How do you say goodbye to the one thing you've done since you were a three-year-old boy?
The dream you've had all your life isn't going to be what you believed and worked so hard for, and there's a hard truth staring you down. But how do you walk away, even after you face it?
The singular moment that hit Kevin Rath hardest about quitting professional baseball, was simple. A field, a place he loved, and not going there everyday.
The White Sox released the lefty in 2011, and while he garnered interest from several teams, none decided to sign him after seeing him throw. His velocity had dropped considerably. They wanted to see him maybe get in with an independent team, see what he could do. That was never an option.
"I promised my parents, that if I didn't play in affiliated baseball, I would hang it up," he said from his home in Las Vegas. He took a long pause, before saying, "But it was the hardest decision of my life."
After being drafted in the 26th round by the White Sox in 2010, the Cal State grad made his professional debut in the Appalachian League for Bristol, then spent 2011 in the Pioneer League with the Great Falls Voyagers. He got in 18 games both seasons, pitching twenty four innings in 2011, four less than the previous year. He'd finish 2011 with a 6.29 ERA, allowing 27 hits, a home run, and 19 walks.
The White Sox noticed the difference. His velocity had dropped off and it was affecting his ability to perform. Velocity was always a big part of his game. With that fading, he'd need to show that he could bring it back up a few ticks. That didn't happen.
"I wasn't really surprised when they released me. I was more caught off guard when no other teams picked me up."
The majority of players released by big league clubs give it a go in independent baseball, and more often they're getting another chance. But there was a promise to keep, and, besides, he wasn't sure he wanted to live that way.
"To go with an independent team for six or seven months, financially, that's tough to do. I didn't want to stop playing, but I had to grow up. I slept on it, and the next morning I called my parents and told them I would no longer play organizational baseball."
The direction was clear pretty early on. He didn't experience much wandering and wondering. Rath, then just 21, had clarity of mind. He knew he could do other things with his life that would give him more stability and success. Bitterness didn't set in.
"I was never angry [at the White Sox]. They treated me awesome."
With the baseball playing career in the rear view, he moved forward quickly, but that didn't keep him from having some heartache.
"It's like a bad breakup. You're just not going to be at the field everyday. That affects you right away."
The post-playing career often leads to coaching, but, despite being told he'd make a fine coach, Rath has a whole other game plan.
"I'm going to be an agent. I really want to work my way up. That was more enticing financially, to be honest."
His uncle is involved with the BHSC (Beverly Hills Sports Council), and he hopes to build a career after gaining some experience. Just like baseball, but, surely, with much more certainty ahead.
He's already gained perspective about his playing career.
"At first, I felt like a failure. People would say, 'At least you made it that far.' It took me about a year to realize how cool it is that I can say I got to play professionally for a couple of years. I'm thankful. It was a great experience."
You can follow Kevin Rath on Twitter @KRath702