I’m just fascinated by Pedro Alvarez. His story, at least the little I know of it, is the age-old human drama of developmental identity formation. In a society that emphasizes the notion of self-determination, it is ironic that our identity development is so influenced by the expectations others have for us. We see examples of this all the time. In school, we are graded against teacher-driven standards and/or other students’ success. At work, we are evaluated against externally-defined job descriptions. In our families, we are the short son or the daughter that can’t cook – all relative to our taller, more culinarily talented siblings.
None of us are strangers to comparison. As we enter new environments, we are compared to those already present- into a neighborhood, in a new social circle, into this world. And so in this manner of comparison, we become defined initially, not as simply ourselves, but pseudo-unique ‘anti-someone-elses’. If we stick around long enough, some of our talents (and foibles) begin to be noticed in their own right. When the talents emerge but are not yet fully actualized, we begin to hear the word ‘potential.’ Hey – raise your hand if you’ve come to understand ‘potential’ as a curse? If you’re sitting at your workstation with one hand raised, you’ve probably realized that when someone dumps the word ‘potential’ on you, it just means you are not meeting some (probably unstated) expectations. Read: You can do better.
Now there’s often a shine put on these statements – sometimes overt, sometimes implied. On the surface, the ‘potential’ with a smile label says ‘I believe in you!’ But make no mistake, it’s a one-sided proposition. The Other believes that one day, in some beautiful future, you will actually fulfil your duty to meet their expectations. So when you’re the guy picked #2 in the 2008 draft and have $6M of someone else’s money coming your way, there’s an implication that you have the ‘potential’ to justify that very (very!) large investment. You’d be wise to start meeting the boss’s expectations.
So what do we do in those situations (or our <$6M versions of those situations)? Our responses start to define us – to others, and ultimately to ourselves. If we respond well, I suppose we dig in and face the challenge. We do all we can to justify the expectations others have put on us. But… what happens when we start to ‘fail’? How do we meet the inevitable adversity? You know, when we don’t meet the deadline? When we clearly disappoint the people around us? What do we do when we have our own version of a .077 start with 10,000 strike-outs? How do we face the potential reality of failing to manifest our potential for greatness? How can we look in the mirror and accept the fact that we are not currently performing to the standard of excellence others have laid before us? What if I’m not as good as everyone else thinks? What if I’m ‘That Guy’? What if everything I’ve been working for all my life is for nothing? What if I’m doomed to live on the list of 1st Round Busts from here on out? If I can’t do this, what is my role on this team? In this town? In my family? On this planet?
I once wrote a song called ‘El Toro the Bull’. (For those of you that don’t know Spanish, the translation is: The Bull the Bull.) It’s about a poor-mannered flatulent bull of questionable parenting that doesn’t have any friends. The fun part is that at the end of the song you learn that he’s pretty much an awesome rock star on weekends.
I bring this up my musical genius as a self-indulgent side note only in part. This story does have relevance to our mohawked hero in black and yellow. His talents are raw. He mashes mistakes and strikes out a lot. Plenty of men have left baseball with that description. Some have even made decent, albeit limited, careers out of that skill set. But I’d like to think El Toro offers quite a bit more than guys like Pete ‘Refuse To Go To the Minors’ Incaviglia. I don’t see the arrogance and inflated pride that has hampered the development of lesser men. In this latest tear, I see evidence of a man that is committed to moving on from his failures. Maybe this is because Pedro realizes that he is no different than any other person in the world, let alone baseball, that has been saddled with ‘potential’ label.
Potential is indeed a curse. It’s no different than stubby ankles or bad eyesight. It’s no different than the cranky, fartsy bull of the excellent song I wrote. But in the end, it’s only a label created by someone else. It’s only relative to the expectations of others. And when we shed ourselves of that constructed, arbitrary social burden, we can begin to find the rockstar within. And what’s the first thing that defines the rockstar? His hair, of course. Pedro’s mohawk, the ‘Bullhawk’, may just be evidence that El Toro is in the midst of acceptance and growth – his accension to full humanity. His rockstar is emerging only because his limitations have been made undeniably public and he has come through the other side. Rockstars don’t rock because everything’s gone well in their lives. Rockstars rock because of the depraved, hollow, alcohol-soaked lifestyle they endure on their way to stardom. The first half of April was Pedro’s back-alley, debauched, small-stage, broken-down bus tour to the big time. And it appears that the big time may just be this 2012 season. K-dro and the Groundouts have left the building. Let’s put our hands together for the main act!