Way back when Ashley first described her younger brother and baseball to me, she said he was “pretty good.” I saw him play shortly after, and I agreed. The picture on the far left of this collage is a freshman Riley Self meeting the media for the first time after he dominated Texas Tech in his 2nd career game. He was the toast of Bulldog Nation and the SEC on his way to a Freshman All American year. Life zigs when you think it should zag sometimes, and not every road was straight in the years that followed. There were high-highs and low-lows over the past 5 years. Alex Box called Baton Rouge and the Vandy Boys whistled (a lot), and The Dude even got a makeover about 1/2 way through the trip. Sometimes the right arm cooperated, and honestly, many times, it didn’t.
In all of our lives, we reach a point when our sliders no longer slide and our cutters don’t cut anymore. Athletic glory is intoxicating but all too fleeting. Today’s hero is tomorrow’s memory. How a person acts when the lights aren’t on is when true character reveals itself. The next two pictures are Riley now. He might have had to step away from the mound and into the coaching box, but his leadership and his attitude never changed. For five years, Riley lived his dream for all of us to witness, and he ended it as a national champion.
In some perfect Disney world, Riley came in tonight one last time and found ways to get Vanderbilt hitters out just like he did so many times. But life isn’t perfect, and sometimes our greatest disappointments show us the way to something special. As the writer Ryan Holiday termed it, “the obstacle is the way.” Riley’s career had plenty of obstacles but it ends with that big smile in the middle. His playing days might be over, but his influence over others, on or off the diamond, is just beginning. Ashley was right— Riley is “pretty good.”
And he always will be.