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BOYS OF SUMMER

BOYS OF SUMMER

Baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet – the commercial is as older than I am but sticks in everyone’s mind when they hear it. Some may go through the entire day humming it or repeating it softly. Imagine the dream of playing in the show and coming oh so close. It’s a blunt reality that occurs every spring and summer, and worse yet in the fall. Rosters are made and you look for your name, silently praying that your name is there and there’s not a ‘pink’ slip waiting for you. Those statistics are stacked against you from the time you step onto your first tee ball field.  

Stats that are nothing short of amazing for you to consider.  Each year there are two million little league players. The numbers drop drastically to 455,000 high school players and another huge drop to 25,000 college players.  There are 1,500 players drafted each year with 750 MLB players. It’s not easy or everyone would be a major league baseball player. Someone once asked M if he wanted to play in the show or if he wanted to be a professional ball player. It took him by surprise when it was explained that there are 1000s of professional ball players but only 750 major league ball players. 

Alan Horne was a right-handed pitcher at Marianna High School, graduated in 2001 and will go down in history I would surmise to say as having the fastest fast ball in Bulldog history. He was a pivotal part of the 1999 one and only Marianna High School state championship team. His fastball saw the high 90s daily and topped 100.  Scouts from 30 teams flooded the stands to see the master at work. What they saw Horne’s senior year was a catcher who caught that fast ball with no issues whatsoever. In an interview with Sports Illustrated magazine, MLB catcher Jeff Mathis told the writer that he was spotted as having major-league potential due to all the hoopla over Horne’s velocity. He’s enjoyed over a decade in the show.  If you’re from Jackson County, you may know the path Alan Horne’s baseball career took but for those who know only part of the story, in the words of Paul Harvey, for the rest of the story.  .  .

Horne was drafted out of Marianna High in the first round, 27th pick in the 2001 MLB draft by the Cleveland Indians. At the time, Horne opted to attend college at the University of Mississippi. After an injury there led to Tommy John surgery, Horne returned to Marianna to play for veteran coach Jeff Johnson at Chipola College. From there, he led the Florida Gators to the College World Series where they finished second in the nation.  He was drafted in the 11th round by the NY Yankees.  The college baseball world along with major league baseball watched as he went down with an injury at the College World Series. The Yankees representatives were in the stands and felt confident in his recovery. From high A to AA to AAA, Horne competed racking up Pitcher of the Year awards while with the Yankees organization, the Trenton Thunder. 

July 9 is a day that looms  heavy on Alan Horne’s heart year after year. He’s never publicly made reference to it until July 9, 2018.  With his permission, below are his thoughts on July 9, his baseball career, his injuries and his life after baseball.

“July 9th...

To most this a just a hot summer day, to some even the start of a vacation, and a few I am sure a day that is truly special. For me, July 9th, is the hardest day I face all year.

I’ve typed this post out multiple times not just this morning but dozens over the last seven years and every time I hit “cancel” at the end. Too hard is what I tell myself, most people won’t understand, or more simply why...why would I share something about a day that bothers me so much I don’t sleep, I won’t eat more than I have to, and will talk even less? For sympathy some will say, no. Not something I have or will ever ask for. For relief, get it off your chest, maybe. But I haven’t shared it for seven years so what’s another? This go around...I have decided to hit share to show what July 9th has done for me.

I’m not sure a day passes I do not get asked about my baseball career. Most very trivial and fun to answer...where was your favorite place to play, what kind of glove did you wear, did they ever let you hit, how tall is Derek Jeter? Some require a more calculated response and the memory brings a small emotional wince, who was your favorite teammate, what was your favorite game you pitched, how did you get hurt, why aren’t you still playing? But the one question with the hardest punch - .do you miss it? I look down and roll the question around in my head every time it is asked. How do I answer this? What do I want to show this person about me? Do I lie? You know what baseball is such a hard life, I don’t know if I could go back. While very proud of what I did, I’m glad the next chapter is here. Do I mix in a little but very guarded truth? Some of it I miss. The game itself of course but playing every day for 10 months straight, the bus trips and plane rides, the solitude of being on your own, fighting impossible odds? Not really, I’m glad to be where I am now and able to look back on fond memories. Or do I be honest, brutally honest? Yes. I miss it every day. I miss it every time my alarm goes off to start my morning. I miss it every time I get in the shower and rub the scars left from the game itself and surgery. I miss it every time look at the glove with my name on my desk at work. I miss it every time I go to the gym and fight the pain of every injury acquired over 28 years. I miss it every time I go to my travel team’s practice, pick up a baseball, and find the best curveball seam before I throw it in to the bucket. I miss it every time I lay my head down at night, knowing I didn’t stand on a mound that day - yes I miss baseball and on July 9th that feeling hurts the most.

July 9, 2011

The last day I ever competed on a baseball field...

I remember too much about that day and many times I’ve wished to forget it. I was in Reading, Pennsylvania in seemingly my 100th rehab stint of the past four years. Setback after setback and surgery after surgery I battled everyday just to function physically and mentally. Getting up that morning, I hurt so bad I couldn’t put on my shirt without help. An embarrassing thing to ask your roommate for help with. Riding to the field I turned my iPod up and up trying to drown out the thump in my shoulder. Finally, to the field, great now I have to get dressed again. Putting on my socks was even a challenge and doing so under the stares of your peers made the chore even worse. Get to the training room. I didn’t even count Advil at that point anymore, just shook the bottle twice and swallowed what was there. Even jogging down the foul line for stretch was miserable but seeing one of our coordinators and my biggest mentor in my career was in town at least let the pain subside momentarily. I gave Pat McMahon a big hug and squeezed harder than normal. Coach Mac was my college coach at UF and helped me overcome my first major injury and helped me to love the game again after a rough three years. Many long conversations and lots of tears shed in his office but he was a huge reason I had the opportunity I did to play. As I let go of the hug, I could see it on his face. He knew something was wrong even though I replied great to his question of how I was. I watched him out of the corner of my eye as I began to throw. I’m not sure which hurt worse, the throbbing pain radiating from my ear, down through my shoulder, to my fingertips, or the look on his face. I could see the pain on it as I ran by him to finish our drills for the day and to condition. Before we went back into the clubhouse Mac called me to the bullpen to “work” on a few things on our own. Two pitches in I couldn’t do anything for the pain and sat down on the bench head in my hands. He knelt down in front of me and lifted my hat bill to look me in the face and I’m not sure who was fighting back bigger tears, Mac or me. All I could manage was, “It’s over.” Two words I never wanted to say. Not knowing what to say I’m sure he just hugged me again and we walked back to the dugout in silence. Back in the clubhouse I shook out two more handfuls of Advil and swallowed them with a cup of Gatorade wishing for something more. I put on my uniform a little slower that day not only because of the pain but because deep down I knew it was the last time no matter the outcome of that night. I can still remember the noise my shoelaces made tightening them down. As I jogged out of the dugout, I made eye contact with Mac, gave him a nod and went down to the bullpen. The game itself went by as a blur but with a three-run lead in the eighth, the radio mic keyed and said Horne has the ninth. All I could think is, one more time. I maybe threw eight pitches in the pen, wasn’t going to get any better. Jogging to the mound everything went dead. Crowd noise, the smells, the sights, I was in my own bubble. A bubble of solitude and pain. I could hear my spikes crunch the clay and the rocks roll in the rosin bag as I flipped it. One more time. Play ball - the pain was so high at this point I didn’t feel anything but deadness in my arm. Groundball, out. That’s a start. Pop up, out. I may survive. Pitch one to batter three, rip. Blinding pain. I made a circle around the back of the mound and found Mac in the dugout. He was on the top step. I stared at him and felt my shoulder sinking lower and lower with a new tear. Back up the mound and I went to battle with nothing. Walk. Broken bat single. Walk. The finish line so close but so far away. I didn’t even know my manager had come out when he slapped me on the shoulder. “Alan we are gonna get you some help here and close this thing out.” No. Do not take this from me is what I wanted to say but the words wouldn’t come out. It’s over....it’s over. As I sat down on the bench I didn’t hear anything just blankly stared at the mound. Play ball. First pitch, walk off grand slam. It’s over. I watched the celebration as my teammates trickled by on their way to the locker room. It’s over. I sat there watching the fireworks knowing this was the last time I would do it from a dugout, as a player anyways. Dripping in sweat and pain I walked back to the locker room to face the moment every player fears but all must succumb to. The call didn’t happen that day but three days later my manager called me into his office. I and everyone in that locker room knew what for. No matter how that conversation is handled, it’s the toughest one in every player’s career. It’s over. What do I do now? Packing your bags in front of a locker room full of brothers and teammates is the most humbling thing you can ask a player to do. Defeat surrounds you and no sympathies from anyone dulls that pain. It’s over. Where do I go from here?

July 9, 2018

I share all of this not for sympathy but hopefully to inspire. Use the trials you endure and the scars left behind not to show weakness but to build strength going forward. Use your challenges to wield the hammer to forge your armor. With each swing become tougher than you were the day before. Build yourself up day by day. Use that same hammer to forge your sword. Fight for the things you want, fight for the things you deserve. Be relentless. Lastly swing that hammer to forge your shield. Use it to block the blows that come towards the ones dearest to you in their times of need. Defend them because you can and show them what they mean to you. In time you may need their shield in return. 

July 9th....yes I miss it. But today I will be stronger than yesterday. I am ready for battle. Wield your hammer and fight on.

God Bless,

AH”

Today, Alan Horne has a State Farm Insurance Agency in Jasper, Georgia and as he indicated in his post, he has a travel ball team. Returning to the baseball field didn’t happen overnight but there’s a group of baseball players that thank their lucky stars every night that they can look up to Alan Horne on the baseball field, in the dugout and on the trips to and from games.

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