(Photo courtesy of the St. Louis Cardinals)

It's not often that you think you've found your soulmate on the first date. It's even more rare when both people can feel it, but that's what happened to me and my wife.

I'll never forget that first date, because the only reason it ended was that she had work that morning...in 30 minutes. We had stayed up until 5:30 a.m. talking on a street corner, and she had work at 6.

The funny thing was, when I dropped her off, it was at the same place I'd be playing that afternoon.

I was pitching for the Memphis Redbirds at the time, and she worked at the stadium. I never wanted to be the kind of player who would hit on the staff, but Caitlin was different. I finally worked up the courage to ask her out, and I thought at the time I missed my chance. Our team was on a road trip in Nashville when my birthday took place, and we didn't have a chance to celebrate at the time, so we were heading to downtown Memphis that night. I asked her if she'd like to come with my teammates, only to find out she had a wedding rehearsal that night.

I thought that was it. Then as fate would have it, Caitlin and her friends ended up at the same restaurant as me and my teammates. She came over to wish me a happy birthday, and I invited her to sit down. That conversation didn't end until the sun was almost up, and when we met up the next night after the wedding, the same exact thing happened.

If there was ever a proof that things happen for a reason, it might be the story of meeting my wife. Looking back now, it's amazing how many things had to fall in place just for me to meet her.

When I tried out for the freshman baseball team in high school, I was told I wasn't big enough or good enough to make the team. Shortly after that our family moved to New York so my dad could work construction, and even though I ended up making the team at my new school as a catcher, that looked to be as far as my career would take me. Local colleges like Seton Hall and Rutgers said I wasn't what they were looking for.

It was my high school coach who really jump-started my career. He told the coaching staff at Iona College to give me a look, and even though they told me they already had a catcher who was pretty good at hitting, I told them to just give me a shot.

I ended up starting there all three years at catcher.

I was lucky enough to get drafted in the 19th round by the Cardinals, but my hitting just never translated over to the minor leagues. I hit .175 in 2004 and .176 in 2005. That's not good, no matter what standard you look at, and so the Cardinals asked me to switch to pitcher. But my family had raised me up to believe in God, and I never resented Him for my early struggles. As it turned out, the switch to pitcher ended up putting me on the path to meet my wife. If I had attended a more recognizable school and been drafted just one spot higher by a different team, I wouldn't have been in Memphis to meet my wife. If I had crushed it at the plate with Single-A Peoria, I might not have been talking at that street corner with Caitlin.

But God always has a plan, and I just had to trust him.

When the Cardinals asked me to switch positions, I don't know if either of us would have thought within two years I'd be playing in the big leagues. When I started pitching all I had was just one pitch, a fastball, and yet two years later I was playing at legendary Busch Stadium.

Telling my wife I had made the major league roster was one of the best moments of my career. Opening day of the next season, however, was just the opposite.

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Thomas Hager