Steven Souza Jr. is having a phenomenal season for Tampa Bay. He’s hitting .271 with a .369 OBP, 19 homers, 59 RBIs and 48 walks – all career-highs.
Which is why it’s hard to believe that Souza, 28, quit baseball at 21. But that was a long time ago, and Souza has come a long way since.
“Man, I look back, and I’m honestly so thankful,” Souza said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I heard Aaron Judge talk about this during the All-Star Game: Every day I’m just so thankful. When I was in that moment, it seemed like the world was just kind of collapsing around me, and I just had solid friends around me and solid people around me to pull me out of where I was headed. Honestly, it was just grace of God to put his hand on me and say, ‘Hey, listen, this is not what I had in mind for you.’ I feel like I just got slapped in the face. It was like a wake-up moment, just throwing away this opportunity to just do so much good and enjoy this ride that’s supposed to be a blessing. I was about to throw it all away.
“I can’t comment on how I didn’t go down the wrong path,” Souza continued, “but I can comment on the fact that I had some amazing people to bring me to the Lord and really share in the way I should be doing things. That, in turn, came on the field and really skyrocketed my work ethic and the way I play the game and the way I handle failure. Everything just kind of catapulted into this unbelievable journey coming back.”
Souza’s life, at 21, revolved around alcohol, drugs, and women. He also got into a fight with his minor league manager before walking away from the game.
Souza was in a downward spiral.
But then one day, he snapped out of it.
“I’m out here to play a game in this short window of my life,” he said, “and I was more focused about the excitement and chasing the excitement of the journey than actually the productivity and being the best player I could be on the field. The things that were distracting me – the drugs, the women, and getting hammered every night. Getting hammered every night if you’re in college, you wake up and you go to class. But I’m getting hammered and I got to wake up and play a game the next day. If that process continues, I’m not going to be the best player possible.
“Instead of taking ownership of what I was doing and saying, ‘Okay, this is hurting my career. This is hurting the people around me,’ I would blame others,” Souza continued. “I ended up blaming my manager, I ended up blaming my family – I would just blame people. I was very irresponsible. It took falling out and being fully broken to go, ‘I’m a man. I need to take ownership of the junk that I’ve done. I need to go out there and work like a man – because one day I’m going to have a son, and I’m going to need to tell him this is how he’s going to have to do things. If I’m not doing it myself, how am I going to be able to tell him that?”