside. He tries to hold on to what little joy he has left and help his team. “It’s just not the same”, he thinks. “It’s just not the same.”

You played it safe for awhile and were content to stay under the radar. You finally started taking chances again. You knew you had to keep trying. And you did try. You tried and tried and tried. Even though your efforts didn’t seem to accomplish much, you gave it all you had.

He’s not sure how many more years of ball he has left in him. He’s played for 23 different teams and seen so many players come and go. Deep inside, though, he still loves the game. Maybe he just didn’t have the talent. One thing is for sure though, he always had the heart.

You were cleaning up the basement when you came across it. Though the world moved on without him, he still found a place separate from the pack. You thought about how you could deeply know a stranger, even though you didn’t know him at all.

He travels from minor league stadium to minor league stadium thinking that the game has passed him by. Maybe it has. But you know that despite his career .211 batting average, it wasn’t a waste. His idea of failure isn’t yours and even though he never got to fully show the world what he could do, you’re proud of him anyway.

As your lives intersect once more you think about hope and loneliness and doing the right thing and fairness and getting old and sunflower seeds and late nights on the road. There is something about him that you will always remember. Though the baseball card magazine says he is worth 3 cents, to you he is worth a whole lot more. And somewhere along the line he made a difference – to the young pitcher and old collector. At the end of the day, the difference means a lot more than the batting average. Somehow, you draw strength from that.

And you wonder what does become of the brokenhearted.

And you think about Sal.

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