The line between success and failure in sports can be so thin as to feel invisible sometimes. Nowhere is that more true than minor league baseball, an endless graveyard of dreams and hopes in which countless players who were once the best in their schools or conferences or towns or states run smack-dab into a wall over and over again in the pursuit of something bigger than themselves and that only a tiny portion of them will ever reach. To be a minor leaguer is to invite sadness and despair on a daily rate at a near-atomic level, and it's a job where even when you do well, there's no guarantee that it will turn into anything more than long days of riding buses and eating McDonald's for dinner while making somewhere south of $25,000 a year. It is a Sisyphean ordeal with little reward.
Sometimes you see that struggle play out on the mound or at the plate by young men who have never known failure but now grapple with it every day. Rarely, though, do you get so concentrated and perfect a burst of valiant and well-intentioned ambition colliding headlong with the cruelty of an indifferent universe as you do with this minute-long video of Cubs prospect D.J. Wilson, centerfielder for the Class A South Bend Cubs, repeatedly trying and failing to throw a beach ball to a young fan just behind an outfield wall that seems to stretch higher and higher with every effort that comes up agonizingly short.
Over the course of the video's 60 seconds, 10 throws and a few exasperated shrugs, you can watch the beauty of the human experience melt together with the misery of our darkest moments. You can watch a man's persistence in action, his dedication to a task that seems destined to fail. You can admire our species' seemingly limitless resilience and you can cringe at the way in which we throw ourselves into futile action, convinced that if we exert enough energy, we can make mountains crumble. In the face of repeated failure, Wilson keeps plugging away, determined to succeed even when everything seems aligned against him. There is no impossible, you can imagine him thinking, only what we give up on because we think it's impossible. That doesn't exist for Wilson, even when the little girl in the pink dress slaps the ball away at the 40-second mark and deals a psychic blow that will make you stagger back like you've been punched in the stomach. He may never reach the majors or hit a walk-off home run or figure out how to lay off a curveball, but in this task, he will not be denied.
Sometimes, there is a happy ending. Wilson and the owner of that beach ball both got it. If you fall, Wilson reminds us, you can still get up. Let no beach ball get in your way.
(H/t Hannah Keyser)