With the news that the Cubs signed RHP Daniel Lewis, I felt some swell of pride. Not because, as a Cubs’ fan, I have some sort of patriotic duty to support a player who served more than one who did not. My swelling of pride came from the fact that Lewis came from the same place I did…the U.S. Air Force. I served six years on active duty and have been an Air Force reservist for the last four. I passed ten years of accumulated service at the end of this past June. Invariably, life in the military is poorly understood by the general public. As it relates to baseball is likely even more poorly concocted, so here, I will try my hardest to make parallels where possible and dispel some fiction, where I can.
Without knowing exactly what Lewis’ job was in the Air Force, there are some traits of Air Force service that are worth considering as he transitions to baseball. First of all, fitness was, by in large, up to Lewis himself. The physical conditioning aspect of the Air Force is overstated, and was up to Lewis. If he was in the physical condition to transition from military service to baseball, that is a tribute to Lewis, outside of his service.
Handling pressure is a trait that Lewis may have encountered in his day-to-day job in the Air Force, but again, that has not been reported. For his part, he did say:
“I think it puts things in perspective for me that I’ve been in more stressful situations. I’ve had to complete hard tasks, now it’s time to go to work on the mound. It’s an applicable skill. Everything translates from the mentality from it’s time to go to work. It’s the same thing when you’re on the mound — tunnel vision, see the catcher and go to work.”
Understanding pressures from things external to what you can control and understanding that there are others who are depending on your ability to succeed is a marketable skill in a number of occupations, but “pitcher” is one that those traits stand out.
Traveling, and being away from family, is a pressure that military members and athletes can probably closest relate. On a deployment, I walked into my room while my roommate was watching the birth of his daughter on a webcam. For the Cubs, this probably will not be the case, but being away from family for stretches can be a taxing ordeal for some. Military service is ripe with separation, so any time spent away while with the Cubs or any other team should be a walk in the park.
Along those same lines, those people we’ve left behind worry. When something happens, whether it be a mortar hits the base you work on and CNN talks about it or you leave the mound holding your shoulder and ESPN talks about it, someone who can’t reach you is chewing a hole through her shirt. As a pitcher, the possibility of life-changing TBI (traumatic brain injury) is real. One only needs to ask Brandon McCarthy or Aroldys Chapman or any of the others who have gotten hit by a line drive up the middle. In that respect, “the dreaded phone call” from someone else is going to be the most difficult thing we as service members can do to our families. Getting hurt and not being able to call home to say we’re alright is brutal. Pitchers, more uniquely than other positions, share that risk.
Lastly, and probably most profoundly, there is some pride is wearing a uniform with a group of peers all working to accomplish the same goal. For me, I very much enjoy my job in the Air Force (and like Lewis, I was enlisted, and we’re not all pilots, dammit!). While there are some who are there for their own self-benefit, many of those who serve are doing so, at least in part, to be a part of something bigger. Playing baseball, while a smaller scale than national defense, is a similarly minded group of men working together to accomplish a larger goal.
My advice for Lewis, whether he wants it or not, is to “Aim High” (terribly unfunny joke for those who get it) and enjoy the living hell out of this opportunity. Like every new assignment in the Air Force, every deployment, every opportunity to enhance our occupational knowledge, we gained something far more important. In most cases, we made friendships that last forever. I know I did. I hope Lewis did, as well. This opportunity should be no different. Tailor your craft, improve everyday, make friendships that last forever, and enjoy the ride…because that will not last forever…and like the military, there is very little control we have over it.