(Photo courtesy of South Dakota State)

My career looked to be at a dead end, but I decided to view it as a crossroads. I returned to Kansas, and found a pitching coach willing to give me some mentoring. His name was Don Czyz, and if it wasn't for him, I don't know where I would be today.

He was willing to put me through one of his clinics for just $20, and with no college opportunity on the horizon, the price seemed just right. I was excited to restart my career, until I actually went over to a pitching mound the night before. I hadn't thrown a baseball off a mound in 6 months, and it felt like it. I didn't feel like I was throwing the baseball; it felt like the baseball was throwing me. My fastball, which needed to be in the 90s to even have a chance at the majors, felt like it was 70 miles per hour...at best.

With a fastball that slow, I would be lucky to find any suitors for me, at any level. My fastball just didn’t have enough zip on it to impress so I leaned on my curveball, and on that first day of the clinic I somehow was throwing the best curveball I had ever thrown in my life. The catcher was barely able to catch it, granted he was a high school catcher, nonetheless it gave me the confidence that maybe this baseball thing could work out after all.

My fastball started to come back to a competitive velocity. It was nowhere near an elite level - it was closer to 83 or 84 mph, but at least it was respectable. Don started to reach out to colleges on my behalf, and by the grace of God I found a taker in South Dakota State.

They had just turned Division 1, and they weren't even eligible for the NCAA Tournament yet, but my dream was still alive. I was now going to be a D1 college pitcher. To make it better, they offered a degree in landscape architecture. Things were starting to come together.

 
 

(Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Athletics)

My performance on the mound was continuing to progress as well. During that year when I had to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules, I started to hit all the targets I was setting for my velocity. I remember hitting 90 mph during the transfer year, and by the time I was actually pitching (now as a redshirt junior) I was actually hitting 93 mph...I couldn't believe it!

With the improved velocity came better results on the field. I felt like there was a chance I was going to get drafted my redshirt junior season, but I told myself not to take the offer unless it was a top-20 round pick. And then when I got picked in the 23rd round, I decided to readjust my standards. It was a little later than I thought I was willing to take, but when you actually find out that an MLB team wants you in their system, it's hard to say no.

Even if you're the 707th overall pick.

So when the Marlins took a chance on me, I packed up my things and headed out to West Palm Beach to begin my career as a professional baseball player. This was actually happening.

And that's when I got the physical exam that altered the course of my life. It changed my baseball career, but more importantly it changed my faith.

Up to that point I was a strong believer. My parents raised me in a Christian household, and I understood that my parents' faith couldn't be mine. I developed my own relationship with Jesus, and I knew that He alone was going to be my path toward salvation.

The thing was, even though I thought my faith was strong, it had never been tested like it was on that particular day. Before that point, when I was going through all that adversity, my baseball career had never developed to the point where I could take my MLB dreams seriously. It wasn't until I got drafted and signed that contract that it felt tangible. And now that I had finally achieved that dream, in one instant it was taken away from me.

When I heard the news that my contract was being voided by the Marlins, I instinctively leaned on my faith. I decided to call my chaplain from my summer baseball team. I had only known him for two weeks during the summer ball season (after my junior year at SDSU but before I reported to the Marlins) but it seemed like of all the people I could turn to in a time of crisis, speaking with a chaplain was a pretty good idea.

After I explained everything that had just happened, the chaplain gave me a Bible verse from Proverbs 3: 5-6. Just stewer on it, he told me, and I'll be praying for you.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding," the verse says. "In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight."

The verse is beautiful and profound, but I was so deep in my own negativity that I couldn't even take it in. At that point, it didn't seem like that verse was going to fix the thoughts swirling in my head.

Alright cool, so trust in God and everything will be hunky dory...Well that doesn't really help me in this situation. I feel lost.

The significance of the verse seemed lost on me, but later that night God had a pretty emphatic way of making sure that I got the message.

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Thomas Hager