(Photo courtesy of Jason Hanna/Kansas City Royals)

It didn't take me long to realize I wasn't in Columbia anymore.

The first thing to change was my jersey number. I had played as #5 in college, but when I got to the minor leagues, I had to switch to a new number.

The second thing to change was the level of play. Playing at USC helped me skip the Rookie-ball system, but I had to start my minor league career at Single-A. The SEC is more similar to a Double-A level of baseball, but if I wanted to reach the big league level of Kansas City, I was going to have to earn it.

And maybe, although I can't speak for God, He wanted to see how badly I wanted it. The best things in life are often hard to accomplish, and although God could have just catapulted me right to the big leagues, it was in His plan that I go through some adversity first.

The minor leagues can be a brutal experience...you're playing games in front of sparse crowds, and taking long bus rides from one game to another. And of course the pay is not exactly the same as the major leagues either.

But the toughest part of all was seeing how people approached Single-A ball. Almost nobody cared whether we won or lost. The entire system is based on player development, so the better a player does, the less likely he is to stay with his current minor league team. Therefore, since everybody is focused on who is advancing up through the system, almost no one is focused on whether the team wins or loses. And even fewer seem to pay much attention to how the other teammates are doing.

It was the complete opposite of South Carolina. At USC we were one team, and we were focused on winning as a team. But just because the minor leagues can be a selfish experience, that doesn't mean it has to be. One of my favorite bible verses in Mark 12:31, which says there is no greater commandment than to love others as yourself, and I've tried to live that out as a player.

 
 

I have a funny way of showing it sometimes, because if I'm teasing my teammates, that means I like them. But as long as I get the message across that I care about them and I'm pulling for them, then that's what matters.

The ironic part was that even though the Bible tells us to love others - and that I tried to show that every day in the clubhouse - it's not always easy to do. While I was still toiling away in the minor leagues, two of my teammates from the 2010 USC team were already on the big stage. Sam Dyson broke through with the Blue Jays in 2012 and Jackie broke through with the Red Sox on opening day of the 2013 season. At that point I wasn't even really close to the majors. I was still with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals of Double-A, and jealousy was something I struggled with at times.

It wasn't like I wanted them to fail...it was more like when is my turn ever going to come? Or will it come? But the Bible tells us not to be jealous of others, so I did the only thing I could - cheer for my teammates and get back into the batting cage.

(Photo courtesy of Jason Hanna/Kansas City Royals)

In baseball we're taught to never look at a third strike, but to give yourself every chance by swinging. It was the same for my career. I didn't know if I would ever get to the big leagues, but there was only way one to find out.

If was going to strike out, I was going to strike out swinging.

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Thomas Hager