I’ve been journeying to try to reach “The Show” for a long time. I’ve been grinding in the minors to reach that amazing treasure for the last 10 years. At almost 30 years old, my experience may not be the typical one, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
My initial experience was a fairly typical baseball story. I was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2004 and spent 5 seasons with the organization. I made it all the way up to AA, but in 2010, right before the winter meetings, they released me. I was shocked. Throughout my career, I was told I had the one tool everyone wanted and would kill for, power. It felt like my world was over.
I went home to Seattle. I was sad and scared; I felt completely lost. I truly had no idea what I was going to do; baseball was my life. A few weeks passed, and I received an invite for a private tryout for the Seattle Mariners. I truly believed this was a sign from God telling me I was supposed to be here. It was my home city and would be a dream come true. I went to the showcase ready to show them what I got. Show them I did! I couldn’t have had a better tryout. I sat and waited for weeks for the phone call or email from the Mariners. Nothing came; there was no news. Finally, I emailed them to ask if they had come to a decision.
A few hours later, I had my response. They appreciated my time and what I could do, but they were going to stay with what they had in their organization.
A few days later, I received a call from Bart Zeller. The Joliet Slammers, an expansion team in the Independent Frontier League, had an opening. Was I interested? I happily accepted. It was an opportunity to continue to play the game I love. I told myself it would simply be another chapter in my journey, and I was excited for the possibilities. I never did get an opportunity to be part of that team, because they traded me to the Southern Illinois Miners right before opening day.
I was in shock when I got the news. I had never been traded before. I was excited to hear they had one of the best facilities in the league and were a good team. I found my inner child again and rediscovered what it meant to truly love the game. Maybe I had gotten complacent in the past few seasons, but now I was driven.
Except it wasn’t that easy. I was being pulled in a different direction, away from baseball. I was looking out at my future and worrying that baseball wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t getting the looks by Major League affiliates. I wasn’t a kid just chasing a dream any longer; I had to start thinking about being a provider and an adult. Was continuing to play the game really the responsible choice?
With a heavy heart, I called my manager, Mike Pinto, and told him I was retiring. It felt like I was giving up on not only my dream, but myself. I got a job working at SeaTac airport in Seattle as a baggage handler. Yes, imagine me, 6-foot-5 guy, stuffing myself into a 4-foot space to grab luggage and stack it. This definitely was not my calling in life.
I stuck with the job for seven months, but was restless inside. Finally, during one of the 4AM luggage sorting shifts, I came across a baseball bag. The memories of my previous life came rushing back. That one innocuous bag led to my reevaluating myself in the mirror, asking what I wanted out of my life. I talked to the people closest to me; the ones I knew had my best interests at heart. The decision was clear. I wanted baseball.
I called Mike Pinto and told him I was coming back out of retirement. As quickly as I returned, the second chance I thought would never come did. My contract was purchased by the Kansas City Royals organization.
This time around, I was taking full advantage of the chance. I started in class A Wilmington, a step down from where I had been, but I didn’t care. They gave me another contract after I hit 17 home runs in half a season and promoted me to double-A in North West Arkansas.
I knew I still had the tools to play. In 2013, I led the entire Royals organization with 31 home runs. THIRTY ONE. Just good ol’ raw power. Mentally, I realized that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity – and I was on my second one. I was never going to take baseball for granted again. All of my hard work had paid off, as I was named the 2013 Northwest Arkansas Player of the Year. A bit of a far cry from sorting baggage at SeaTac.
In 2014, I made it up to Triple-A in Omaha and helped my team win their 2nd straight Triple-A National Championship. I couldn’t be happier.
This past spring training I found myself in Surprise, Arizona, for my first ever spring training with the big leagues. Some pro athletes will downplay the experience. I can tell you, life at this level is amazing, and it is everything you can imagine.
I truly thank God every day for this opportunity and second chance at baseball. I’ve learned to always believe in yourself. Nothing is too far out of your reach; as long as you believe in yourself and you have the drive, the will and the work ethic, you can always accomplish everything you put your mind to. I truly have no regrets and can’t wait to see what the future holds for me whether it is in ball or something else. I will succeed no matter what. Baseball taught me life lessons on how to survive. I am truly blessed to have received this second chance and will continue to trust in God’s plan and have faith in what he has in store.