Dream no small dreams: Swinging for the fences and landing among the stars

Jennifer Cohron
Posted 6/16/17

How far would you go in pursuit of a dream?

For Sports Illustrated writer Michael McKnight, it was over 38,000 swings of the bat.

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Dream no small dreams: Swinging for the fences and landing among the stars

Posted

How far would you go in pursuit of a dream?

For Sports Illustrated writer Michael McKnight, it was over 38,000 swings of the bat.

McKnight details his 15-month journey to hit a home run in a Major League park in the June 5 issue of SI.

The teaser sets up the piece well: “Could a 45-year-old writer with no baseball experience beyond seventh grade, armed with only desire and an obsessive work ethic, go deep in a Major League Park?”

McKnight himself describes his need to go yard as an “arguably pitiable, definitely middle-aged quest” — his second since 2014.

At age 42, McKnight spent 363 days learning how to dunk.

The Home Run Project, as he dubbed it, began in February 2016.

He learned proper form by hitting off a tee.

He spent $114 on Louisville Sluggers and $1,800 on Marucci bats, favored by such hitters as David Ortiz and Anthony Rizzo.

He went out to his driveway each night and swung a bat 100 times while the neighbors gave him suspicious glances.

On April 27, he walked into Oakland Coliseum and spent an hour and 20 minutes hacking away at pitches and came up short 263 times.

He was ready to accept defeat when the Houston Astros extended an invitation to Minute Maid Park.

It took him 22 tries to plant one eight rows deep. He hit two more homers before walking off the field.

Mission accomplished.

Jean Wright waited 36 years to live her dream.

Wright was a teenager when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

She became captivated by the Space Age. Wright and her sister used to design crew patches for the astronauts and send them to space center in Houston.

NASA didn’t use any of their crayon drawings, but they did send the girls autographed photos of the astronauts.

Wright, who was also an avid seamstress, dreamed of sewing spacesuits for the astronauts.

That dream was put on hold as she grew up, got married and raised three children.

After her husband retired, she convinced him to move to Florida so she could seek work at the Kennedy Space Center.

When Wright finally got up the nerve to submit her resume, she waited six months for a reply.

Wright, by now a grandmother at 49, finally got a callback. The morning of the interview, her husband sent her on her way with a dose of discouragement — “I know you’ve wanted this for so long, and the competition has to be stiff for a job like this. Don’t get your hopes up.”

Wright aced the interview and was offered a job as an Aerospace Composite Tech of Soft Goods, otherwise known as a seamstress, for the space shuttle program.

She was assigned to an industrial sewing machine that could stitch 30 rows at once.

NASA’s complex blueprints threw her for a loop at first, but she persevered.

One of her assignments was to handsew some thermal barriers in the space shuttle Discovery. She also sewed bumpers to go between the shuttle tiles so that they would not crack during reentry.

Wright worked at NASA for six years. When the space shuttle program shut down, she started her own business making quilts and other items from fabric used on the space shuttle.

Today, Wright tells her granddaughters with pride, “Grandma has stitches in the Smithsonian.”

We are the music makers,

And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers,

And sitting by desolate streams;—

World-losers and world-forsakers,

On whom the pale moon gleams:

Yet we are the movers and shakers

Of the world for ever, it seems.

— Arthur O’Shaughnessy

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.