On the night of Aug. 17, 2009, Reid Gorecki achieved what every minor league ballplayer hopes to achieve: He played in his first major league game.
"Everything I hoped and imagined it would be, it was," he says. "Being a part of that for the first time was just fabulous."
Gorecki was picked up by the Atlanta Braves after bouncing around various minor league teams for seven years. He put on a Braves uniform for a total of 31 games.
Then, it was over.
He hasn't been back to the majors since, and he's struggling over whether it's finally time to make a new life for himself beyond the field.
Today, Gorecki teaches youngsters how to play baseball.
"Gotta give back for all those years that I received lessons," he says. "Baseball was my life for 30 years."
He gives lessons in a warehouse-like building on Long Island, close to where he grew up.
"I have to start thinking about life after baseball," he says. "Tomorrow morning I have a test for the New York City Fire Department."
Still, he's having one more go at baseball — to say goodbye to the game in his own way.
Gorecki is playing outfield for the Long Island Ducks.
Their first game is Thursday night. Gorecki says he's looking forward to not only playing for this final team — but to winning a championship.
"I'm greedy when it comes to winning," he says. "I want one more ring."
Perhaps one more championship ring — and the remote chance of another big league ball club calling him to play.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Anyone watching or listening to a baseball game, hears a lot of this.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The 0-1 lined to center, that's a base hit, Church rounds third...
MONTAGNE: Not that dramatic, right? Well, for the player who got that particular base hit, in August 2009, it meant everything. New York's sports radio, WFAN, broadcasting the action from Citi Field that night. The hitter was Reid Gorecki. He's one of two ballplayers we're profiling this season.
MORNING EDITION's David Greene recently caught up with him.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
For Reid Gorecki that hit was his first real taste of Major League Baseball. He'd been playing in the minor leagues for seven years when he was called up, given a chance to play for the Atlanta Braves. And since the Braves were playing the New York Mets, all his Long Island family and friends were in the stands. His major league stint lasted about two dozen more games. Then, it was over and he hasn't been back to the majors since.
REID GORECKI: Choke up.
(SOUNDBITE OF A BANG)
GORECKI: Good, right there.
GREENE: It is not every day that you get to take batting practice from a former major leaguer, but that is what is happening in front of my right now in this batting cage in an old warehouse-like building on Long Island. Batting practice from Reid Gorecki. And Reid told us why he's here.
GORECKI: No more thinking. Hit it. Perfect.
I got to give back for all those years that I received lessons. You know? I was learning from my brother.
GREENE: Your brother right over here?
GORECKI: My brother right behind me. He's eight years older than me, so I was tagging along with him my whole life. You know, our father taught us both the game. So yeah, I mean, this is what I know from life.
GREENE: I was chatting with Reid while he was teaching baseball at his brother's East Coast Sports Academy on Long Island. He was giving advice to young players, kids with nicknames like Peach Fuzz and Lemon.
GORECKI: Hands back. Keep your eye on the ball, man.
(SOUNDBITE OF HITS)
GORECKI: Baseball was my life for 30 years.
GREENE: Now, Reid Gorecki is struggling over whether it's finally time to make a new life. He's not ready to give up baseball yet. In addition to coaching, Reid has signed on for one more season. The outfielder will be playing in front of family and friends again, this time on a smaller stage.
His team for now is the Long Island Ducks. They're a minor league team not associated with any major league ball club.
GORECKI: I'm pretty excited to get back on the field and play with these guys, you know. Show them one last shot, see what the kid's got. Run around like I'm 18 again.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GREENE: Remind us how old you are.
GORECKI: Thirty-one - will be 32 in December.
GREENE: It's a funny thing about professional sports. It's like you're a veteran now.
GREENE: At the age of just almost 32. I mean do you start thinking about life after baseball? Like what it'll mean, what you'll do?
GORECKI: Tomorrow morning, I have a test for the New York City Fire Department.
GREENE: Oh, wow.
GORECKI: So I have to start thinking about what's life after baseball.
GREENE: That night at Citi Field when you had your whole family there, you were playing with the Braves. Can you talk me through that night or was that - do you think about it a lot?
GORECKI: That night was awesome. I tricked my brother into thinking that I had resigned from baseball.
GREENE: That was the news?
GORECKI: That was the news?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GORECKI: I was like listen, man. I'm just fed up with this game. He couldn't believe what I was telling him. And then I called him back 15 minutes later and I was like, I just got picked up by a big league team - we're playing the Mets tomorrow. So pick me up at the airport tonight.
GORECKI: And it was just a - from that point on it was just all my friends that had never seen me play, they all tell me they're coming to the game. My phone exploded with text messages and emails and all that stuff. And then, I didn't get to play in the first game at Citi Field. I sat and watched. But the next night, Garrett Anderson, what looked to be a fake injury so that I could get in the game.
GREENE: You think it was a fake injury, was he doing that for you?
GORECKI: I think, to this day, I think he pulled a fake back injury for me.
GREENE: It must be like a movie, like you could play it over and over again in your head.
GORECKI: It's unbelievable, just the fact of flying on the airplane with big leaguers. You know, being a part of that for the first time was just fabulous. Everything that I hoped and imagined it would be, it was.
One. Two. Three. Whoa-ho.
GREENE: So, Reid, are the majors even on your mind this year? Like, could you get one more call up in you?
GORECKI: Oh, I'd love another call up. But, you know, this is reality standpoint now.
GREENE: How would that moment happen? Would you get a phone call or you'd see a scout at the game? And...
GORECKI: I would have to have an incredible season. And then it's still only a - it's not really a guaranteed spot. It's more like an opportunity.
GREENE: Whatever happens, Reid is looking to say goodbye to baseball in his own way. Being called up to a major league team one more time having a shot at a World Series, he knows that may all just be a dream.
But as he stands here teaching kids baseball, he's thinking: Maybe a championship ring with the Long Island Ducks?
GORECKI: I want one more ring. That's what I want.
GREENE: So, how many rings do you have right now?
GORECKI: I have three in the minor leagues. I got one in high school, two in college, a whole bunch as a young kid.
(SOUNDBITE OF A HIT)
GORECKI: Atta boy, eight more just like that.
(SOUNDBITE OF A HIT)
GORECKI: Oh yeah, I'm greedy when it comes to winning. I really enjoy it. That's a, I guess my advice when it comes to baseball...
Nicholas, this is for you. Take that.
GREENE: Nice job, Nicholas.
GORECKI: We still got to throw and catch. So you got to put that on.
GREENE: Well, good luck on the firefighters' exam.
GORECKI: Appreciate it.
GREENE: We'll see you at the stadium this year.
(SOUNDBITE OF A HIT)
GORECKI: You got your glove on? Ready to rock and roll?
GREENE: That's minor league ballplayer Reid Gorecki. He'll be in uniform this evening as the Long Island Ducks open their season.
As for life off the field, he sent us a text message yesterday. Reid said he still hasn't heard the results of that New York City firefighters' exam. He added: I think I did pretty well though.
We'll be following Reid Gorecki's story all summer.
MONTAGNE: And you can see a photo of Reid Gorecki on NPR.org.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.