From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 17, 2000

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / May 17, 2000

Making the Show.

From the first time a youngster picks up a baseball and throws it across the backyard to the waiting mitt of his father, their dream is play in the Show – the big leagues. Playing in front of the monuments in Yankee Stadium,catching a ball against the Green Monster in Fenway or the ivy in Wrigley or taking aim at the warehouse in Camden Yards.

With high schoolers having thrown their final pitches in the past weeks and college players preparing to put on their uniforms for the final time in the coming ones, that dream will either become a step closer to reality or fade away as they enter a new phase of their lives.

But for every player who realizes that dream, there are hundreds more who will see it stop in the minor leagues. They will endure bus trips to such placesas Delmarva, Medicine Hat and Elizabethon. Far from the riches of themajors, they will wonder if every day could be their last in the game. Why dothey do it? Joe Strong.

Strong was your typical minor leaguer, playing for five organizations and in five countries over an 11-year career. Last year alone, he pitched in Durham,North Carolina, in Triple A; in Orlando in Double A and with Mexico City in the Mexican League. He has also pitched in Taiwan, Korea and Canada.Strong’s journey began in 1984 when he was a 15th round selection by Oakland. Since then, he has jumped from the A’s organization to the Cubs tothe Padres to the Devil Rays and now to the Florida Marlins. He also pitched inthe Orient for six years. During that time, he has overcome a sore arm andsurgery. All that time, Strong did not even get a cup of coffee in the Majors.That all changed last Thursday night when the 37-year-old reliever came in in relief in the seventh inning of Florida’s 5-4 victory over Atlanta. Strongpitched 1 1/3 innings, becoming the oldest player to make his major-league debut since 1960.

You wonder what had to be going through Strong’s mind that night. After 343games, here he was, pitching in front a nationally-televised audience against a team that had made the postseason every season since 1991, including five World Series. He admitted to having butterflies early. That was quiteunderstandable.

And when the game was over and Strong was being interviewed by the TBS announcers, he was asked why he stuck through it all those years. He repliedthat it might be something of a cliche but that he did it “for the love of the game.”There is nothing cliche about living your dream. Strong is pitching for theyoungest team in the majors but one that has surprised many over the first two months of the season. As of Sunday, the Marlins were just five gamesbehind the Braves. He could prove to be a positive influence on the youngMarlins, imparting wisdom much like Crash Davis did to Nuke Larooshe in “Bull Durham”. But just by being there in Miami Thursday, Strong may have alreadygiven the biggest lesson of them all – that no matter how long it takes or how many miles you have to travel, your dreams can indeed come true.

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