Surrounded by family in Lehigh Acres, Florida, Marvin Malone anxiously awaited his fate.

The moment Marvin had dreamt of since he first stepped foot on the Douglas diamond 17 years ago had arrived. While other youngsters envisioned life as a firefighter, doctor or welder, Marvin imagined life as a professional baseball player.

“All Marvin has ever wanted to do is play baseball,” his mother Vanessa said.

In a scene similar to the 2016 MLB Draft in which Marvin’s name was never called, the Douglas ballplayer felt confident this time that he’d be picked early on the second day. First and second round draft picks had already been selected on Monday, June 4.

By the end of the second day, the mood in the room mimicked that of the draft two years ago when family and friends had gathered in Douglas with anticipation. Rounds 3-10 passed on June 5; still no sign of his name. Shortly after, a Tampa Bay Rays scout reached out to gauge Marvin’s willingness to sign.

Marvin didn’t pause. “1,000 percent.”

As Wednesday morning (June 5) arrived, teams began contacting him left and right. Prior to the start of the next round, which began at noon Eastern Time, Marvin had spoken to the Blue Jays, Mariners, Nationals, Giants, Marlins, Rangers, Phillies and Padres – a long-list of interested organizations, but Marvin could only speculate about which one, if any, would select him.

The first pick of the final day of the draft was phoned in:“The Detroit Tigers select Kacey Murphy from the University of Arkansas.”

Quickly, the 11th and 12th round draft picks were rattled off one after another. No Marvin Malone.

“I had to get away from the TV,” Marvin said. “I was already super high -- my nerves and emotions were all over the place. I just needed to settle down.”

Marvin recognized the rollercoaster of emotions that could transpire. He wanted to keep himself in check.

So, he went outside and played basketball with his brother.

“It’s going to happen,” he repeated to himself.

Three more rounds passed. Was it in fact going to happen? Were another 40 rounds going to come and go without his name being called?

In the 16th round, 725 days after his dream nearly came unraveled in Douglas, Marvin finally got the text he had been waiting his entire life to see.

“Marv, are you sure you’re ready to play?” the scout wrote.

“I just want to play,” Marvin replied.

Only seconds after his text was delivered, Marvin glanced down at his phone and saw that the Tampa Bay Rays had chosen him with the 480th overall pick in the 16th round of the 2018 MLB Draft.

“Holy crap, there’s no way this is happening,” he exclaimed with an enormous grin on his face.

Two years ago, as he sat in his bedroom at his former home in Douglas, Marvin pondered whether he wanted to continue playing baseball.

For a moment, his lifelong dream appeared to be within arm’s reach, and the next, it had vanished. Three days of waiting only to hear 1,216 other names left him feeling dejected.

“I sat in my room for probably a week after the draft,” Marvin said. “I didn’t come out . . . I didn’t want to do anything. That’s how much it hurt.”

But, with the help of his support system, it wasn’t long before he began viewing his goal from a new perspective.

“If God wants me to play baseball, he’ll let me play baseball,” he said to himself back then.

Marvin had just finished his sophomore season at Colby Community College in Kansas when his draft hopes went awry in 2016. He had hit an impressive .473 with 19 home runs and 101 RBIs and was named a First Team All-American. He also helped the Trojans capture their first Jayhawk Conference baseball title in school history.

“It was a season for the ages,” his former Trojans coach Ryan Carter said.

Later that year, in November, Marvin signed a letter of intent to continue his baseball career at Kansas State University. By then, he had hit the reset button and was primed for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play Division I baseball in the Big 12 Conference.

Unfortunately, Marvin’s time as a Wildcat never came to fruition, but he never lost sight of his dream. He transferred to Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, and after sitting out a year, returned to the diamond this season.

“I made a mistake,” Marvin said about his focus on baseball rather than academics at Kansas State. “But God gave me another opportunity, and I knew that I had to try to make the most of it.”

Marvin redeemed himself in impressive fashion.

Batting in the number three spot for the Fire, he posted a .360 batting average with 19 doubles, 16 home runs, 61 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. Defensively, he recorded a .960 fielding percentage with 91 putouts. He was named to the 2018 All-World Series team as he helped the Fire win their first NAIA National Championship in school history.

“It was the best team I’ve ever played on,” he said.

STANDING OUT

Even a day after the 2018 draft, Marvin was at a loss for words. He took a deep breath and paused momentarily.

“It doesn’t seem real,” Marvin said.

When the Tampa Bay Rays selected Marvin, he became the first Douglas Cats player to be drafted by an MLB organization. Having spent most of his life in Wyoming, he also became the first resident to be drafted since Cheyenne’s Brandon Nimmo was selected in the first round in 2011 by the New York Mets.

That fact has never escaped him. Growing up as a baseball player in the Cowboy State, Marvin knew the odds were stacked against him, but he never faltered.

From a young age, he always outperformed even those older than him. He hit better and threw further; before he knew it, his abilities began speaking for themselves.

“He was a one-man wrecking crew,” his former Douglas coach Zack Andrews recalled. Early on, Andrews knew he had a front row seat for a rare baseball talent.

As a standout for the Cats, Marvin was named Wyoming American Legion Single A Player of the Year in 2014 in addition to receiving All-State honors. It was his immeasurable work ethic while playing for Douglas that, in turn, made apparent the efforts he would have to put forth down the road.

“If you’re out there hitting 200 baseballs on the field, there’s always going to be someone out there hitting 500,” Marvin said. “I knew that I had to do the things that no one else was doing. I had to go to the field by myself . . . I’d hit nearly 700 baseballs everyday and shag every single one of them.

“I had to make myself stand out.”

BIGGER THAN HIMSELF

Marvin has always played the game of baseball for reasons much larger than himself.

As a member of the Fire this past season, he wore jersey number 22 to honor his older brother Samuel, who was forced to give up baseball following his senior year because of a brain tumor.

“It just kind’ve made me think . . . he’s not able to play the game he loves anymore and I knew there was no better way for him to continue living through the game than me wearing his number,” Marvin proudly said. “I was representing something much bigger than me.”

Since being drafted, Marvin has undergone much of the same thought process when reflecting on his time playing in Douglas and the obstacles he was forced to overcome.

He said that as rewarding as the moment has been over the past week, his ultimate goal is for other people in the Douglas community to have the same opportunities he’s had.

“I want them to see that no matter how tough it is, there’s always a chance that you can make your dream happen,” Marvin said. “I look back on all of those days when I pushed myself and thought, ‘Why did I just put myself through that?’ Now, those kids playing in Douglas can look at me and say, ‘He made it out of Douglas, why can’t I?’”

It’s God’s will. Or as the new age version reads, everything happens for a reason.

In Marvin’s case, there was always a reason why he wasn’t drafted in 2016. There’s a reason he never wore a Kansas State uniform. And there’s a reason he rediscovered his baseball career in Lakeland, Florida.

“It’s easy to think that you’re ready for something but I look at it now and see that I wasn’t ready to be drafted in 2016,” he said. “I think getting drafted this year was God’s way of telling me that I had the ability to play but I wasn’t necessarily ready then. It took me time to let that sink in and realize that.”

It’s the start of something special.

Marvin officially signed his contract with the Rays on Monday at their spring training facility in Port Charlotte, Florida. He will begin his professional baseball career this week as a member of the Hudson Valley Renegades, the Rays’ class-A short season affiliate of the New York Penn League. The season will last from June 15 to Labor Day.

The left-handed hitting outfielder will begin the next chapter of his story far from where it all began. But he’s immensely grateful for the community that helped mold him into the man he’s become.

“I’m so thankful for everyone that’s ever helped me or given me opportunities, even when I felt like I didn’t deserve it,” Marvin said. “This has never been about me. I’m doing this so others around me in a small community like Douglas, where opportunities are limited, can see things more clearly and know that there’s always a chance that you can achieve your goals. There’s always a chance that you can make it happen.”

For Marvin and his family, this moment has been a long time coming.

They shared in his disappointment in 2016. But now that his dream has come full circle, they’re able to recognize the true significance of his journey.

“Everything in life should have a motivation,” his father Mark said. “Your failures, your disappointments . . . they should always be fuel to help you make things right. You know, it’s to show you that you can never give up. And Marvin’s never given up.”

Fighting back tears, Marvin’s mother, Vanessa, did her best to collect her thoughts.

“Growing up in Douglas and seeing him able to achieve his dream, it’s hard to put into words,” she said. “It’s the best thing that anyone could ever ask for.”

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