(At the All-Star Red Carpet show with my wife and daughter last year)
(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Joining the Nationals organization was really special. I had an amazing catcher in Sandy Leon who rose through the system with me, and once I got to the big leagues, I had some incredible teammates like Adam LaRoche, Craig Stammen, and Ian Desmond. All four of those guys helped me understand the level of maturity and the mindset it takes to be successful at the big league level, but they were also just genuinely good people. One of my goals is to be an ambassador for Christ and to be as good of a teammate as they were with me.

Thanks to their help, I was able to not only break into the big leagues in 2014, I was able to find immediate success. My 2.49 ERA in 2014 allowed me to stick around for the 2015 season. Unfortunately, that's when my adversity returned. Even though my ERA was still respectable that year at 3.86, I was struggling with my command, and as a result I was optioned back down to Triple-A.

That can be hard on anyone, but now that I was trying to support both Kati and I, it felt like it was snowballing. Not only was I failing to stay in the big leagues, but now my happiness was being dictated by how I did on each particular outing. If I had a bad game, I would come home feeling down on myself, and when Kati's encouragement wasn't able to lift me up, that only made her feel like she was failing too. Which of course only made me feel worse. It was a terrible snowball effect.

In this moment Kati was monumental with her support for me. So was God. We started to remember that we needed to enjoy this time in our lives because God has blessed us with so many things. A fraction of one percent of kids who play baseball growing up ever get to do what I do for a living, and we just needed to enjoy everything God has given us.

I was careful not to confuse my gratitude with complacency, and as I grew in my faith I continued to push harder to get back to the big leagues. When I started the 2016 season with the Nationals, I was able to stay there the whole year and put up solid numbers again (2.28 ERA). That performance earned me the closing role to start out the 2017 year, but the yo-yo of my career was not done yet. I was consistently behind batters in one count after another, and before April was even over I had already lost the closing job.

The ups and downs of playing baseball can be exhausting, but it was time to get back to my special verse.

Lean not on your understanding. He will make your paths straight.

I was kept on the big league roster, and tried to make the most out of my role as the setup man. Plus, I understood there was a bigger story going on than my own personal trials. We were in the middle of a playoff chase, and for a brief moment, it looked like I was on a World Series contending team.

I still remember hanging out with one of my friends back in July of that year when they told me the rumors. The Nationals were going after A's closer Sean Doolittle, and the deal was all but done. One of the best pitchers in the game was joining our club.

And that's when it hit me - I'm getting traded.

If Sean was joining the Nationals, that roster spot had to come from somewhere, and it probably wasn't going to come from the batting lineup. Sure enough, I got a tap on my shoulder from Mike Maddux. The Nationals were trading me to Oakland.

 
 

(Photo courtesy of the Oakland Athletics)

What's funny is that I felt a strange peace about the situation. Maybe it was from all the work I had been doing on handling adversity to that point. But whether it was my special verse or the Holy Spirit working within me, I felt like everything was going to be okay. I could almost hear God saying, "I got you, you don't have to worry."

I think it might have something to do with a Bible verse from Luke 16:10, which says "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much." I had shown my faith through my previous struggles, and now God was trusting me to handle this big change with grace.

My pastor's wife once told me that when you feel heavy and under attack, to start rejoicing because there's a big breakthrough coming. I always held onto hope that could be true, but even for a big dreamer like me, I'm not sure I could have envisioned what would transpire when I got to Oakland.

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Thomas Hager