When I went to Columbia in 2016, something happened to me that changed my life forever.


My first relationship with God was in 2014, but I wasn't passionate about it. I wasn't focusing my energy and desires into my faith. That all turned around completely in one day.


Shortly before we got married, my girlfriend and I went to church together, and I felt something like a vision. When I was praying, I felt a fire inside of me that I had never felt before. Being that connected to God, it was beautiful. It changed my life, and how I viewed the world. I changed the way I see the game. It changed the way I see fans, reporters, teammates, everyone. It even changed the way I see the game.


After that moment, whether I went 0-4 or 0-10 at the plate, I still had a belief in myself. And yes, I still feel down if I have a bad game, but now I had something more important in my heart. It was my relationship with God, and He didn't care how bad I played.


It just so happened that once I committed myself to God, there weren't many bad days that season.


Things just took off, and by the time I went 2-4 against the Yankees on July 16, I was 27-59. I was a lifetime .238 hitter in the minor leagues, and yet here I was hitting .458. Kids starting asking for my autograph, and when I would go to the mall, people began recognizing me. These were the same fans who had seen players like Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz, and yet for some reason they wanted my signature.


(Photo courtesy of the Boston Red Sox)

For a kid who came from a small town in Venezuela, it was still hard to believe.


What people don't know, however, was just how close I came to never being a baseball player at all.


I was introduced to baseball at a pretty normal age, and began playing little league ball when I was four or five, but unlike most kids I honestly didn't dream about becoming a professional baseball player. It was only when I was like 16 and I was trying to get signed and doing a lot of workouts that I began to take that dream seriously. The only problem was that I was trying to get my education at the same time, and it felt overwhelming.


I was trying out for teams, doing workouts in the morning and going to school before playing in the field in the afternoon, and at one point I said I can't do this anymore. Either I'll do one or the other, but I can't do both in one day.


And unlike many parents, who only think about the baseball contract, my dad chose my education. You have to go to school, he would say. School is first.


I was on the verge of tears.


So I started going to school, and I still remember having a few people come to my house after two weeks of missing baseball. I started going to practice again, and they talked to my dad.


“You have to let him play baseball because he's going to be good,” they told him. “Just let him play baseball – give him at least two months playing baseball; he is going to get signed.”


My dad relented, and within two or three months I got signed. It was all happening so quickly.


After that, all it took was nine years and over 600 minor league at-bats before I became an everyday player in the big leagues.

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Thomas Hager