Keep Pushing

Limitations. People put them on others and sometimes we put them on ourselves. It may be the number one reason why people fail. When something has already been pre-determined in your mind, usually it happens. We do what we think. We act how we feel. We walk out what we believe. The number one killer of a man’s soul is self-doubt.

In life there are times where you feel like the walls are closing in on you. Pressure mounts and your internal temperature starts to rise. You start to second guess yourself. Frustration sets in, which can lead to anger and from there we usually make decisions that we end up regretting.

So as men how do we combat this? How do we “clear the mechanism” and get that stinkin’ thinkin’ out of our heads? I have some encouragement for you today. When you feel like you are headed for a breakdown, you are most likely on the doorstep of a breakthrough.

Searching for answers

The year was 1998 and I was two years into my professional baseball playing career. I loved playing the game, but I was not performing well on the field. I started to second guess myself and decided that I should look into returning to college to pursue a master’s degree. In January, I contacted the NCAA and learned that I had a 5th year of sports eligibility in another sport. So, I signed up to play in a semi-pro football league in Phoenix, AZ.

I played wide receiver, corner, safety and they put me on every special team. I was having a blast and playing great until I got blindsided on a punt return. My right shoulder felt like it was out of socket. I had someone pull on my arm but didn’t get any reprieve from the pain. The injury ended up being a torn labrum and my range of motion for my right arm, the one I throw with, was at about 25%.

I decided against surgery and played the rest of the football season with essentially one arm. I no longer played wide receiver and now focused solely on the defensive side of the ball. I was 6’2, 210 pounds and I packed a wallop. I had so much fun playing, but towards the end of the season I got an itch to play baseball again. The dream was not dead, but my arm was.

I went out to a field to play catch with a friend and I could barely throw the ball back to the mound, which is only 60 feet. I went home and cried that day thinking about how stupid I was to risk a professional playing career, floundering as it was, to play a sport that I had little to no chance at playing beyond college. I was searching for answers and I was hitting dead ends.

I got on my knees and started to pray. I had already been working out, but now I busted my butt even harder for the next month in the weight room so I could to rehabilitate my arm. By the time May rolled around I could get the ball to second base, but not with the strength like I used to. It was good enough to get signed by an Independent team in Thunder Bay, Ontario and by the end of the month I was on a plane to North Dakota for their Spring Training.

Going through the gauntlet

We went through two weeks of practice and at the end the manager let me know that I would not make the team. He offered me a flight home, but I declined. I asked instead for a flight to Minneapolis, MN. From there I took a Greyhound bus to Kalamazoo, MI and spent the next few days on my cousin Matt’s couch. Over the next 2 weeks I worked out for minor league teams in Kalamazoo and Chillicothe, OH, but was not offered a contract by either team.

Hope was restored when I was contacted by a team from Tupelo, MS and I signed a contract with them. I was playing well, but unfortunately the team folded due to mismanaged funds by the owner. As much as this disappointed me, I was feeling better now that I had played a little bit in games and reached out to a team in Huntingburg, IN. I worked out with them and played well over a weekend series, but the manager said that if he kept me then he would have to cut one of his other catchers and he was not prepared to do that.

I ended up getting picked up by my sister Mary who lives in Louisville, KY and lived with her while I continued to stay in shape. After a few days I verbally agreed to a deal with a team in Bend, OR and I caught a flight to Portland soon after. Let’s just say some things got muddied up between me and the team and what I thought was a concrete deal turned into almost a week-long tryout. They didn’t sign me, but since they were just starting a long home stand, they agreed to let me stick around and work out for the visiting teams. The problem was now I had nowhere to sleep because the team made me move out of the apartment they were letting me stay at.

I asked for permission to sleep in the clubhouse after the games and they agreed to let me. So, after the players went home, I slept on the training room table. We had an infestation of flies one night (probably Satan himself) so I moved to the “luxury box” which was literally a couch on top of the first base dugout. Yes, that is correct. I slept outside, on a couch, on top of the first base dugout. I was running low on money, so I survived on cereal, peanut butter, hot dog buns and leftovers from the concession stand after games. Things were looking bleak.

None of the visiting teams signed me so I took a 30 hour bus trip all the way back to Phoenix on a Greyhound bus. I moved in with my mom and got some home cooking. It was now late July, but I was determined to still play and refused to give up. Troy Theall, who is still one of my best friends was a teacher and had the summer off. For about a week we went to the field to play catch and take BP. He kept pumping up my tires and told me I could do this. I believed him.

“When you feel like you are headed for a breakdown, you are most likely on the doorstep of a breakthrough.”

Billy Horton

Getting victory

I talked to a team in Johnstown, PA and they said they were willing to give me a look. They wanted to sign a catcher/third baseman and I fit the bill. This time I decided to drive my own car and I asked Troy to go on the road trip with me. We stayed at families houses in Oklahoma and Kentucky and eventually I dropped him off in Indianapolis so he could fly home. As he got out of my car he gave me an envelope stuffed with $20s and said that his dad believed in me and to keep pushing.

I was afraid to spend any money, so I slept in my car. I ended up meeting the Johnstown team in Canton, OH and along with some additional players, had a two day workout for both teams. Johnstown ended up signing someone else who was from Cleveland, OH and the Canton team was not interested. I was devastated and now I had no where to go.

As I sat outside the locker room a guy named Steve Mitrovich approached me. He was the player from Cleveland that the team had signed. He saw how distraught I was and invited me to dinner with some of his friends. We told stories back and forth from what had happened to each of us this year and from there he encouraged me to live with him. Yes, I moved in with a complete stranger, and for about a week I slept on his couch . I felt like it was God giving me a life line. During this time, I read an encouraging book about ball players and their faith, played darts against myself to try and stay sane (or is that actually crazy), and worked out at Cleveland State University. Then God stepped in with another opportunity.

I contacted an Independent League team in Little Falls, NJ called the New Jersey Jackals. The manager was Kash Beauchamp and he took a liking to me. He said how fast can you get here and a day later I was in Jersey playing for them. It just so happened that my college teammate Jim Ringwood lived 15 minutes away from the stadium, so I lived with him. The team finished the season strong and we went to the playoffs. In the end we beat the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs for the Northeast League Championship.

After we dog-piled on the mound I stepped away, walked out to second base and got on my knees to thank the Lord. I thought about how hard the summer was and all the places I had been. At that point I realized that God allowed me to go through this to strengthen me. That summer shaped me as a man. About a minute later I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Kash and I jumped up to give him a big hug. My 5,000 mile trip can come to a close and man oh man was it worth it.

Five months later I went to an open tryout at the beginning of Spring Training down in Tucson, AZ and signed a contract with the Chicago White Sox. This was almost exactly a year to the date when I had injured my shoulder playing football. Even though I did not make it to the big leagues with Chicago or anyone else, I ran the race that God had set out before me and I pursued it with everything I had. I can sleep well at night knowing that I gave it my all and now I can focus on teaching others the game I love.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing out eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Hebrews 12: 1.2 (NIV)

Here are three points to think about this week when you are facing challenges and doubt starts to creep in:

  • Breathe- Take a step back and put things into perspective.
  • Bathe- Immerse yourself in the word of God for wisdom.
  • Brace- Prepare for Success. Make sure you have things ready and in order because God will not bless your mess.

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2 Comments

  1. Mare' & Tex Chee

    Billy, I will PM you. You have no idea how much I needed this story today. God bless you, Taleen and the boys..
    Mare’ & Tex

  2. Mare' & Tex Chee

    Billy is the best at his craft, and a true Inspiration