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Lost Then Found: How I Found My Purpose After Baseball

January 17th, 2018

By Derek Anderson

Like so many young boys, it was love at first sight. The stadium rose like a cathedral from its humble surroundings. The menagerie smells of popcorn, dogs, burgers, and fries permeated the air. The roar of the crowd, the crack of the bat, the pop of the mitt was music to my ears. And oh my…that stained brown dirt giving way to the seemingly endless expanse of green grass with the deepest hue of blue shining down from high above was nothing short of an artistic masterpiece.  It was one canvas that even Claude Monet couldn’t replicate; a canvas that ultimately painted my life for so many years thereafter.

I grew up in the historic Southern city of Charleston, South Carolina where grand oak trees, old ballast stone streets and horse drawn carriages dominate the downtown streetscape. Just like so many other Southern locales, baseball fields pepper the landscape as well. The diamond was my home away from home – my sanctuary.  From T-ball to Coach Pitch to Dixie Youth to Dixie Boys to High School to Legion to AAU to College, baseball and I were inseparable. I took pride in the countless repetition of it all. The early, pre-dawn morning wakeups giving way to the late, under-the-lights postgame speeches. The cadence of weights, stretching, sprints, long toss, tees, soft toss, BP, shagging, fungos, games, and breakdown was routine and cyclical. It gave me stability and accountability. It gave me drive and focus. But more than anything, it gave me purpose.

I was never the most physically gifted guy on a team so I had to earn everything from respect of my coaches and teammates to grinding it out for playing time. Knowing this, it gave me purpose to perform at my optimum potential knowing what I needed to accomplish to achieve my goal.

As a Freshman at Bishop England High School, it helped land me as the starting rightfielder and platoon at Catcher among a very Upperclassman-heavy team as we won our school’s first state championship finishing with a 30-8 record. The following year, I transitioned to left field where I started all year en route to a 33-1 record as our team won back-to-back state titles.

That same year my Charleston American Legion won the state title and took runner-up at the Southeast Regional.  I was named Captain of my high school team as both a Junior and Senior. I took home MVP honors for the Baseball at The Beach high school tournament in Myrtle Beach my senior year. I was selected to play on the SC Diamond Devils AAU team for the following 2 years that was a collection of the best high school talent South Carolina had to offer where I played with and against the best competition up and down the east coast. We played everywhere from the AAU World Series at Disney’s Sports Complex in Orlando to Atlanta against the incredibility talented East Cobb teams to taking home the title at the Welland Invitational in Canada.

In the end, all these highly competitive experiences and my steadfast dedication to perfecting my craft paid off when I received a scholarship and signed a letter of intent to play Division I collegiate baseball for the University of North Carolina – Asheville in the Big South Conference. My boyhood dream of wanting to play Division I baseball had been realized.  All the long weekends traveling to and from tournaments and hacking away in the cages to the point where your palms were riddled with blisters had finally paid off.  The dream had indeed come true.

I wish that I could say it ended on a high note and enjoyed the best years of my life. As we all know, life doesn’t always work that way. My dream was short-lived. You test it, it tests you right back and then you’re left to deal with the consequences.  I only lived the fantasy for one year. But in that year, I faced off against the likes of future MLB pitcher Dewon Brazelton, played against perennial powerhouse Coastal Carolina, started against College of Charleston in front of family and friends, made a game-saving diving catch in left field against Wofford, and enjoyed my best collegiate game in a losing effort against Western Carolina. But unfortunately after my freshman year, I lost sight of the things that mattered the most. I lost my purpose.

But fast forward to the present day and my purposes are crystal clear. I am veteran of the United States Coast Guard who served as an Environmental Liaison during my tenure and was a first responder in New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. That professional experience catapulted me to my current position as a 10 year Environmental Scientist with Charleston-based, GEL Engineering where I perform project oversight, report writing, and investigative sampling for regulatory and state required asbestos, lead, mold, groundwater, sediment, surface water, IAQ and VMS projects.  I have three state issued professional licenses and will be striving to achieve my Certified Indoor Environmentalist certification this year.

In the spring of 2017, I also successfully founded and launched a local snapback hat company, IREPchs that has been attracting significant buzz locally with customers and local shops alike. The sky is the limit with my startup and cannot wait for the ride I am about to embark on. I am the proud husband and father to my beautiful wife, Julie, and 2 year old daughter, Sutton.

Purpose. One simple word. One 7-letter word to live by. It sounds easy, right?! It’s anything but. Purpose – it’s the one thing I want you to take away from my story. You will probably have more than one at any given time. Hold on to it, cherish it and nurture it, no matter what outsiders may say and whatever outside influences tug at the other end. It will get you thru the ebbs and flows. Its fine to change your purpose throughout the course of your life because you will more times than you will remember. But have purpose and it will be your guiding light. I have once again found my purpose(s) in life and am forging ahead. Blaze your path and find your purpose. An empty canvas awaits.

You can connect with Derek by visiting his website or his Instagram page @IREPchs.

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