Marcus Walden has been living his dream since 2007 when he was drafted out of Fresno City College by the Toronto Blue Jays in the ninth round.
But 12 minor league stops later, the ex-Central High star had doubt.
He reached his low when he was released by the Cincinnati Reds in early 2015 after one outing in Double-A and ended up playing for the Lancaster Barnstormers in the independent Atlantic League.
Walden said he wondered if playing baseball was worth it. He thought about going back to school and earning his degree, then going into teaching and coaching.
A phone call to his wife, Nichole, changed that course.
"That night I remember him feeling kind of down and it was the first time he really started to consider another career path outside of playing," Nichole said. "I honestly just couldn’t see him doing that and I had a strong feeling that he could still make it in professional baseball. I told him to finish out the season, that we could make it work and our sacrifices would be worth it if he had a chance at getting back into affiliated ball."
It didn't happen overnight, but there is a reason Nichole is at Tropicana Field this weekend:
Marcus Walden made it to the big leagues. He's a reliever for the Boston Red Sox.
“I take a lot of pride in being 1 of 750 players on Opening Day," said Walden, who at 29 may be the oldest rookie in the majors. He's certainly one of the most grateful, especially to his wife.
“It makes it a lot easier to go out there and play knowing that she fully supports me and my career."
From that conversation with Nichole, things started to turn around. The Waldens celebrated the birth of their daughter, Sutton, in January 2016 and Walden signed with the Minnesota Twins. He split 2016 between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester.
Walden hit free agency and signed with the Red Sox. He got an invitation to to the big league spring camp and spent 2017 with Triple-A Pawtucket, going 10-6 with a 3.92 ERA in 29 appearances (15 starts).
That earned another trip to the big league camp. This time, Walden made the most of his opportunity, posting a 0.64 ERA in 14 spring innings. The Red Sox bought his contract.
Nichole said it was an uneasy time during cuts.
"We realized he had a chance to make the team out of camp. The last couple days of camp I was nervous and also excited at the possibility of him making the team. When he finally got called into the manager’s office and was told he made the team, it was emotional for all of us.
"I’m incredibly proud of him. The road that led us here made us stronger and it makes this moment so much sweeter. I can’t wait to see him take the mound and help Boston win this season."