I’m No Albert Pujols, But I’m an Athlete; And You Can Be One Too

I’ll never forget the day I was cut from Murrieta Valley High School’s baseball team. I can tell you the date: Dec. 2, 2005.
Just getting off the phone with my dad, I rode shotgun in my mom’s Ford Explorer as I arrived at school at 7 a.m. I probably rolled my eyes as Mom said, “Make good choices” or, “I love you” too loud. I shut the door with my black JanSport backpack slung over my right shoulder.

As I paced my way across campus, my brand new cell phone grazed up against my left thigh minutes after my dad had told me to call him with the news once I found out. I made a beeline for the varsity coach’s classroom, where he was expected to post the team rosters on his window after over 100 student athletes competed for less than 20 roster spots the previous week in tryouts.

I was worried. After being born into a baseball family with a father who was a backup catcher at Pepperdine University in the 1970s and an older brother who played two years of varsity baseball in high school, I feared that my 10-year baseball career could come to an end if my name was not on that list.

Three days before the tryout, I had severely sprained my ankle playing a game of racquetball at LA Fitness. Without telling the coaches of my injury, I arrived at the tryout with a limp, a heavily bandaged ankle and ibuprofen. When I worked out with the catchers, I threw down to second base immediately following an athlete who became the varsity team’s starting catcher as a freshman and was later selected in the second round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Milwaukee Brewers — tough act to follow. As I prepared to take my hacks off a pitching machine, the hitter before me tore the cover off of the ball, cranking two homers over the right-center field wall. The coaches later paired us up for the 60-yard dash, where I sprinted past the cones, three steps behind a guy who eventually became the varsity team’s pinch runner. I had been overshadowed, but maybe there was still hope.

Three lists were taped on a black-tinted window that featured the varsity, JV and freshmen rosters. I was devastated when my name went missing.

My passion for the game was evident in my first tee-ball game when, as the third baseman, I sprinted over to the second baseman after he made an error and screamed, “Make the play!” I don’t remember this, but my dad could sure tell you about it, while slapping the crap out of his knee. Being cut left a bitter taste in my mouth and, sadly, instead of motivating me to work harder, it was a wake-up call that there was more to life. I called my dad up and said, “I guess I’m trying out for the golf team.”

That tryout didn’t go too well either. Murrieta Valley was one of the top teams in the state and boasted the state champion, the 2010 PGA Rookie of the Year, Rickie Fowler. “I guess I’ll have to do something else with my life.”

It was hard to not be known as an athlete anymore. Sports were my life. I felt as if I had let myself down, my family down and become another person who had played Little League and had nothing to show for all of the hard work and dedication that I had given the game.

I dreamt of retiring after hitting a walk-off home run in the World Series ever since I first swung a yellow plastic bat on a makeshift baseball field in my family’s front yard at the age of three. Great expectations, huh?

Few athletes possess the God-given talent that vaults them into the collegiate ranks and, eventually, a professional career.

At UC Irvine, the student athletes who represent their school may wear Anteaters across their chests, but they make up a small fraction of the overall UCI community.

There aren’t hundreds, but thousands of athletes at UCI. I didn’t realize this until I found that despite never lettering in high school or being recruited to play a college sport, I could be known as an athlete on UCI’s club Ultimate Frisbee team.

I played for one quarter, but what I gained was a great appreciation for the multitude of club sports that UCI has to offer its students. Recruited by Scott Roeder, a former varsity captain and my Resident Advisor in Mesa Court, I started playing at the first practice of winter quarter last year as incentive to avoid the “Freshman 15.”

Practices were tough. We did wind sprints, ran nonstop until one team scored before continuing after short breaks and threw Frisbees while being hounded by defenders. It was hard work. I played on the B team and was surrounded by athletes who had played hockey, soccer, football, lacrosse, etc. in high school.

At the end of the quarter we travelled to Las Vegas for a tournament. The A and B teams, known respectively as “Nightlife” and “Thuglife,” were to be combined for the weekend, and those who showed up early were granted playing time on Friday while several Nightlife players were still sitting in Irvine lecture halls. In our first game we played Brown University, a storied program that had captured the National Championships in 2000 and 2005.

Just a few months prior, I had learned the beginnings of a flick, or a forehand throw of the disc, so you could imagine my surprise when the A team’s coach, Mike Ng, known to the players as “KG,” made what I thought at the time was a horrible decision to throw me into the game on defense. I looked over at Roeder and said, “He’s not serious is he?” Roeder looked at me and said, “Just keep your eyes locked on your man, stay with him and don’t let him out of your sight and you’ll be fine.”

“Shit … this is happening,” I thought. Two months ago I was tossing a Frisbee around nonchalantly on the Mesa Court lawn, and now I’m supposed to guard one of the nation’s best offenses? I stood on the line and then exploded off of my right ankle, the same one that hindered me in baseball tryouts years ago, and burst down the field on the huck, which is comparable to a football kickoff. As I made my way downfield, my eyes locked on a shifty Brown student with a scraggly beard while Roeder screamed, “You got this, Ian! Yeah Ian! He’s going nowhere!” in my ear.

There was no way I was going to let him touch the disc. And he didn’t. Brown may have beaten us, but I played defense on a considerable amount of possessions in that game and my man never touched the disc.

This past weekend, the UCI crew club team travelled to San Diego’s Mission Bay to compete in the San Diego Crew Classic against schools such as UCSB, UCLA, USC, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Iowa, Berkeley and Stanford University. Composed of students who were displaced when Athletic Director  Mike Izzi cut the UCI crew team in 2009, novice rowers who took the sport up just this past fall and some who do it primarily for the conditioning, they all share a bond: teammates committed to a sport.

They stayed in Irvine over spring break for two-a-day practices at 5 a.m. and 3 p.m. in preparation for the SDCC. If you think it takes a scholarship, a dunk, a 95 mile-per-hour fastball or a 4.30 40-yard dash time to be known as an athlete, I’m pretty sure the UCI crew club team would beg to differ.

At UCI, club sports are a great outlet for athletes. Whether you’ve never played the sport before, your athletic director cut your sport or you want to continue playing a sport that you’re not good enough to receive a scholarship for, it’s worth attempting. I’m proud to say that for one weekend I competed at the highest level of Ultimate Frisbee that UCI has to offer with the Irvine Nightlife.