It’s not often professional athletes share without filter. Most are scared to death of what people (their peers and superiors) will think of them when they do. Quite frankly, authenticity rules. When we hear honest expressions of what has actually occurred in the lives and careers of men and women who are paid to play, we respect it. We just want a glimpse of the truth. For that reason, I got lost in Adam Sonabend’s tale. He flat out killed it with this post. Enjoy.
As the 2015 MLB draft rambles on, I still have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I sit here in Richmond, VA thinking about all that has occurred since getting passed up in last year’s draft.
It’s tough to say why I still feel this anxious. It has been a full year since then, and the great things that have occurred in my life make the hard times seem even further away. However, the feelings of not being drafted still linger. That singular moment set into motion simultaneously the most difficult and important time of my life to date.
Rewind to exactly a year ago. I was panicking during the draft, calling and texting every scout I had in my phone to let them know I wanted to play ball. I had a disastrous senior season, but I still felt as if I was a good enough player to play professionally. I needed someone to give me a chance to prove that, but it was looking unlikely, to say the least.
On the third and final day of the draft, I worked out and then went to my high school field with some close friends to hit and take my mind off what was going on. As much as I tried to act like I wasn’t concerned with the draft, I was breaking down inside, and I knew my buddies could tell. As the draft wound down and my friends left the field, I sat in my car frantically refreshing the draft tracker on my phone with desperate hopes of seeing my name pop up on the screen. The 40th and last round of the draft came to a close, and I had not been selected. For the fourth and final time in my life, I was passed up in the draft.
I sat in the parking lot completely still for a while. Maybe, I thought, if I didn’t move, the world around me would stop moving as well, and I wouldn’t have to face any of the difficulties of life without baseball. I stayed there, not knowing what to do next. I was contemplating where I wanted to drive, and realized that I didn’t have the desire to really be anywhere. It was a completely helpless feeling. After about an hour and a half of pretending not to exist, I gathered myself enough to drive home.
My parents and my girlfriend at the time were there waiting for me, but I wasn’t ready to face anybody yet. I went in my room, closed the door and lay on my floor crying. My entire body hurt, a sensation I had never before felt in my life. Apparently, the pain of a lifelong dream being killed doesn’t just hurt mentally, but it can manifest itself in physical form as well. I had worked so furiously towards this dream, dedicating my life to it and envisioning it so often, when the door slammed shut, it felt like a part of me had died.
I tried to pull myself together. Again, I made the rounds with the scouts to let them know that even though I was not drafted, I wanted to keep playing, and I was willing to sign as a free agent. Every scout I spoke with gave me a similar response: “If we have any spots open, we will let you know. In the meantime, if you want to keep playing, you should sign with an Independent League team.”
Each conversation I had felt like another nail in the coffin. I knew those words were just a runaround. If Major League scouts didn’t see enough talent to draft me, it would be even more difficult for me to get signed out of Indy Ball.
Two months went by. If the summer ended before I found a place to play, my career would undoubtedly be finished. I contacted people every day via email, phone call and text to hook on with a team, but nothing ever came to fruition. I finally caught wind of the smallest of small opportunities, a pay-for-play Independent League in Texas. Since summer was drawing near to a close, this was my last chance to have any shot at reviving my baseball career. My parents, who always supported me and encouraged me to chase my dream, even when it seemed highly unlikely, agreed to foot the bill.
A week later, I started the two day, 15 hour drive from my home in Scottsdale, AZ to Fort Worth, TX. I arrived in Fort Worth in a torrential downpour, and went straight to my cousin’s house to hang out with her, her husband and my new baby cousin. We were sitting around the living room and catching up when I got a call from Dave Hilton, a longtime coach of mine. He had been making calls on my behalf, putting in a good word for me with whoever he could. Dave told me that he had just contacted the Giants, and I needed to call them right away; they might have an opportunity for me.
I spoke with Billy Horton, a minor league hitting coach for the Giants, and he told me they could use some help catching in the bullpen with their Rookie League team in Scottsdale. It was paying job that would put me in a minor league clubhouse, so I accepted it without second thought. The day after I arrived in Fort Worth, I got right back in the car and again made the 15 hour trip back home. Finally, it seemed like I was taking a step in the right direction. I was now a bullpen catcher for the AZL Giants, possibly the most inglorious job in all of baseball. Given the alternative, I couldn’t have been happier to have it.
For the last month of the Arizona Rookie League, I caught pens. I was living at home and made a little bit of money, but that obviously was not the end goal. A month after the season ended, I was asked to come to the Giants Instructional League in Scottsdale, pulling the same bullpen duties. This time however, I was put into batting practice groups and was given a much closer look. Two weeks in to the month long camp, our hitting coordinator asked if I would be interested in signing a contract to become a player in the Giants organization. I laughed, confused as to why he even needed to ask, and told him of course I would. The next day, I showed up to the field for work and was called into the office. I walked in to find all of the Giants minor league brass waiting there to offer me a Minor League Free Agent contract.
That day is still one of the best days of my life. My dream of being a professional baseball player had finally come to pass, roughly four months after my career’s expiration date.
Going undrafted and the events that followed up until now have taught me a multitude of incredible life lessons that I would not have otherwise learned. The one highlighted below might be the most important, and hardest learned lesson I took away from the past year.
Opportunities are never earned, and no one truly deserves anything. With this mentality, every chance we get comes in the form of a gift, something to be grateful for. This thought has been weighing on my mind recently, and it was confirmed by a teammate less than a week ago when he echoed this sentiment in a conversation with me before he left our hotel room in Maine to head to our Triple-A team in Sacramento.
I thought because I worked hard and stayed out of trouble off the field, I deserved to get drafted and given a shot in pro ball.
Opportunities are gifts that are meant to be capitalized on. There is so much that is outside of our control that it is unreasonable to expect any opportunity to be handed to us, no matter how much time and effort we put towards it. However, this isn’t a cop-out to sit back and simply see what happens with our lives. We work to stay ready for opportunities with a positive mindset, and when they are gifted to us, we take advantage of them. If those opportunities never arrive, at least we have the knowledge that we did everything within our control to set ourselves up for success and move on.
For a while, I made the mistake of believing I had earned my contract. Just because I worked hard as the bullpen catcher didn’t mean the Giants were obligated to award me with anything. I’m sure there have been plenty of other bullpen catchers with the same goal in mind, ones who worked equally as hard and didn’t come away with the prize. I wasn’t entitled to that contract, and in that sense, I see now that I didn’t earn anything. I was just blessed with an opportunity and worked to take advantage of it. Luckily, the Giants needed catching depth in the organization, and I came out of the situation with the result I was working towards.
Presently, I have taken the unofficial role of being an “organizational catcher” within the Giants system. In this season alone, I have had three stints in Extended Spring Training in Scottsdale, two stints in High-A San Jose, two stints with Triple-A Sacramento, and then I was abruptly shot across the country here to Richmond, VA with our Double-A team. The season is far from over. I have been on the active roster everywhere except here, but I know that can change quickly. Far crazier things have already happened.
With all the places I have been this year, I have yet to record an official at bat. I have been afforded zero playing opportunities this season. While I strive to stay ready and remain hopeful that my opportunities will come, I understand my role and what I signed up for. My goal now is to keep improving and be a better player and teammate than I was yesterday. That way, when this journey is over, I will know I did everything in my control to put myself in a position to succeed, regardless of what opportunities outside of my control may or may not come my way.
Sure, it has been very frustrating at times. As a competitor, I want a chance to go into battle and help my team win in between the white lines. If I start feeling dejected, I draw on my past and think about where I was a year ago and how far I’ve come since then. When I am doubled up on a ten hour bus ride, I think back to how hard I fought just to have a spot on the bus. I think about what it took to get into a Major League organization and everything that happened before I could put a jersey on my back. I have never had this perspective before in my career, and it truly is a blessing to be able to remind myself daily that my dream, against all odds, has been given extra time. It’s easy to remember that there is nothing else I would rather be doing.
Sitting here writing this, I have realized why, with the draft going on, I still feel the way I do. It’s a vivid, humbling reminder that sent memories flooding back into my mind of where I was exactly a year ago. It has made me reflect in great detail over everything that happened to bring me where I currently sit. In the past year, I went from the lowest lows to the highest highs. I have been pushed so far out of my comfort zone that mentally, I feel like there is nothing I can’t handle. More than anything in my life, this past year’s experiences have shaped me into a man, leaving me with a mentality that I wouldn’t otherwise carry. It is chilling for me to think that everything that occurred in my life in the past year transpired from a dream getting crushed.