Late last night, Jensen Lewis, former Indians relief hero and current job-seeker (he recently had a workout with Arizona, which did not lead to a contract offer), posted this message of congratulations and encouragement for two of his former Columbus Clippers teammates:
Obviously, it's nice of Lewis to support Jason Kipnis and David Huff, and it reinforces the story we've heard on Lewis for years—whatever you think of his pitching, he's apparently an 80-grade teammate, to the point that the Columbus Clippers are still using his bathrobe as an unofficial mascot, long after Lewis exited the scene. If his pitching career never gets back on track, I suspect there's a career in coaching or scouting for Lewis if he wants to walk either of those paths.
I wasn't taken by the graciousness of Lewis' tweet, though. I was drawn in by that last sentence fragment. When Jensen takes in Huff's start at Fenway tonight, it will apparently be the first game he's attended since being cut in the third week of June. My brain doesn't easily process what happens to borderline professional athletes when they're forced from the game they love—I know they go somewhere, but I've never really stopped to consider what happens next. I'm sure Lewis' life is tied up in the world of the sport, a world that he, currently, is trying to prove he still deserves to travel in. Some of Lewis' best friends are, I'm sure, his former teammates, like Huff and Kipnis. He, like a good friend, wants to support them—so, he'll go to the game tonight and clap and shout, trying to be supportive while not just becoming another fan. He was, after all, in the major leagues a year ago.
I assume Jensen Lewis will sit in the stands, and no matter where he sits he'll be staring out on the field where his career highlight came. It was just four seasons ago that Lewis went 2.1 scoreless innings in Game 2 of the American League Championship, helping to hold back the floodwaters of the Boston offense after Fausto Carmona had exited early and Rafael Perez had faltered. Lewis combined with Rafael Betancourt and Tom Mastny, holding the Red Sox scoreless from the fourth inning until the eleventh, when the cavalry finally arrived in the form of seven runs. The Indians won 13-6 and earned a 1-1 split in Boston.
It's hard to know how Lewis will feel tonight, and I don't pretend to have any inside track on his mental movements. I'll just assume that what Lewis is going to do tonight is going to be very hard. His entire life, any time he watched a big league game, he could look at his own trajectory and consider that he was on a path to that point. In fact, for most of the last five years, he could watch a big league game and reasonably assert that he was only an injury away to being a player in that game. That's not the case right now—Lewis has over shot the mark. Just as that trajectile arc reached it's peak in the majors, it began to travel back down, taking him further away from his goal and, worse, gaining momentum in the wrong direction.
Tonight, Lewis will attend the game not as a professional player on the cusp of the majors, or as a talented kid, collegian, or prospect on his way to them. Regardless of the niche he'd like to create, he's going to sit there at least as much a fan as a pro ballplayer—the likelihood of him ever reaching the majors again is nosediving as teams like Arizona rubber-stamp him as "not good enough" for their organization (whether that's true or not). It's hard not to like Jensen Lewis and, tonight, I'll stop and think of him more than a few times during the game. I hope he lands on his feet somewhere, soon, and for all I know he's got a terrific mental outlook on his current status. But, if he does start to feel what I think almost any of us would in his shoes, I hope the tears don't well up too quickly or too abundantly as he stares out on the field, thinking of what he was, what he wanted to be, and what he is.