This story appears in the August 2019 issue of Sports Illustrated Kids.
This offseason my parents found a video of me and my dad in the front yard. I was a year-and-a-half or two years old. My dad’s trying to get me to throw to him, but I never wanted to throw; I wanted to hit. (It’s funny, because not a lot has changed—I always want to be in the box.) Then my mom says, “He’s going to grow up to be a baseball player.” She didn’t know how true that was.
As a kid, I just loved the game, and playing catch with my dad and hitting in the front yard wasn’t enough. He signed me up for T-ball when I was three years old. It was a little early because the minimum age was four, but my dad was like, I’ve got to get him on a team somehow.
Growing up, I played pretty much everywhere around the diamond, but my best positions were catcher and first baseman. I also played football, lacrosse, soccer, and basketball. I loved all sports, and I played just about everything except hockey. In high school, I knew that I couldn’t play them all, so I had to make a very tough decision. Thankfully, I had help in making that decision from my parents. My mom never pushed me toward a particular sport but instead always said, If you’re going to choose something, trust your gut, and do it 100%. She helped me realize that my heart wasn’t 100% in lacrosse or football, so I chose baseball. Between her and my dad, who coached me until I was 12, they pitched batting practice to me, drove me to practices several times a week—they sacrificed a lot to get me to where I am today.
I feel bad for my dad because I went through so many bats growing up; otherwise I would have been like a carpenter going to a job site without his toolbox. When I went to college, my dad joked, Thank goodness I don’t have to pay for bats anymore.
Going to the College World Series with the University of Florida two years in a row was special, and having the three longest home runs in the CWS [at the time] was cool.
I faced a lot of really talented guys in college and in the minors, a diverse group of players close to the same age as me. That definitely helped prepare me.
Once I got to the majors, I immediately realized that all the players, whether they were 24 or 37 years old, had one thing in common: Every single one of us has that little kid inside. We all have this infatuation with baseball and just a pure love and joy, and that’s why we go out and play. That’s why you see guys getting pumped up, flipping their bats, or fist-pumping and yelling.
All the veteran guys have helped me a lot. The overarching message from them has been: You got here, and that means you’re good enough to stay. That has helped put me in the right mindset to go out and perform.
I grew up in Tampa, and I watched Evan Longoria when I was a middle-schooler, and today I’m playing against him. (He’s with the Giants now, but he’ll forever be known as a Tampa Bay Ray.) That is crazy—and then playing against Paul Goldschmidt, the Cardinals’ first baseman. I was like, Wow, I’ve watched all his highlights and seen all his plays, and now I’m right there with him. It’s definitely a humbling feeling.
I was fortunate enough to have many good role models to look up to who helped me realize my dream of being a Major League Baseball player. So when I see a kid walking down the street with my jersey on, it’s awesome because I just want to be a positive figure and an ambassador for the game. I want to be a good role model for kids who play the game with the same passion for it that I do.
Top photograph by Mike Stobe/Getty Images