In 1994 I spent 10 weeks in Elizabethton, Tennessee after I was drafted by the Minnesota Twins. While I was there, I met some great people, both players and residents. One guy that had an impact on me worked in the clubhouse. I’ll give you two guesses on what his name was … Bubba. He was 6’4” and 280 to 300 pounds, just a big old boy. He lived in the mountains with his mama, as he referred to her.
During one of our off days, Bubba, wanted to take us to his secret cliff jumping spot. About eight of us ball players decided we were going cliff jumping. So, half of us hopped in Bubba’s Ford truck, and the other half hopped into Marcus’s Trans Am. Marcus loved his Trans Am. I lived with Marcus, Darin, from Australia (we had an instant connection because we were both part of the Commonwealth), and Tom who was this surfer dude from California. The four of us each had a mattress on the Hyder’s basement floor in the Appalachian Mountains.
So, we all headed out to Bubba’s cliff jumping/swimming hole for the day. When we finally rolled up to the spot, we got out of the cars and walked down this path on the edge of a mountain, where on one side it goes down 400 to 500 feet with rocks. We finally get to the swimming hole and notice there are three other guys hanging out there already. As we got closer, we saw an older dude(about 25-30) with homemade tattoos on his arms, along with two younger guys(16-18). They were drinking moonshine out of a milk jug, and the older guy was hammered. After some time there I noticed the older guy kept going into the water walking around like he was looking for something. It was weird!
I thought, “What is this guy doing?” So, I decided to check it out. “Hey man, what’s going on? Anything I can help you with?”
He answers with a heavy southern drawl, “Yea, I lost my gewn. My gewn is n the water, and I can’t find my gewn.”
I thought about it for a moment, and said, “Ok. Why don’t you hang out, grab yourself another drink, let me walk through this water and I’ll find your gun. Is it a hand gun?”
“No, a rifle!”
I started wading through the water, and all of a sudden, I felt the gun on my toes.
I kicked that gun so deep into the water, because I thought, if he gets his gun, he’s going to shoot us. This dude was crazy, and he was drunk.
After about 20 to 30 minutes, one of the younger guys takes off. It seemed odd at the time, but everything going on was weird. The young guy came back, maybe twenty to thirty minutes later and whispered something in the older dude’s ear. They looked around and said, “We going to take off. See y’all later.”
“OK, see you later,” we said.
Then, I watched the drunk, old guy make his way back up the hill. He could barely walk. It was like watching a cartoon. He teetered back and forth and looked like he was going to fall over the edge at any minute, yet every time I thought he would fall, he grabbed onto a branch from a tree on the path and caught himself. This went on the entire time he walked away. He started walking up the path… 10 feet higher, 50 feet higher and 200 feet higher. All I thought was, “This guy is going to kill himself. Splat on the ground if he falls.”
By some miracle, he made it to the top without falling.
A few minutes passed by, and something just didn’t feel right. I suggested to the guys that we leave. We had been there for about two hours already, so we had plenty of time to jump and swim.
We packed our things and started the trek back up to the cars. Fidge started running up the hill, which isn’t out of the ordinary. He was our runner. He was always moving. As we got closer to the top, we heard screaming and shouting, so we all started running as fast as we could to catch up to Fidge.
When we reached the top, we saw one of the swimming hole guys come at Fidge with a crowbar. When the other two guys see us, they all took off running toward their truck. They were just about to steal the tires off of the Trans Am, and Fidge foiled their plan.
The older, drunk guy yelled, “I’m going to get my gewn, and shoot these guys!” Right then, I jumped behind the car. I thought they are going to shoot us. He was sitting in the middle and he was trying to reach the into the glove box. But, the guy in front of the passenger side door, by the glove box, kept yelling, “No!” and wouldn’t let him in the glove box. They peeled out of the opening and took off down the path.
Bubba made it up the hill, and he dove behind the car as well.
That’s when Bubba yelled, “Guys, get into the car! Go! Go! Go!”
As I said earlier, Bubba is a big, old boy. He was a big strong dude. But in this situation, when I looked over at him, he was ghostly white and scared.
Bubba peeled off down a path, through the mountains to get to the main road. He was flying down these hills, silent and sweating.
We finally got to the main road. Bubba slowed down and the color came back to his face. He audibly exhaled.
I said, “Bubba, what was that all about?”
“Those boys were mountain men,” he said. “If they called their buddies on the CB and they stopped us, they don’t care who you are, no one will find us ever again.”
I looked at him and said, “Bubba, don’t ever take us to a swimming hole with mountain men ever again.”
What I learned as an athlete
Trust your gut. Not just in a situation like this, I knew deep down that something was off that day, and I trusted myself. If I didn’t give into that trust and get the guys moving from the swimming hole, then this story might have a different ending.
One of the biggest thing my manager Tom Kelly tried to teach me was to trust my instincts on the base paths. When I would make a mistake on the base paths it was because I hesitated after I made my decision. An example would be when I was on second and there was a fly ball base hit to the outfield. I knew where the outfielders were playing, I knew their speed, I knew it was a base hit. I would take off running to score but after a couple of steps I would think “what if I am wrong?” I would then hesitate and double check. I had the right read but I didn’t trust it.
How I apply to business
I’m young in business and have my insecurities. I sometimes minimize my gut feelings, and I’ve made some mistakes that have cost me money and relationships. But, I have learned from those moments and grown as a businessman. It’s important to trust yourself and see where that trust takes you.
How I apply to youth sports
Now, as I coach youth sports, it’s a lesson I try to teach the kids. If something is off, don’t go there. It’s amazing how many times your instinct is right. Stealing a base in baseball, if you second guess it, then chances are, you will slow down and get out. Just go for it.