Who wants to be a millionaire? Corny, show reference…well, yeah. But for real, who does? I see the hand up. I get it. Did you ever imagine yourself becoming a millionaire at 17 years old? Me either, but I could have been. The Kansas City Royals offered me $1,500,000 as a 17 year old kid, from Bethany, CT in the 7th round of the 2008 MLB Baseball Draft. Guess what? I said, “No.”
I said, “No?!” clearly I must have been misguided, clearly my parents were medical doctors, clearly we were rich. Turns out, we were a blue collar family with serious empathy for those with money and no morales. Man, listen I literally threw away $1,500,000 and yes, I am writing it out because it hurts that much more. 6 ft 2 in, that was me, 195 lbs. Third baseman, shortstop? Sure, I will be whatever you need me to be for $1,500,000. I have to tell you, I never thought twice about it — you know, turning down $1,500,000. Let me explain.
Growing up, social media didn’t exist, in fact, the only time I used a computer was to play pinball on the school computers or to use Encarta encyclopedia at home for school projects. We were always outside — my brother and I. And friends, and we rode our bikes all over the place. Ever ride your bike 5 miles to get home in 10 minutes before you got in trouble? Oh yeah, no cell phones either. So, how does a kid, from a small town, with no technology or electronics figure out how to do something?! I WORKED MY ASS OFF BECAUSE I HAD PASSION.
All I knew growing up was two things: I was going to play Major League Baseball and anyone’s opinion surrounding that notion, didn’t matter to me. You couldn’t tell me anything. We also knew, you had to work. How did I know this? Because my dad would be in our garage fixing cars from 4pm-8pm only to break for dinner, every night after he got home from his day job as an Auto Body Technician. I saw that man work and work, I wanted to be like my dad. I worked at baseball. Man, I loved it. Every second. The ground balls, the fly balls, diving in the dirt, diving in the grass, throwing the ball, catching the ball, hitting the ball, it got me. I was probably 4–5 years old, when I remember my mom telling me, “Jason, hold your glove like this.” “Bend your knees like this.” I loved the challenge. I wanted to do everything perfect, I wanted to be the best!
I was, in 2008 I was the number one player in Connecticut. I was the 2008 Gatorade Player of the Year. Which means a lot to me, because I use to say I was going to win that award my senior year and people laughed at me, who’s laughing now? I realize that half of the reactions I had gotten from my peers or teachers were out of: jealousy, envy, fear, projection. If “they” couldn’t do something, they want to tell you, you can’t either. Save it, you just didn’t want it bad enough you didn’t have the passion like I did. Or maybe your parents just didn’t support your dreams of being an astronaut, maybe you had to be a doctor or lawyer like everyone I grew up with. Looking back, my parents never let me quit on my dreams, even when I quit in 2015 in Double-A when I was hitting .198.
Look, the point I am trying to make here is this. You can be what makes you beloved by many, you can achieve success, but to quote Tony Robbins, “Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.” We need to live with passion, we need to find our WHY. What drives you?! What wakes you up in the middle of the night gassed up, geeked up, ready to roll?! What’s your gift, man. What’s your gift?
I attended Vanderbilt University and played baseball with 35 guys who I call my brothers. Who I still talk to every day, we have a group chat with about 50 guys, I love them man, they are my heart and soul. I always get asked, “Oh my god, you went to Vandy?! What was that like?” I laugh. They see the “overnight success,” I see the profit I made on turning down a $1,500,000 contract with the Kansas City Royals.
Let me pull this full circle and riff off here. I was drafted again in 2011 in the 2nd round to the Baltimore Orioles and was given a signing bonus of $600,000. A three year investment in college and I lost $1,000,000.
That’s what everyone said to me in 2011. They said, he got better, but he lost money. I loved it, because all of the sports writers, beat writers, local journalists had no idea what me and my brothers learned and went through at Vanderbilt University under Coach Tim Corbin. You want to know what I learned? Get a pen, write this stuff down.
I learned that I was a punk kid at 17 years old who only cared about himself, I learned self-awareness, I learned that it’s not about me, it’s about us and we. I learned how to trust others, I learned how to respect people, I learned how to be a man. I owe everything to Nashville. The fans, the professors, the students, my teammates, my coaches, they challenged me, they pushed me, they said, “you’re not good enough but prove me wrong.” I owe everything to my professor my freshman year who gave me a 50 on a paper and pulled me aside and asked me, “is english your first language?” I needed that, I needed to be mentally punched, I needed that wake up call. I needed to know what it felt like to overcome obstacles, hardships, heart break, broken bones, sore muscles, an exhausted body, I needed to grow up. If I took that, $1,500,000 I would have been lost, completely and utterly. It would have been a facade, a blinder to real life and it’s difficulties. Passion and purpose is what you need to live a life with satisfaction and humility. I lost $1,000,000 on a single deal and came out on top. Vanderbilt University, thank you. Tim Corbin, thank you. Derek Johnson, Erik Bakich, Josh Holiday, Larry Day, thank you. Professor Gundermann, thank you. #VandyBoys, thank you. Mom, Dad, Marky, thank you. Alex, I love you and I would have no business being your husband if it wasn’t for Vanderbilt University and who it made me. Thank you, God for giving me the strength to walk away from $1,500,000 to learn how to become a man.