At age 18, this pitcher had $746,000. He wanted to “cruise to the big leagues.” What went wrong?

The best high school athletes are the ones who lead their teams to championships and earn all-city, all-county, all-state, or maybe even All-American honors as individuals. These athletes often become good-to-great athletes in college or a developmental league.

But most young athletes who want to get to the top of their sports eventually realize what the rest of us who aren’t stars have known all along, becoming a “major-league” athlete is very hard, if not impossible.

Today, we will tell you about four of them from the Charlotte area. Two of them are men, and the other two are women. They were both top high school athletes and still live here. They’ve had trouble getting stable top-tier pro careers but haven’t given up yet.

Garrett Davila, a pitcher for the Charlotte Knights, remembers the day he got his first paycheck as a professional baseball player like it was yesterday.

Two months after the Kansas City Royals picked him in the fourth round of the 2015 Major League Baseball draft, he was in Surprise, Arizona, working with his new team at its spring training home. He had just graduated from South Point High School in Belmont.

When Davila was still a teenager, he got a message that money had been put into his bank account. He ran straight to the ATM in the lobby of the Arizona hotel where he was staying.

Davila says, “I didn’t take any money out.” “I just said, ‘Check the balance.’ And when I checked it, I thought, “Oh my gosh!”

Nearly $250,000 had been deposited into his bank account. This was the first of three payments that would add up to the $746,000 signing bonus that Kansas City had promised him. “When I was 18, I thought I was the richest person in the world,” he says with a laugh.

Garrett Davila is 2-6 with an ERA of 6.14 in 14 games with the Charlotte Knights this season.Garrett Davila is 2-6 with an ERA of 6.14 in 14 games with the Charlotte Knights this season.

Even now, eight years later, those are by far the biggest checks the left-handed pitcher has ever received. Now that he’s 26, Davila has spent six long seasons in the minors. He’s still hoping and praying that he’ll get his first call-up to the majors before he decides to hang up his cleats.

But as he’s grown older and wiser, he’s also learned that baseball isn’t the most essential thing in life.

Athletes who are on the Edge
These four athletes from the Charlotte area were stars on their high school sports teams. They still live here, and they’ve had trouble trying to make it as top-level pros, but they haven’t given up yet.

Davila says that after he won seven games and lost none for a Rookie-level team in Burlington in 2016, he “kind of got cocky” and thought, “I’m going to cruise to the big leagues.” But in 2017 and 2018, he had trouble at the Single-A level, and the spoiled youngster was hard on himself after every bad game. His new thought was, “I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t make it to the big leagues.”

Then, he missed all of 2019 because he had surgery to fix a torn ligament in his elbow. He also missed all of 2020 because of the pandemic. He says that close sports friends, his father, and two Christian mentors helped him reset his expectations, change his attitude (and how he pitched), and grow in his faith during that time.

When he went back to pitching for the Kansas City Royals’ High-A team in Iowa, the Quad Cities River Bandits, in 2021, he had a new motto: “It’s not life or death anymore; let’s have as much fun as we can.”

No matter what he did, it worked: By the end of the season, he had been moved up to Double-A. He pitched at that level in 2022, was signed as a free agent by the Chicago White Sox at the start of this year, and then went back and forth between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte twice in the spring before being sent here in May; where he has stayed.

Davila has started 14 games for the Knights throughout his three stints with the team (2-6 and an ERA of 6.14). A call-up seems unlikely this season. But he is having fun, and it’s only a 20-minute drive from his home in Belmont, which he shares with his wife Mackayla and will soon share with a new baby.

On August 21, they will have their first child.

Garrett Davila walks down the player’s tunnel at Charlotte’s Truist Field. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2015 Major League Baseball draft.Garrett Davila walks down the player’s tunnel at Charlotte’s Truist Field. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2015 Major League Baseball draft.

So, Davila will always know that there are more important things in life than baseball, even if he makes it to the Major Leagues and gets another chance to run to an ATM to check his balance and get a considerable deposit.

At the same time, he will always be thankful for the chances the sport keeps giving him.

“Kids drafted right out of high school have a good chance of making it to the Big Leagues or doing well at the level where they are put. I had those chances, but I felt like I pretty much wasted them. But now that I think about it, I didn’t blow them. I play baseball at the Triple-A level. Triple-A baseball is a level that not many people get to play. Even fewer people can say that they play Triple-A baseball at home. “I get to do something that most people only dream of.”

He looks out at Truist Field’s diamond, which is in the shadow of Charlotte’s shining skyline, and slowly nods.

“God’s got me where I need to be,” Davila says with a smile.

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