From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

Living His Dream

The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination.

Tommy Lasorda

He loved baseball. Couldn’t get enough.

When it rained in Seattle, as it frequently does, and practice was cancelled, it used to make him so mad. That’s when he knew he was hooked.

He pestered his dad to hit him grounders in the backyard. He routinely led three younger brothers and a sister out the front door to play catch.

A Wiffle-ball machine was set up in the garage, allowing him to take batting practice at any time. Siblings were paid a quarter or fifty cents to feed the machine.

Posters of Rod Carew and Pete Rose hung on his bedroom wall. He watched games on TV. He was a big, big fan of his hometown team, the Seattle Mariners.

But like most fourteen-year-old boys, he was merely a good baseball player, not a great one. Some day, he would have to channel his energy into something else.

Find another outlet, another passion. Or so everyone thought.

Through a friend on his suburban Pony League team, he heard that the Mariners were hiring. He got on the phone, got an interview, got a job.

Now this isn’t some Disney movie, some outrageous fairy tale come true. No one was occupying someone else’s body, acquiring magical powers, walking out of cornfields or answering to Roy Hobbs.

He wouldn’t be fielding or hitting. Folding and scrubbing were more like it.

He was a clubhouse boy.

For two seasons, he showed up at the Kingdome and wandered the Mariners’ locker room. He picked up soiled uniforms, hung fresh ones. He polished shoes, ran errands.

He did everything except get in the way.

He was in awe of the big leaguers. He didn’t say much.

He tried to stay anonymous. Yet he watched all of the activity that went on before him behind closed doors, the good and the bad, the professionalism and the immaturity, and put everything to memory.

“I learned a lot,” he said. “I learned when you think people aren’t watching you, they really are. I watched the way people acted. Some were really nice.”

A few of the players noticed him and took an interest. Mariners second baseman Harold Reynolds, outfielder Bruce Bochte and relief pitcher Dave Heaverlo sat him down and encouraged him. Heaverlo even gave him added work, enlisting him to baby-sit his kids.

One day, he saw one of his heroes, Carew, sitting alone in a Kingdome dugout. He wanted his autograph. He was too shy to ask for it. He turned and walked away.

The dream job ended when it was time for him to go to high school. He couldn’t juggle work and play anymore. More than ever he was determined to become a big-leaguer, but most people figured he had come as close to this fantasy world as he would get. How many people get to do what he did, even if it was picking up sweaty uniforms?

For the next seven years, he played high school, community college and college baseball. By now, he had settled in at catcher after trying several positions. Still, he was not a standout. He didn’t even make the all-league team in high school.

His baseball career was about to come to an unceremonious end when he showed up for one last collegiate tournament. Something magical happened.

He hit everything thrown to him, threw out every base runner.

Scouts were in the stands. Scouts were on the phone. He was drafted, signed and in the majors before long.

Fifteen years and six big-league teams later, Tom Lampkin now plays for the Mariners. They pursued him and he happily joined them as a free agent. He’s been home for three seasons and is a fan favorite, often providing game-winning hits, a familiar face, hope. It’s what he always wanted.

“When I started playing, I didn’t know the difference between professional baseball and the major leagues; I just wanted to play for the Mariners,” he said. “I always wanted to play for the Mariners because they were my hometown team.”

He never let go of his dream, actually living it twice, whether it was offering up towels or using them.

Along the way, Lampkin encountered Carew a second time. Yes, he now has the Hall of Famer’s autograph. He signs a few himself these days.

Not only that, Lampkin treats all of the Mariners clubhouse boys with ultimate respect.

Dan Raley

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