Roy Oswalt once thought it would be easy to walk away from this old game
“You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”_Jim Bouton.
Roy Oswalt never figured it would be him. There was a time a couple of years ago when he absolutely couldn’t wait until his playing days were over. He wanted to get back to his ranch in Mississippi and say goodbye to hotels and planes and all the other stuff he’d come to despise.
“Every hotel room is the same,” he told me one day. “They’re just boxes. I still love pitching. I still love competing. But it’s the other stuff.”
I wondered if it would be that easy. I mentioned Roger Clemens, who tried and failed at retirement multiple times. Clemens found out that even though his joints ached and his 99-mph fastball had come a distant memory, he still loved it. He realized that pitching a Thursday afternoon game against the Royals would still end up being one of the best days of his life.
Oswalt said it would be different with him. He didn’t need the crowds or the attention. He’d never done it for that stuff anyway. He said some of the best times of his off-seasons were spent alone on his tractor doing chores around his arm. He said he loved the quiet and just didn’t need to have his ego constantly stroked.
Turns out, the game has a little bit more of a grip on him than he thought or was willing to admit. Oswalt wants to pitch a 12th season in the major leagues. He hasn’t found that team, but he will. I can’t imagine he needs the money. His career earnings have passed $92 million, and that goes a long way on a fairly modest lifestyle in Weir, Mississippi.
Like hundreds of players before him, Oswalt has discovered that he loves the game maybe a little more than he thought and that he needs it more than it needs him. He may still hate the planes, trains and automobiles, but he loves being part of a team, loves trying to accomplish a game, loves competing.
His two seasons with the Phillies had disappointing finishes. He still hasn’t gotten back to the World Series for the first time since that one and only trip with the 2005 trip with the Astros. He may have that goal still to accomplish, but I’m guessing his reasons for playing go far deeper than that.
He’s returning for a 12th season because he loves the game and knows he’ll miss it. In the end, the game almost always tells the player when it’s time to go. It’s almost never the other way around. That has been true for almost every player in history, and it’s probably going to end up being true of Roy Oswalt, too.