“Life is a journey, not a destination. Have faith in your ability.” —Bruce Lee
Many people have asked about why in my EVOLUTION timeline, there is quite a baseball gap between playing in the independent leagues and my brief stint with the White Sox. After the conclusion of the 2004 San Angelo season, it looked like my career was over. I could not financially afford to be back in independent ball and I had zero MLB teams blowing up my phone. I had an offer to play winter ball in Mexico, but the pay was also less than my rent. (Gold Coast studio apartments are expensive!) At 25-years old, it looked like I was done.
Flash forward to the 2006 season — which I was not participating in — and I was training at Crunch Fitness Marina City, trying to mask my demons about not playing. It had been brought to my attention that a White Sox scout joined the gym and was a regular whenever the team was in town. When I looked him up, I saw that David Wilder was the White Sox Director of Player Personnel. Not only was this guy a scout, he was the scout!
I knew I had to sell myself hard for a chance to play, but was unsure how. Every time David came to the gym I would say hello and we would shoot the shit about the Sox while I tried to think of the best way to approach this topic. What was proper? Interrupt his workout? Accost him in the locker room? Pee next to him? It took months to formulate a plan. How do I tell him this is the opportunity I have been fighting and bleeding for without looking amateur? What if he says I’m too old? What if he looks up my stats and says I suck?
Finally, in late September (the last month of an October-less season) I got David face-to-face by the squat rack and was ready to go all in. I was wearing a Railcats Baseball t-shirt. Here is my recollection of our conversation:
BK: Hi David!
DW: Hey Brian. Nice shirt, did you play in Gary?
BK: Yes sir.
DW: What position?
DW: Can you catch?
BK: Yes sir.
DW: Can you hit?
BK: I hit left-handed.
DW: Left-handed hitting catcher? Do you still play?
BK: Not since ’04 but it’s all I want to do.
DW: Hmm. Would you want to come to camp with us next year?
BK: Yes sir!
Holy shit. That was it. All the stress I felt from thinking about asking for an opportunity was for naught, as he offered it right up. And after our talk, I never saw him at the gym again. Now, part of me thought this was a nice offer with no follow through, but I was going to be ready just in case. Besides, if it was legit and I was unprepared I would never forgive myself.
Still, I told no one. It would be premature to make this announcement when all I had was a conversation. Hell, I did not even have a contract yet. A verbal agreement? No one would believe me anyway. But I started preparing myself as if I would be heading to Arizona. Who cares if I had been out of baseball for two years? I already missed two years in college due to football and shoulder surgery, so if anyone could handle a little bit of baseball rust, it was me.
As the calendar year turned to 2007 there had been no further communication. I started to lose faith. David was just being polite, he probably doesn’t even remember me. But, one cold, early February night I had fallen asleep on the train when my phone started ringing with an odd 480 area code. Instead of letting it go to voicemail, I answered. Who was on the other end? David fucking Wilder! He asked if I was still serious about coming to spring training and if I was in baseball shape. Hell yes to both!
The next day I signed a free agent contract with the Chicago White Sox organization. At the time, it was the greatest moment of my life. My family was ecstatic for me. Signing this contract validated all the physical and emotional scars of giving my life to the game. Finally, this was my opportunity to prove myself with a MLB team. The fact that it was with a hometown team that had just won the World Series made it even sweeter. Now, it was time to go to work and win a job.
***Most White Sox fans will likely remember David Wilder from his former days as Kenny Williams’ top guy to his current ones sitting in jail. While David pleaded guilty to skimming Latin American players on their signing bonuses and may never work in baseball again, I am forever grateful for our chance encounter and the opportunity he provided me. David handed a contract over to a player he never saw play; someone that he “scouted” out of a gym in downtown Chicago. He did not have to check with area scouts or a regional/national cross-checker. He was a man of his word and did exactly what he said he would do—providing me with an extremely powerful life moment. It is an experience I will always remember. Plus, since I had no signing bonus, I know for a fact he did not steal any money from me.