They followed their dream here. Or maybe it followed them.
All they know is that after 1,050 miles of fast food and green interstate signs, this is where the sidewalk ends.
For now, it is the Peach State League.
Until 12 days ago, Tim Rotola and his wife, Kayla, had never set foot in Macon.
Now their dream is perched on an outfield wall beside the train tracks at Central City Park.
They’re not in Kansas anymore.
Every day, they drive their Ford Escape to historic Luther Williams Field, one of the oldest baseball parks in the country.
And every time it’s Tim’s turn to suit up and play, he plants his cleats on the same dugout steps where Pete Rose and Chipper Jones once gripped bats and spit tobacco juice.
Kayla watches from the stands as Tim chases that little, white dream with 108 seams across the outfield grass. As he tries to climb baseball’s proverbial ladder, she is his biggest cheerleader.
Tim is playing in an independent, rookie league with no big-league affiliations, no paychecks and no guarantees.
But it is also a chance to open eyes and turn heads. It’s an opportunity to move up to the next level.
“There are thousands of guys just like me,” Tim said. “If you love the game enough, you won’t quit. It will work somewhere. You just don’t know where.”
After an April tryout in Texas, he was extended an invitation to join the new four-team league in Georgia. He arrived last week and was assigned to the Warner Robins Aviators.
He played with the Coastal Kingfish in a similar league, the Continental League, in Texas last year. So he is making the switch from Houston, Texas, to Houston County. He is making the transition from Kingfish to Aviators.
Land. Sea. Air. Whatever it takes.
In Texas, he was able to stay in the home of a missionary friend of his family. His teammates had to rough it. There were times when 10 guys had to make ends meet by sharing a two-bedroom apartment. Air mattresses were everywhere.
In Macon, he couldn’t very well stay with his teammates in the dormitories at Wesleyan College because he got married seven months ago.
So, Tim and Kayla are living in a garage apartment behind the home of James and Jodi Palmer, the publishers and co-editors of Macon Magazine. (They were eight miles away last week when lightning hit Hightower Hall dormitory, where players from the league were staying, causing an early morning blaze and forcing evacuation of the building.)
Tim is 22. Kayla is 21. He gave up his job selling advertising for a grocery chain to play ball for the summer. She was working with preschool children at a day care center.
“This is our life together,” she said. “We decided before we married we would be together, wherever he was. I could have stayed in Wichita, but I wanted to be here for him instead of back home, waiting for him to call me after every game.”
For better. For worse. For richer. For poorer.
She has been in love with him since they were in the fifth grade. They met, appropriately enough, at a baseball field. They both have younger brothers, and their fathers coached together in the same little league.
Tim’s father, Rob, once had a scholarship offer to play baseball at the University of Georgia but instead chose to study for the ministry. Rob Rotola and his wife, Debbie, are now senior pastors at Word of Life Church in Wichita.
When Tim was 4 years old, his father gave him a baseball glove.
“We still go out and hit and play catch in the backyard,” Tim said.
Kayla watched her future husband become a high school baseball star. He played at Independence Community College in Kansas and then at Liberty University in Virginia.
Scouts from several professional teams talked with him, and he even delayed their wedding last summer because he thought he might get drafted.
His name was never called. They were married in November.
They have since been to tryouts in Kansas, Florida, Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, Indiana, Nebraska and Texas. They learned to stretch their newlywed budget across the state lines, staying with friends and family whenever and wherever they could.
“The tough part is when you have a great tryout and are the best outfielder there, but they’re looking for a pitcher,” Tim said.
A little luck doesn’t hurt, but don’t expect it. Luck, as an old baseball sage once said, is when preparation meets opportunity.
For all the longshots, though, there are still enough dreams to go around. And amazing stories, like the one last week at Fenway Park in Boston.
Daniel Nava is an outfielder, just like Tim. He weighed only 70 pounds when he started high school and a mere 135 pounds when he graduated. He tried out for his college baseball team in Santa Clara, Calif., but was cut, so he became the team’s equipment manager.
Give up? Never. Three years ago, he was playing in the independent Golden League in California and Arizona.
(He never met Erin Andrews, of ESPN, but he had such a crush on her that he left a ticket in her name at “will call” for every game, hoping she would show up.)
She now knows who he is. On June 12, in his debut with the Boston Red Sox, he became only the second player in major league history to hit a grand slam on the very first pitch of his very first at-bat.
“Our friends tell us they don’t know how we do it,” said Kayla. “We don’t have an income, and that’s scary. We’re both planners and organizers. Picking up and moving around is the opposite of our personalities. But this is what we want to do.”
It’s all about chasing dreams.
Sometimes you catch them.
Reach Gris at 744-4275.