(Photo courtesy of the Oakland Athletics)

If there was a reason I was so emotional that day with the Marlins, it was because of all the work I had put in to get there. Along with the belief that this is where God wanted me. It was all so confusing.

The dream to join the big leagues started long ago...before I ever broke through in 2014, and way before I ever was blessed with the chance to be an All-Star in 2018. That journey really began in 2007, when I made the decision to pursue baseball after high school. I didn't even start playing with the varsity team until I was a junior at Osage City High School, but by the time I graduated, I wanted to see how far baseball could take me.

The only problem was that I couldn't find a single NCAA team to take me. Not Division 1. Not Division II. Not Division III. The only team willing to take a chance on me was Baker University, but that was at the NAIA level....on the junior varsity squad.

My parents were helping me through school, and after my freshman season I just couldn't justify the money they were spending on my education there. I was on a small scholarship, and I wasn't even studying my intended major of landscape architecture, so I decided to head out to the University of Arkansas to pursue my dreams both in the classroom and on the field.

UA had a great landscape architecture program and one of the top baseball programs in the country, and it made sense for me to go there. I transferred to their campus in Fayetteville and arranged a meeting with the coaches to tryout for the team, and everything seemed like it was starting to fall in place.

Then I got a quick reality check when I actually showed up for the meeting. I was the only one who had remembered about it, or at least took it seriously, and when I told one of the assistants I was there to try out for the team, I'll never forget what he said.

"Come on man."

At first I was holding out hope, like maybe he meant it was an inconvenient time, but come on man, pick up your glove and let's head down to the field. Unfortunately it was the other kind, like I didn’t belong in that office.

"We're not doing walk-ons," the coach told me. "If we did a walk-on tryout we'd be here for three weeks, trying out everybody in the state of Arkansas, because everybody wants to be a Razorback. Sorry, I'm not going to do that."

I wasn't going to quit on my dream like that, so I tried to plead with him. I told him that I had a mutual friend with the head coach, which was true, and I thought that might just be the opening I needed.

"(He) is in Tennessee on a recruiting visit," the assistant said.

It seemed strange to me, because I could tell his door was open. I was either being lied to or the head coach left his office open during his recruiting trip.

Seconds later, that coach walked in the building and sat down in his office. I started to get a sense of what was going on, and in case I started to have any ideas of a sudden meeting now that the coach arrived, his assistant squashed that idea too.

Have a good day.

That conversation could have easily been the end of my career. At that point I was 20 years old and I had yet to throw a collegiate pitch on a varsity team, much less in the Big Leagues. And yet I still felt like God was nudging me to not give up on my dreams.

You see, God put these big dreams on my heart...not easy ones.

So with the setback in Arkansas, I headed back home toward Kansas. Not to abandon my dreams, but to keep pursuing them.

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Thomas Hager