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Nick Van Stratten and the Fact of Failure

Buried in an otherwise utterly pointless story about Jeff Francoeur saying he's ready to start being awesome again, was the note that the Royals have demoted Nick Van Stratten. Van Stratten, a 2006 draft pick was sent from Northwest Arkansas down to Wilmington, after one year plus at AA. Some diehard Royals fans were briefly excited about Van Stratten for awhile, a few years back, mostly just because there was little else to be excited about. But his peers got better and he got worse.

I don't mean to be harsh, but Nick Van Stratten's career as a Royal is effectively over. He faced long odds to begin with and his development has stalled. Relentlessly, newer, fresher faces are being drafted each year and whatever interest management may have had is just about gone.

So what should Nick Van Stratten do?

We're told two contradictory things by the voices of rationalizing corporate management self-help culture: follow our dreams, never give up and work hard, on one hand, and always be looking to reinvent yourself and adapt and innovate on the other. Of course, both are basically lies. There's not enough for everyone to be successful and many of us just don't have anything to offer the world even if we could. But those are things that we can't acknowledge, so we just don't talk about it.

But to the matter at hand. Do you keep pursuing your dream? Keep grinding away, keep failing? Or, do you say, "this isn't working, time for Plan B." The airport bookstore isn't going to provide a conclusive answer here. Because, again, most people are failing at both. However, because of survivor's bias, no one is writing a glowing biography of the guy who kept submitting his screenplay for 20 years and was never even listened to by a single agent. No one at CNBC is arranging an interview with that woman from your church group who started a coffee shop three years ago and lost her life savings. There's no chapter about someone who ran away to Vail to be a ski instructor and ended up selling insurance in Pueblo three years and a divorce later.


Year Age Tm Lg Lev G PA OBP SLG OPS TB
2006 21 2 Teams 2 Lgs Rk 59 268 .387 .434 .821 98
2007 22 Idaho Falls PION Rk 24 114 .407 .500 .907 49
2008 23 Burlington MIDW A 40 155 .400 .489 .889 68
2009 24 2 Teams 2 Lgs A-A+ 111 452 .385 .431 .817 170
2010 25 2 Teams 2 Lgs AA-Rk 90 357 .341 .350 .691 110
2010 25 Royals ARIZ Rk 4 15 .467 .583 1.050 7
2010 25 Northwest Arkansas TL AA 86 342 .335 .341 .676 103
2011 26 Northwest Arkansas TL AA 68 232 .298 .380 .678 79
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 6/30/2011.


I don't know what Nick should do. But I do think he should start thinking about it. When I was 26 I was in grad school in the humanities, which is more similar to being a minor leaguer than you might think. There's little pay, but what you do get to do is pretty cool. Both situations are weird mixes of being exploited and being treated to something interesting and antiquated. Huge industries, in both instances, rely on you, really mostly as a bulk quantity, and a few stars graduate to glory and justify the whole system for the next generation. There's not much of a chance, for most, of it really working out, but hey, you've got the rest of your life to work in a bank, right?

I don't know what Nick Van Stratten should do. But as a 26 year old in A ball, he should definitely start thinking about things. There are two sad things about your 20s: 1) you never have enough money to do what you want to do during the times you could be doing it and 2) they end. I was a failed grad student. I knew that was likely going in and at some level definitely knew that halfway in. NVS is almost certainly going to be a failed baseball player. In my case, I went for the stick it out/keep dreaming option, which ended up in the baseball equivalent of what NVS is headed to. I wrote a dissertation that was supposedly good but no one really cared about and a novel that no one wanted to read or buy. Well then. I technically finished the Ph.D. and had a horrible adjuncting job with no future. I am now the world's oldest intern in a different field, in a still terrible economy. Fun times.

So Nick could stick it out, pray that he gets released or traded to a different organization (preferably one that has no minor league depth) and that his game takes a turn for the better. With a few breaks, I could see Nick Van Stratten playing a season or two for, say, the Brewers in 2013ish. Or, he could parachute out sooner rather than later. From where I sit today, I would tell him to clock out now, spend some time away from everything and figure out Plan B. Plan B is also likely to fail or be boring and possibly terrible. But hey, we have to do something.

It's weird the way we talk about guys in the Major Leagues. They have their own scale and standards, but they're all incredibly good at what they do and about 80% of them stick around long enough to be fantastically well off. At least for a little while. Unless he gets into broadcasting, no one will remember Mark Grudzielanek at all in 15 years, a player who made $36 million playing baseball. Kyle Davies has become a punch line and has been called the worst pitcher in baseball history and he's making $3.2 million this season. So our sense of perspective is seriously skewed, like half-thinking that the only elected officials or politicians out there were members of Congress: even the worst of the bunch (by any measure) is in such a small elite percentile, it's almost impossible to do the math.

I went off on the "Jeff Francouer Teaches Us About Life" thesis for many of these same reasons. I'm tempted to say that Nick Van Stratten is the one teaching us about life, but that would be a lie. Nick Van Stratten isn't informing us of anything we don't already know. There are a few people that make it and get things and have things and can do things and then there is everybody else. There's the fella who your town was named after, and then, there is, you know, everybody who actually lives in that town.

I'd venture to say that no one is teaching us about life because at some level there's nothing really to learn. Our human lives, so short and so changing are too complicated and contingent to apply lazy homologies and easy rules. You do your best, eventually discover you suck, like everyone else, and you just kinda move along.

So anyway, Nick Van Stratten.