Fletcher Byrd: My Professional Dream Reimagined

The two biggest fears of any athlete: failing and quitting.

Every motivational speaker, inspiring story, and sports movie preaches the mottos of “don’t quit” and “never stop trying,” but what happens when your sport brings you more pain than joy? 

Growing up, like many kids, I wanted to become a Major League Baseball player. Ever since I was young, I dedicated myself to working hard and training to one day achieve my dreams. I was on the right track when I received a D1 scholarship to play baseball at Kennesaw State.

Unfortunately, no sports movie or book can prepare you for the realities of life. In three years, I went from being a D1 athlete to playing at two junior colleges, then in the NAIA. Attending four schools in three years is far from picture-perfect, but I never stopped believing in myself and my goals. I knew my path was traveled for a reason, that all the uncertainties and difficulties would pay off in the end. I knew that I would make it, nothing could stop me…right? 

My junior year at Keiser University was the best season of my career. I put up great numbers that put me into draft considerations. In 2019, the MLB draft consisted of 40 rounds, with each of the 30 MLB teams picking in each round. Of course, I knew I wouldn’t be a first-rounder, but I did believe I was one of the 1,200 best players in the country. I’d even had some interest from professional scouts. I knew this was my moment to finally fulfill a lifelong dream. 

On June 7, 2019, the draft was winding down. They were into the final five rounds and I sat with my parents anxiously awaiting the call. 

That call never came. 

They say real men don’t cry, but I cried a few buckets of tears that night. 

No worries, I told myself, just get back to work and try again next year.

But, as I woke up the next morning, the desire was gone. That inner drive was missing. My dreams of playing professionally carried me through every bad game, injury, and transfer. This wasn’t a temporary feeling either. I knew within that my love for the game had vanished. Mentally, physically, emotionally, I was burnt out. I was done. 

The next day, I called my college coaches and told them I was not returning for my senior year. I officially retired at 21. 

I had failed my dreams, my family, my hometown. I was at a low point, one that I never thought I would reach. Thankfully I had a strong support system around me that kept me in line, but I experienced intense depression and anxiety after seeing my lifelong dreams fade away.

I was ready to try and move on –move on from being an athlete, a ballplayer –because it was causing too much pain. I just wanted to be me. 

I enrolled in classes at Georgia State to work on finishing my degree. I wanted nothing to do with baseball, or any sports for that matter. The game I once loved didn’t love me back, and for that, I hated it. I couldn’t watch it; I couldn’t talk about it. Every time I thought of baseball, I was filled with anger and sadness. 

As I was beginning to set up my classes for the fall semester, I received a call from one of the scouts that had shown interest in me before the draft. No, this wasn’t some fairytale Disney scenario where one of the players couldn’t play and they needed me to fill in. It was much more than that. 

On that call, the scout told me he had not only paid attention to my skills and stats, but also to my work ethic, belief, and pure desire to achieve my dreams. He then told me that his organization wanted me to apply for their Junior Scout program, an intern-based scouting role that allows you to work under scouts to one day become full-time. 

At first, I was hesitant, still angry, and upset that I didn’t get drafted. But then, I began to warm up to the idea of still being involved in the game. Maybe this was my God-given purpose, to help the next generation fulfill their dreams. That night, I called back and said I would apply. A few days later, I was accepted! 

Fast forward a year, after my first year as a Junior Scout, and I received another call. The organization wanted to promote me to a full-time role. 

I am now the Texas Area Scout for my organization, the Oakland Athletics. I am not a failure, nor was I ever to begin with. 

I’m sharing my story because I know others have and are going through what I did. I know many athletes grow up wanting to play four years at their favorite D1 school, but have to make changes to those plans. I know many athletes have transferred, sometimes more than once, and what it feels like having to request transcripts for the millionth time. I also know that many have dreams that go unfulfilled. 

For us, we don’t have to be sad, depressed, bitter, or angry. We can look back and feel proud of the accomplishments we achieved, no matter how big or small. We can feel proud of the late nights and early mornings we endured, for every sprint, workout, and failure we encountered. 

We can also adjust our dreams and maybe look at other avenues of sports that aren’t as glamorized: avenues like scouting, analytics, coaching, sports psychology, reporting, and others. These can be the new dreams we pursue! Now more than ever, there are more and more opportunities for athletes to pursue. We don’t have to stop working in sports once the clock hits zero or the last inning is played. We can still go after anything our hearts desire, just like we did as kids.

For me, this is my dream reimagined. That kid that was crying on Draft night, will make sure to do their best to ensure no other kid experiences what I went through. 

Thank you for reading my story and to The Hidden Opponent for sharing. May God bless you all.

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