Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Why you Persist

The 15th player on the basketball roster. The 99th guy on the football roster. The 32nd baseball player. The seventh singles player.

Practice fodder. Right?

The odds of that player becoming a regular starter are slim. The odds of achieving greatness are slimmer. Accomplishments are generally relegated to mop up minutes, or as we used to refer to it, the 30:30:30 club (30 points ahead, 30 points behind, 30 seconds left).

Yet these kids show up everyday. They practice their guts out, often going harder than the “star player,” and for what? There is the love of competition, love of the team, and determination to match the perspiration.

There is also the chance.

That chance is the fleeting glory of sacking the quarterback, or fanning the league’s most ferocious power hitter. That chance is that a coach will see in the athlete precisely what the athlete sees in his or herself.

When the chance comes, not everyone is ready to embrace it. Some are. Devin Keeny was.

A spate of injuries in a short period conspired with several consecutive losses to produce Devin Keeny as a starter. The same Devin Keeny who saw all of 20 minutes of action spread out over 11 games in 2004. The same Devin Keeny who was asked to fill out a form handed to freshmen for the media guide because none of his 20 minutes coincided with the flash of a camera.

That was prior to the regime change in Westminster.

A year ago, Keeny was overlooked as a viable contributor to the squad. In the Bob Flynn era, McDaniel is 2-0 with Keeny as a starter. That is why the last guy on the roster keeps at it. Keeny’s story is just beginning the second chapter. He has proved throughout the season that he is a valuable contributor, and as a starter, he is averaging 12.5 points per game. He doubled his previous career high of nine points (established in his first career start in the game prior) with 18 first half points against Swarthmore.

He finished that game with 20 points, and watched much of Swarthmore’s second half comeback bid from the bench, exhausted from nearly matching his 2004 minutes in one half of a game. The lead built while Keeny was on the floor dissipated while he was off.

Maybe he can’t keep posting numbers like he did against Swat. Maybe he can. Where his story goes from here is yet to be determined, but given a chance, the guy who was 14th or 15th on the roster executed, and earned the consideration of fans, coaches, writers, and broadcasters he knew he was capable of earning.

His victory on Saturday was not just a win in basketball for him and his teammates. It is the truly All-American experience of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. It was a victory for every athlete who has been last on the roster and the last to leave practice.

That’s why the last guy bangs his head against the wall everyday. Now get back to work.