The Finish Line, a special section of The Real Deal, is a series of first-person stories written by recently graduated student-athletes, reflecting on their Lafayette experience.
I wish I could go back in time to offer some advice to freshman year Steven Cohen.
For one, your career is going to be filled with moments that, at the time, will seem like meaningless events, but many will really be special and unique. I’d tell freshman me to take these moments in because before you know it, you’ll be stepping in the batter’s box for the last at-bat of your career.
When it comes to special moments, the first time you do something is definitely memorable. Many of my firsts as a Leopard came in the blink of an eye.
It was the top of the first inning in my second game and we were already down 2-0. There were runners on first and second with no outs. I was still looking for many of my firsts—my first hit, my first run scored, and my first homerun.
Little did I know I’d experience all those things at that moment.
As a freshman, I was batting last in the lineup for good reason. The UMBC pitcher probably figured I was going to bunt, and in his defense, that would have made sense since I was extremely nervous in that situation.
I got a curveball right down the middle of the plate and I pulled the trigger. What looked initially like a routine line drive somehow made it over the fence in right field. I’ll never forget how fast I ran around the bases.
Freshman me should’ve known better.
That year, I was fortunate enough to receive a Freshman All-American honor and an All-Patriot League nod at shortstop. I fell in love with this type of recognition and for the rest of my college career, I was driven by receiving similar accolades. I repeated as an all-conference player after my sophomore and junior years and went into my senior season thinking I was a lock to get my fourth.
This is when adversity kicked in.
To make a long story short, my senior season did not go as planned.
The only thing I needed to avoid was injury, but in the last game of the fall, I slid into second and tore the labrum in my shoulder. The doctor said I had two choices: get surgery and end my career or play through the pain.
The decision for me was simple…play ball.
To make matters worse, I pulled my hamstring, causing me to miss several weeks of games. On top of these injuries, the team was struggling to piece together the right lineup, and I felt I was letting them down by not being on the field.
For the first time in my baseball life I was not able to compete at the level I was accustomed to.
For more first-person accounts from Lafayette student-athletes, check out the Finish Line stories in The Real Deal.
As our final series crept up, I realized the struggles I endured throughout the season didn’t really matter. The last few games against Army West Point had no implications on our season other than we knew this would be our final time putting on the Lafayette uniform.
As a freshman, I probably didn’t appreciate, or in some cases even comprehend all the firsts. But the older, wiser Steve Cohen took in every one of the lasts I was experiencing.
It seemed that everything I did was a last, but the real ones that stuck with me were the little things, like the sounds and the smells of the game.
The “last” that hit me the hardest was during my last at-bat. As my dad would say about my last homerun a few days earlier, “the old man still had one left in the tank.”
I squeaked a double down the left field line and, for the first time all season, I dove into second base head first, even though there wasn’t a need to. With my first homerun trot in my mind, I decided to soak this moment in.
This was the best moment of my career.
I slowly pushed myself up, asked the umpire for time, and while on one knee I just looked around. I knew my baseball career was officially finished.
As I ran over to give my stuff to player/coach John Selsor, he smiled, looked at me in the eyes, and said, “That’s it.”
I exhaled, walked back to second, and got ready for the next play. That moment felt like an eternity, as my baseball life flashed before my eyes. I wish freshman me would have known to embrace every one of the little moments like this.
As the game came to an end, I watched all my fellow seniors take their last at-bats and walk off the field.
It was emotional.
In our postgame speech, we hugged all of the underclassmen one final time as teammates. I knew, however, that I was hugging life-long friends.
Baseball, and sports in general, is all about the people and the experiences you have together. It’s about competing with your friends for a common cause, creating relationships that you’ll never forget and, most importantly, motivating each other to be better. It’s the memories of these friends that will stick with me, not the wins or the trophies or awards.
To Luke, Q, Nick, Pat, AJ, Johnny, Ball, and Cain:
You made all those drives to Metzgar, early lifts, and 12-hour weekend days worth it. I couldn’t have asked for better teammates and, out of everything, I’ll miss you guys the most.
We may not have won a championship, but I’m confident that we left a legacy that will resonate with the younger guys.
To my Parents:
I cannot thank you enough for driving me to games, throwing me batting practice, taking me to lessons, and dealing with me when it wasn’t going great. Whether I was sprinting around the bases after my first homerun, or kneeling on second after my last hit, I always knew you were behind the scenes cheering for me.
To the younger guys still lucky enough to lace up your cleats and go play baseball:
Soak it all in.
Before you know it, you’re going to be kneeling on second for the last time ever. Appreciate the people you are around and the relationships you create. That’s what matters, and that’s what will stick with you for a life time.
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