With my background as a blue collar worker, when life required something extra out of me, my approach to the solution was always the same: just work harder.

 

Unfortunately at that point in my life, I was concerned that hard work wasn't going to be good enough.

 

Regardless of how I played, the New York Mets did not believe in me. They even told me at one time that I don't look like a pitcher in a Mets uniform.

 

If you've ever seen me in person, it was easy to read between the lines. They thought I was fat.

 

When I played in the minor leagues with the Mets, I was the lightest I've been. During my best years in the majors I weighed in at about 240-255 pounds, but back in the minors I was 215-220. It didn't matter to the Mets. It wasn't good enough.

 

I averaged 12-13 percent body fat when I was in the big leagues, and at one point I was as low as 9 percent, but I just couldn't shake this false perception of me. Every time I had a bad game or a couple of bad outings, the Mets started weighing me in body fat. After a while it started being routine. They said they were doing it randomly, but when I would go two weeks without giving up a run I didn't touch the scale.

 

It seemed like my baseball career was just going in circles with the Mets. Meanwhile, my kids appetites weren't getting any smaller, and I felt like I was running out of options.

 

My wife asked if I should change careers, but I just knew in my heart I was going to make it.

 

“How do you know?” she would ask.

 

“I don't know, I just know it,” I would explain.

 

So I would continue to do what I knew best: work harder. I would get up at 4 in the morning, if you can call it that when it's still dark outside, and go the gym to work out. Then I would come home, wake up the kids, take them to school, go for a run, go to work, come back home for dinner and do it all over again. I barely slept.

 

But it was during my trek through the minors I began to discover God again. As a relief pitcher, you would spend a lot of hours in the bullpen with your teammates, and I remember sitting there with Todd Bellhorn. His brother, Mark, went on to play in the big leagues, but back then Todd was a minor leaguer with big dreams and an even bigger faith. And he was the perfect teammate to have, because I had plenty of questions for him.

 

Todd never judged my questions, and embraced my eagerness to learn. He either always had the answer, or promised to find out for me.

 

I began to go to baseball chapel on Sundays, and I started to become a believer.

 

Things started to take shape in my life, because the Mets also traded me to the San Diego Padres. I was born in Oceanside and grew up in Orange County, so for me this was a chance to go back home.

 

I had technically thrown a major league pitch with the Mets in 2004, but continued to bounce between the big leagues and the minors until the Padres acquired me in November of 2006. I got to learn under Trevor Hoffman in 2007 and 2008 before he signed with the Brewers before the 2009 season.

 

I was taking over for one of the most legendary closers of all time, and a future Hall-of-Famer. But I wasn't planning on filling his shoes. I couldn't even if I wanted to, because he wore size 14 and I was size 13.

 

So my plan was to be the best Heath I could be, and thanks to God's help, all my hard work and pain started to pay off. I pitched a scoreless inning to start the year, and just kept going. I was 31 years old in my first real big league season, and I was making up for lost time.

 

By the time I completed a save against the Giants on May 20 of that year, I had converted all 11 of my save opportunities and my ERA was 0.00. Within two months, I was heading to the All-Star Game. I had started my career when many guys had already passed their prime, and yet my career was just starting to blossom.

 

In 2010, God blessed with the kind of success I could have only dreamed of when I was a kid. On May 29, I began the most amazing streak of my career. I earned the save that game, as well as the next and the next. By the time the season ended, I had yet to blow a single save opportunity since the streak began. I didn't allow any of the inherited runners to score the whole season, and I won my second NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award.

 

I'm not saying this to brag, but to show how amazing God's plan can be.

 

The streak would ultimately stretch into the following season, reaching 41 consecutive converted saves before an error stopped the streak there. But when that happened, I wasn't even mad at my teammate, Chase Headley. We won the game anyway, and afterwards I joked around with him to show it was okay. Plus, I was on my way to my third straight All-Star game, and after years of struggling, my family didn't need me to shop at the 99 cent store anymore.

 

As someone who lives in Southern California, I often enjoy going to Disney World with my family. I love Disney movies, which always have inspiring stories and happy endings. But my story is a little too surreal for even Hollywood to believe.

 

That's because it's God's story, too. And it's perfect.

 

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Thomas Hager3 Comments