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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Boof Bonser Is My Hero

Boof Bonser is a pitcher for the Minnesota Twins. Before you go, "oh, no, she's going to talk about baseball," I promise that's not the theme. I will be talking about baseball players, but my message is about perseverance, about hanging in there despite everything. This definitely applies to writing and writers.

I'll also add a caveat here: I know nothing about this player beyond his pitching, so when I talk of him being my hero, it's only because of what I've seen from him on the field. I don't know about his life off the field at all.

So let me tell you about Boof Bonser. He's 24 years old and this is his first season in the big leagues after pitching in the minor league since 2000. The Twins called him up earlier this year, he pitched a game, didn't do real well and was sent down to the minors again. The team yo-yo'ed him back and forth like that about three or four times. And the last couple of times, he pitched well. It didn't matter, they sent him back to the triple A team anyway. He was called back up again, and with the expanded roster and the injuries to other pitchers, he's stuck around.

But a funny thing happened on this last call up from the minor leagues--Bonser's attitude seemed to change. One of the announcers even commented on it, saying something about how Bonser's decided he's not going down to Rochester again.

Since I heard that, I've been watching his face as he pitches and I can see the determination there. He's not just grateful to be there anymore, he's determined that he's staying in the big leagues.

I contrast Bonser's career with Francisco Liriano.

The Minnesota Twins have been lauding Liriano all season. He's 22 years old and was brought up at the end of last season. According to a guy I work with who remembers last year, Liriano had a shaky call up. The Twins didn't send him down to the minors.

They put Liriano into the starting rotation in June or July, I can't remember, and he did well. In fact, he sparked the team to play better. The Twins manager, coaches and front office continued to laud Liriano. He was the second coming of Johann Santana. (Johann Santana is the Twins best pitcher. He won a Cy Young Award a couple of seasons ago and the odds are he'll win it again this year. He's a wonderful pitcher.) Then the local media started lauding Liriano the same way. They talked about him and talked about him and talked about him. It didn't matter if he was pitching that day or not, Liriano was always worth bringing up. And why wouldn't they? The Twins loved their young phenom, so that must mean he's worth all the hype.

And of course, once the local media joined in the hyping of Liriano, and now there were three groups--Team, Media and Fans--lauding this young pitcher, the national media starting mentioning him. Liriano was going to be a superstar.

Don't get me wrong, Liriano is a fabulous pitcher and he deserved the coverage, but he was even eclipsing Johann Santana and every other player on the team in the media and with Twins fans.

But I noticed something interesting looking at the stats for the last 6 games Liriano pitched and the last 6 games Bonser pitched--the gap between them isn't that big. (In his last three starts (not including last night), he was 2-0 with a 2.37 ERA.)

Yes, it's true. Liriano's stats are slightly better, but not hugely better. The phenom and the player the Twins seem to feel is borderline have been doing almost equally well lately. And Liriano went on the disabled list, came back, and is now out for the season. He's still getting more coverage than Boof Bonser.

But Boof Bonser has become my hero because it would have been so easy for him to believe he was borderline when the Twins ignored him, when they kept sending him down to the minor leagues. He could have doubted himself, wondered if he had any talent, wondered if his dream of pitching in the big leagues was worth it. Maybe he did do that. Who knows what was going through his head? But in the end, his attitude changed. Again, I don't know what his thought process was or if he just had enough of being jacked around and said, "I'll show them," but the bottom line is Bonser is demonstrating to the Minnesota Twins that he deserves to have a regular spot in the rotation. (Last night he pitched 7 strong innings and got the victory. The Twins won 8-2.)

Of course, it's just the first season for Bonser, but the writer in me wants to see him have a long and successful career. I want to see him be inducted into the Hall of Fame one day, but then I always root for (and identify with) the underdog.

Bonser got off to a slow and uncertain start with his big league career, but he dug deep and he found his own inner strength. I don't think he needs the Twins front office to talk about him like he's the savior of the pitching staff because he believes in himself.

Now here I make my big turn into writing. How many of us are Francisco Liriano? How many of us are going to have huge publisher support behind our first books, behind our careers? How many of us are Boof Bonser, the one who has to persevere? The one who has to dig deep and overcome adversity? We're Boof before we sell, we're Boof after we sell. But you know what? I don't mind being Boof, not anymore.

It's really easy to go out there every fourth or fifth day when you're like Francisco Liriano and everyone thinks you're the greatest thing since sliced bread. It's not so easy to be Boof Bonser. But Boof has proven he's got that extra determination, that deep inner well that will help him no matter how difficult things become.

When I was a kid, my dad had a placard that said: Hard work beats talent if talent doesn't work hard.

Boof Bonser has talent and he's willing to work hard to stay in the big leagues. He's walked through fire and blossomed. Francisco Liriano has talent, he's worked hard, but for the first time, he's facing adversity with his injury. We'll find out if he has the same determination, the same inner strength.

It's the same thing that separates writers. It's real easy when everything is going your way to put in the hours necessary to produce books. There are a lot of authors that have published a book or two and disappeared. Then there are other authors that have hung around for dozens of books, who have long careers. I plan to be in the latter group--no matter how hard it is. I'm stubborn that way. :-) My new motto is Be Like Boof. His perserverence and attitude has made him one of my heroes.