Saturday, May 12, 2018

Getting “The Call”

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

This article was rescued from the jaws of hypocrisy by the timely, and unlikely, convergence of two white knights.  It was set to be a screed about the decline of the Baltimore Ravens, a once-upon-a-time model NFL franchise. 

The Ravens, you see, just signed Robert Griffin III, after a year on ice, to be its backup quarterback.  Last summer, Baltimore considered Colin Kaepernick for the same position but decided, despite his unquestioned conviction and philanthropy, that his method of supporting social change was unworthy of the esteemed franchise.  So instead, they inked a lesser player who was, in all probability, unfaithful to his first wife and impregnated his second outside of wedlock.  It’s a befitting decision by a franchise that erected a statue of Ray Lewis outside its stadium and initially stood by Ray Rice after his grotesque domestic violence incident.  But please, ignore the hypocrisy and sleep well at night, Ravens nation. 

Enough of that.  I mercifully digress to a more positive storyline, one that started, once upon a time, when minor league baseball intersected with an NBA rookie.

John Feinstein, best-selling author and columnist for The Washington Post, published “Where Nobody Knows Your Name” in 2014, a book chronically life in baseball’s minor leagues.  I’m listening to it on tape now – four years after it was published.  Being cordially late to the party turned out to be perfect timing.   

Shortly after starting Feinstein’s book, Andre Ingram happened.  The connections defy explanation.  Feinstein, a D.C.-based writer and Potomac, Maryland resident pens a book about baseball’s minor leagues.  My latent listen times precisely with Ingram, a one-time basketball star at D.C.’s American University making his NBA debut with the Los Angeles Lakers at age 32 and after a decade in the NBA Development/G-League and one year playing in Australia (in other words, pro basketball’s minor leagues).  

Sometimes the writer chooses the topic; sometimes the topic chooses him. 

Ingram only played the last two regular season games with the Lakers, but he scored 19 in his debut.  That, and his incredible 46.1% career three-point shooting percentage, should at least earn him a serious look next year.  But in some ways the results don’t matter; what does is, very simply, he played in the NBA.  Or, as Crash Davis said in the classic minor league movie Bull Durham, he made it to “The Show”. 

That’s the prevailing message in all the stories in Feinstein’s book.  Highly touted prospects, undrafted free agents, former major leaguers rehabbing from injury or trying to rediscover the magic: every player’s specific story differs but they are all there, grinding, traveling America’s highways in obscurity solely to realize the dream of playing, either again or the first time, in the majors. 

Ingram’s sport is basketball, but after playing for three NBA G-league teams and Australia’s Perth Wildcats across a decade, he could have fit nicely in Feinstein’s baseball book.  How many times must Ingram have doubted himself, wondered what he was doing, questioned whether it was worth it or if he should just hang up the sneakers, put the dream to bed and get on with his life.  Feinstein’s real-life baseball characters project similar internal struggles.  To a man, their drive felt obsessive – if somebody somewhere offered a job, and therefore a chance to sustain their dream, they would take it, no matter where it was or how humble the gig. 

Ingram and Feinstein’s minor league baseball players are big dreamers, and no matter how loud the alarm of conventional wisdom or the real world blared, they kept dreaming.  Their journeys took tremendous sacrifice (from player and family), commitment to a goal, tolerance of professional risk, constructive acceptance of rejection and, underlying it all, a relentless belief that one day the “phone” would ring and it wouldn’t just be “a call”, it would be “the call”. 

That call finally came for Ingram.  For many in the lower rungs of professional basketball or baseball’s minor leagues, it hasn’t and it never will.  Regardless, I respect the heck out every single player who’s still out there waiting for the phone to ring and their dream to come true. 

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