The year was 1995 and U.S. major league baseball teams, as they do each year signed many teenage boys to play in the low minor leagues, knowing just a small number will ever eventually rise high enough to play in the majors.
Within a few years most will fail, and let go of their baseball dreams, moving on with their lives.
Among those who were signed in 1995 was 17 year old John Lindsey and he began playing in the low minors. And as the years passed, he watched many more players get signed and move up or quit, but not him, for he languished, largely forgotten in the minors.
In the minors, players often take long uncomfortable bus rides to their games, stay two or more to a room in often cheap motels and usually eat fast food. The ballparks they play in are generally modest and attract small crowds and the paychecks most players receive are tiny.
But as the years passed, and no major league call-up ever came, John remained in the minors, pursuing his dream of playing in the majors in front of thousands of people in luxurious ballparks. He proudly pictured his family at the games or watching him on television.
But John was buried in the minors, eventually much older than virtually all the other players and even older than many of his coaches, seemingly an old man among boys. Still he wouldn’t quit.
Then in 2011, suddenly his big break came. Playing for Albuquerque, John led the Pacific Coast League in batting and in September, after 16 years and 1,571 minor league games, John got a call-up from the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the premier major league teams.
But the Dodgers were suffering through terrible times. The married couple that owned the team was in an ugly, highly publicized divorce and their and the team’s finances were a disaster as the Dodgers were thrown into bankruptcy. Team and fan moral sunk into an abyss.
Fans desperately needed an uplifting story such as John’s, as Dodger fans and other fans as well took him into their hearts.
John, who has a wife and a 4 year old son, arrived in San Diego, where the Dodgers were playing the Padres. He flew in first class for the first time ever and checked into a fancy hotel.
“I’ve been waiting all my life for this,” John told the Los Angeles Times about his major league call-up. “It was an awesome feeling.”
During the Padre game, John waited on the bench with great hope and anticipation for his time at bat, the one he had long dreamed of. Suddenly, he was called to pinch hit and this was it, his big moment in front of thousands of people.
But just as he was about to bat, the Padres called a timeout and changed pitchers. In response, the Dodger manager called John back for another pinch hitter.
John had come so far to get so close, yet didn’t get his turn, a turn that might never come. But at the Dodgers next stop, in Houston, he finally got his chance.
As a pinch hitter, John got a base hit, as thousands of people in that Houston crowd, which included his family, cheered for him, their wonderful roar echoing far and wide. That moment will last John a lifetime, standing on first base looking into the crowd, as he basked in the glow.
But when the 2011 season ended, John had just the one hit in 12 times at bat, and the Dodgers did what other teams had done, they released him.
In 2012 John signed a minor league contract with the Detroit Tigers and played where else, in the minors. But this time John had stories to share with his teammates (and family and friends) about what it was like to play in the major leagues, a dream come true.