Starting over. Getting a second chance.
On one hand, change associated with such an action can seem daunting, and yet, it can also enable success where it previously may not have seemed possible.
Such was the opportunity considered by Cornelio and Yolanda Landin when they made the difficult decision to leave behind their lives in Mexico a quarter of a century ago and relocate to the United States to raise their family.
Unable to speak English, the young couple settled in Brownsville, Texas, just across the border, and made every sacrifice to bring up their three sons and one daughter right. In turn, the siblings made their parents extremely proud, as they worked to support the household and most importantly when each of the four eventually earned their college degrees.
Like his father, who had been a fine ballplayer in his youth, one son, Jaime, had shown special promise in the game of baseball back as long as anyone can remember. When Brownsville did not offer youth baseball year-round in his pre-teen years, Jaime was encouraged to participate in programs in Mexico, where he ultimately competed at both the state and national levels.
Upon graduation from high school, where he was ranked third in his class and batted .571 in his senior year, Jaime did not receive a single major college offer. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder asked to walk on at the University of Texas, but was turned away. Undaunted and with the full support of his family, Jaime enrolled at Texas A&M–Corpus Christi to both play baseball and pursue his undergraduate degree.
Jaime was successful in both endeavors - earning his business degree and excelling on the diamond. After hitting over .300 in the wooden-bat Coastal Plain League during the previous summer, the shortstop batted .427 in his senior year at Corpus Christi. As the school's first-ever four-year letterman in the sport, Landin holds 15 Islanders career records and six single-season marks. He was subsequently named the 2005 NCAA Division I Independent Player of the Year.
But, just as after high school, no one called - on draft day or thereafter. Landin returned to college to work toward his master’s degree in business administration.
That plan soon changed when the St. Louis Cardinals came calling in late 2005. Jaime received his first opportunity to play affiliated professional ball when he signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in November, 2005.
Landin’s time on the field in Jupiter, Florida was surprisingly short, as he was released by the organization early in Spring Training 2006. His college experience helped him deal with the rejection. “I know it is a business. It was not about asking questions. I figured they didn’t need me. So, I might as well be on my way,” Jaime explained.
He didn’t want his baseball career to end in that manner. But even more importantly, with the semester already underway, Landin needed income. “I had already burned the semester in terms of completing my masters, so I figured I should find a job. And that is what it was – a job. I needed to pay bills and needed money to survive, so I figured it would be my best bet – to do something I like and get paid for it,” he said.
This past summer, Landin’s job was to suit up with the Coastal Bend Aviators of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. Playing second base, he batted .292 with a lofty .403 on-base percentage for the Aviators and was successful in nine of 11 stolen base attempts. That served as reminder to everyone that he could still play.
From there, that second chance, the opportunity to start over, presented itself in an unexpected manner to Jaime Landin. Surprisingly, the Cardinals asked him to come to 2007 Spring Training and resume his professional aspirations.
Landin relates how it came about. “One day, out of the blue, the man who signed me originally, Joe Almaraz, called and said they were willing to give me a second chance. I asked him if would be the same as last time. He said there would be no guarantees.”
The 23-year-old was busy in school and wasn’t sure he wanted to interrupt his graduate studies, despite the encouragement offered by his ever-supportive clan - until he learned there had been changes in the Cardinals organization.
“Actually, I thought about it long and hard. I was working and grew kind of tired of the same routine. So, a couple of weeks before Spring Training, I called him up and said I would give it a shot, especially with new people in player development,” Landin explained.
In March, 2007, the name “Jaime Landin” reappeared on Spring Training working rosters and on stat sheets, yet he was not under contract. While Jaime had agreed to give baseball another go, not unlike college, he was first going to have to play his way in.
It wasn’t going to be easy. Attending school and working at the same time had not been conducive to staying in baseball shape over the winter. “It was hard for me to get some innings in, to get some at-bats in, once the independent season ended in August. I went to Mexico a couple of times and played some pickup games on Sundays. I just tried to stay as smooth as possible, but I didn’t have enough time to completely dedicate myself. I had never received a signing bonus or anything, so I had to look out for myself. I had to start all over, pretty much,” Landin admitted.
Once Spring Training began, about once each week, I would receive an anxious email from his older brother Cornelio, Jr., querying my view of Jaime’s status. Cornelio, Jr. is a schoolteacher back home in Texas and is unquestionably Jaime’s biggest fan, with the ability to rattle off his brother’s stats and accomplishments in a rapid-fire manner. Jaime gives back, as he regularly speaks to Cornelio's students about the importance of perseverence.
Though there was no formal announcement from the Cardinals, at the end of March, Jaime’s name next appeared on their Extended Spring Training roster. At that point, an organization official confirmed that the younger Landin would be offered a contract.
I passed this information to a delighted Cornelio, Jr. who later said that when he gave his parents the news, tears came to their eyes.
Jaime appreciates them, too. “They’re the ones who push me, keep me going and encourage me. I am doing this partly for them. They think there is nothing other than me doing what I love to do – being out on that field. I speak with them every day. They are behind me, no matter what happens.”
Jaime Landin’s second-chance, long-shot bid to recapture a professional baseball contract was formally consummated late last week in Jupiter, Florida when he signed his 2007 contract with the Cardinals. His next goal will be to play well enough during Extended Spring Training to earn a spot on one of the short-season clubs that commence play in June, maybe even Almaraz' Johnson City team.
Cornelio and Yolanda Landin know all about the benefits of grasping that second chance and now, so does Jaime. As a result, they each have countless reasons to be proud.
Jaime may have put it best. “I figured if they sacrificed, I can sacrifice, as well. It is my second chance. Not too many people get a second chance. I did. Who wouldn’t want to be in my shoes?”
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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