My grandparents are die-hard Alabama fans. They have season tickets for both football and baseball. From 1988 to 2009, they didn’t miss a single football game, home or away.
Growing up around them, I became a huge fan of the Crimson Tide as well. I used to go to games with them all the time when I was a kid.
At one of the football games, my grandparents recognized legendary Hall of Fame quarterback Ken Stabler. We walked up to him, introduced ourselves, and grabbed a picture.
Now, what happened next might be the best way to describe my relationship with the sport of baseball. Yes, baseball.
I was maybe four or five years old, and as I was sitting with Stabler for the picture, he says to me:
“Hey, you look like you might play football at Alabama someday.“
And I told the great Ken Stabler the truth:
“Not football, baseball!“
Ever since I was a little kid, I knew I wanted to be a baseball player. And the big goal has always been (and still is) to play in the MLB one day.
I’m obsessed with that goal. Seriously, it’s all I ever wanted to do.
As I grew older, I began to follow the roadmap for getting there.
High school baseball, then college baseball, and finally the MLB. That was the track in my head.
But as we all know, life rarely works out the way we picture it in our head.
I absolutely believe that God always has a plan. No matter what happens, it all happens for a reason. While I’ve been able to follow the path I envisioned so far, it has certainly been a much different experience than expected.
In high school, I played incredibly well. I even ended up as the number one catcher prospect in the state. I was very confident and happy with the way I performed.
When it was time to look at colleges, one school inevitably stood out from all the others – Alabama. My entire family was rooting for the Tide ever since I can remember.
So, when Alabama invited me to an official visit, I already knew that I’d commit.
And so I did. During my visit, actually.
But when I got here, I was immediately confronted with a big challenge. A challenge that literally kept me up at night.
You see, I’m a go-getter. Determination and drive have always defined me. The dream of playing in the MLB one day consumes me.
So, when I feel like I’m not giving my very best or didn’t show my very best, it bothers me. Frankly, I’m losing sleep over it. And no, I’m not speaking in metaphors.
During my freshman year, there were plenty of these nights. Coming to Alabama, I was considered a good hitter who could also play catcher. But here, I needed to be a solid defensive catcher first. Hitting was just a bonus.
Adjusting to this different role was challenging for me.
Also, the added stresses of a new environment, academics, and learning how to be independent, all took a heavy toll on me. And as a result of these tribulations, my mind wasn’t always in baseball. Not by choice, obviously. My heart was always in it, but my mind was just so full, causing those troubling nights.
Armed with motivation to get better, I worked harder than I ever had in the summer leading into my sophomore season.
I trained. I worked out. I improved.
I was confident that the hard work would transition well to the field.
And it did. I homered in the first two games of my sophomore year. What a great confidence boost that was. I finally felt like I was on my way to becoming that great MLB prospect and showing college baseball what I can do.
However, I’d been struggling with a pinching feeling in my elbow. In game five of the season, I threw the ball down to second base when I felt it pop.
I knew I hurt myself, obviously. But it wasn’t until I got a scan that it became clear what was wrong with my elbow. That period of uncertainty was frustrating, to say the least.
As it turned out, I had a tear that required Tommy John surgery.
It was clearly the last thing I wanted to hear, but as weird as it may sound, I was also glad to finally have clarity.
This season-ending injury definitely tested my patience. It was tough having to sit out. As mentioned above, I’m a super competitive person that’s always trying to reach that next level. Quite hard to do from the dugout, right?
But fortunately, a helping hand came along the way and got me to see this part of God’s plan in a new light.
Wrestling with all the constant stress and anxiety, I relied a lot on God and my church at that time.
During a particularly hard part of the process, I texted my pastor in Tuscaloosa and asked if he could help me work out some things.
He was able to help me clear my head and reset my focus.
It can be a huge mental drain on an athlete when they are unable to do what they love. Luckily, my pastor was able to help me see the bigger picture.
I used my time off to figure out who Sam Praytor really is. I couldn’t let baseball be the only thing that defined me. There are plenty of other things in my life that I want to be known for.
So, I focused on becoming a better student and friend. I wanted to make it clear to myself and those around me that I am more than an athlete.
I reset my motivation and prayed for God to help me through this trying time, which helped me get to a better place mentally.
Thanks to my pastor and faith, I now feel more ready than ever to get back on the field and show everyone that I’m a great baseball player who has what it takes to play in the MLB.
Since the rehab didn’t allow me to hit or throw for a while, I really focused on improving my strength in the weight room. Physically, I now feel better than I ever have. Along with that, I have grown spiritually and transformed myself into a better person, a leader.
Today, we are just a few months away from the season opener, and my dream of playing in the Major League one day continues to be my inspiration.
Now, it’s time to get ready for February and show everyone what we can do.