Picked Up On Waivers

By: John Erskine-Kellie

When I was a kid I used to tell people that I was adopted. I know it was juvenile of me but I was a kid after all, and besides, it seemed safer than telling the truth — that I was picked up on waivers.

For a long time I was ashamed of that, but now I’ve developed a real sense of pride about it. I mean, the odds were against me right from the start.

It was 1976 and I was an unsigned infant. I was convinced that I would be picked up in the 76/77 family expansion draft, but after the 21st round I still hadn’t been chosen. I heard all the usual excuses — I was too old, my knife and fork control hadn’t developed to a professional level, and as far as bed-wetting went I was still something of a question mark. I was about ready to give it up when a small family from Scarborough decided to take a chance on me.

I was picked 729th overall. Well, they tried me out in the family but it was pretty obvious that I wasn’t going to fit into their plans — I was just a quick fix to fill their hole in the preschool position…So, after only a year and a half I was traded to the Wilson family for future considerations. The Wilsons were very girl-heavy at the time, and I guess Mr. W. hoped that I would add some muscle and balance to the family. I toiled there for three years, gooning it up and watching out for the girls, but recurring tonsil problems kept me out of the line for most of the winter of ’81, and when I tried to hit the Wilsons up for a higher allowance Mr. W. pulled me from the lineup and put me on waivers.

My agent said that I had priced myself out of the North American child market, that I should consider joining an Italian family in the less competitive European market…But I hung tough, and just three days before the Wilsons could put me out to pasture…Bang! I was picked up on waivers. And it wasn’t just any family; it was the Jones family, a good organization with lots of money and a great history. Mr. Jones wanted and expected the best from his kids, and competition was tough. I was fighting for a top spot against three veteran eight year olds and spent my first 18 months on the farm team sharpening my skills. Every day I worked out, doing math, reading books, playing tag and making slingshots, but I still hadn’t gotten a chance at the big leagues.

My break came in my tenth summer. The Jones family had been doing great all year and everyone was trying to keep up with them. The kids were going strong when their star son, Billy, went down with the measles — he was going to be out of the lineup for a week to ten days and there was a vitally important family picnic coming up. I got the call. I was in the city the next day, had my own room, name tags sewn into my underwear, comic books — the whole nine yards. But man, was there pressure to perform. Dad — that’s what we called him — made it clear to me that I was just a sub-in, but I knew in my heart I had what it took to make the family permanently. I hustled my buns off, walking the dog, mowing the lawn. I took the trash out three times in one week, and by the time Billy was back on his feet I had all but stolen his gig and it was him, not me, that was sent down to the minors…

My career as a kid had its ups and downs, a couple of trophies, the odd mention in the papers and the usual bout with acne, but I played in the big family and that’s all that matters now. I made myself one promise — that when the time came for me to grow up I was going to do it gracefully. Not like some guys, who are still playing marbles and wearing short pants when they’re 21. I knew when it was time for me to leave, and my career’s not over. I’m still in the game, and parenting is just as tough. Sure the rules have changed, but I’m learning to adapt, although, if truth be told, it just doesn’t have the same glamour as it used to.