When I look back at my career of nine years, I know I have my coaching staff and family to thank, but I really don't know where my career would have ended up if it hadn't been for Ryan Franklin.

Before I ever played in the World Series or led the league in saves, I was an impressionable 26-year-old trying to stay at the major league level. Ryan was one of those guys who gave me the confidence to do so.

As the 2009 season opener approached, the Cardinals had yet to name a closer. I had a good September of my rookie year in 2008 and had a great spring training, but the organization hadn't made an announcement as far as who their 9th inning guy would be. We got the answer when our team was up 3-0 against the Pittsburgh Pirates and they called me out of the bullpen.

All I had to do was get three outs and not give up three runs....I gave up four.

Everyone could have been mad at me, especially Ryan, because not only had I lost the game but I was the one taking up the coveted closing spot. Ryan was at the absolute peak of his career, and by the end of August that season he had converted 33 of his 35 save chances with a 1.05 ERA. Historically good. And yet instead of trying to seize on my failure that day, Ryan talked to me after the game.

That stunk pretty bad, he and the rest of the bullpen told me, but if you play this game long enough you're going to do this again. So keep your head up and keep going.

The advice worked, because I had a decent rest of the year, and the next season I cut my ERA in less than half to 2.24.

The encouragement from my teammates showed me what being a Christian athlete is all about. As it turned out, when I got Tommy John surgery in 2013, I had the opportunity to pay it forward myself. Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica were a pair of incredible pitchers, and instead of being angry at them for taking my place, I decided to do for them what Ryan Franklin had done for me.

It was probably easier for me than other athletes in my position, because I couldn't even play. Although, if you asked God, that might have been my own doing. You see, I think God's got a funny sense of humor...At this point Caitlin and I had started a family and I wanted to spend more time with her and my daughter. I loved this little person so much and I didn't want to go on these road trips and be away from them. I think God heard my wish, and shortly afterwards I had to get Tommy John surgery to miss the whole year.

As it turned out, however, tearing my UCL was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me.

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Thomas Hager