(Photo courtesy of Andy Hayt/San Diego Padres)

So in order to understand what was going through my mind as I sat in that Venezuelan bullpen, you have to understand was going on in my life by that point. I wasn't just taking care of Jordyn, our daughter with Down Syndrome. Nicole and I were also trying to take care of our oldest daughter, Jasmyne, and our youngest son at that point, Reece. We would have another son down the road, Rhett, but at that point we were struggling as a family just to raise the three kids.

 

I was trying to make a living with a job that was barely paying anything, and I didn't want my kids to grow up with financial struggles. I already knew what that was like at their age.

 

My desire to be such a good dad came from having an incredible example set before me. My dad, Jim, was exactly what you would want in a leader – he was hardworking, loving, and selfless. He didn't go to church with me and my mom growing up, but as I later realized he was a Christian and everything he taught me had biblical principles. He taught me about having compassion for others who were mean, because you didn't know if they were having a bad day, and taught me about the Golden Rule, which is to treat others how you want to be treated.

 

My dad had a heart of gold. What he didn't have was a big or steady paycheck.

 

He would work odd jobs on the side just to support us, and he would leave at 6 in the morning and come back at 6 or 7 at night. My dad was still doing that when I was 16, but it was at that time I found out my dad had lost his job three months earlier and hadn't been able to find any work.

 

He was getting up in the morning and leaving the house just to give us the impression that our finances were okay. As it turned out, my dad was skipping meals so we wouldn't have to be hungry.

 

I went out and got a job at 16 years old and became a janitor.

 

It was now my turn to help support the family, and that didn't change just because I got a baseball scholarship in junior college. I worked a job nearly full-time operating a fork lift, and it was only later on in life I realized that this wasn't the normal route to the big leagues for most players.

 

I remember towards the end of my career when I was on the Diamondbacks, we were having a conversation in the locker room about who had a real job with an interview before their baseball careers. This was in September, when the roster had expanded to 32 guys, and of all the men in the locker room, Eric Chavez and I were the only ones to ever interview for a job and work nearly full-time as young adults.

 

I think those struggles made me a better person, but no parent wants their child to worry about where their next meal is coming from, so just like my dad, I took on the brunt of the suffering when I had a family of my own.

 

During my minor league career, I remember eating in grocery stores. At the clubhouse they would have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with graham crackers, and that would be my meal. I wouldn't go and get a Subway sandwich because I didn't have the money. I didn't have four or five bucks to get a sandwich.

 

I was already paying clubhouse dues for the locker room food, so I took full advantage of that. I would make myself one PBJ and pack another one for the road, especially on a long bus trip. You see, the thing is, in order to eat healthy, you actually have to spend money. And I would buy whatever was on sale. I would go to the 99 cent store and that's where I would sometimes buy my groceries. I remember on road trips, rather than treating myself to a soda, I had water out of a hose.

 

We were so poor that when I was in the minor leagues, my primary source of food was from host families. We had booster clubs that would sponsor Taco Tuesday or Thursday Burritos or Monday Lasagna, and I would go to everybody's house and eat. I didn't want to go. I wanted to go home and go to bed, but I didn't have money for food and I was hungry, so for five or six nights a week I would go and spend two hours at somebody's house to get a meal. Sometimes I didn't really know the people, but I just went there anyway. I would think to myself this is awkward, but my hunger mattered much more to me than whether or not I was embarrassing myself.

 

And yet as poor and hungry as I was in the minor leagues, it was my weight that seemed to prevent me from reaching the majors.

 

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Thomas Hager