- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 13, 2016

LAS VEGAS, N.M. (AP) - How far would you go to keep your biggest dream alive?

Albuquerque Isotopes outfielder Stephen Cardullo dreamed of playing baseball at the highest level, hardly an unusual goal for many a starry-eyed slugger. But in addition to tirelessly developing his skills, he’s doggedly pursued a path that’s taken him across the country, footing most of his own expenses while toiling away in independent baseball, the Las Vegas Optic reported (http://bit.ly/22oL63J).

Cardullo, 28, wasn’t a scholarship player out of high school, but he walked on at Florida State. He was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010 but was cut in 2011.

So he went looking for a second chance by going the independent route, playing in the Frontier and Can-Am leagues, unaffiliated with MLB.

While technically professional or semipro, those leagues don’t pay much. Players generally seek lodging with host families in their team’s hometown. In some cases in the lower levels of indy ball - such as the Pecos League, of which the Las Vegas Train Robbers were a member - players must pay for part of their uniforms and travel expenses. Some players unable to find lodging sleep in their cars.

The allure of playing indy ball lies not in prestige or profit but in the chance to keep playing and maybe - for a select few - to catching on with a Major League organization.

Cardullo played four years in the independents, the last three with Rockland in the Can-Am.

“There’s a lot of sacrifices playing independent baseball,” he said. “But I got a chance to play and work on my skill set. I was fortunate to have a good host family; that helped me a lot.”

Playing with limited resources for rewards that aren’t often tangible can lead to discouragement and kill the dream. But Cardullo kept the faith.

“The love of the game,” he said, was what kept him going.

Cardullo kept working to improve, and over each of the last three seasons with Rockland, his batting average and on-base percentage rose significantly to .331 and .518. Eventually, it caught the attention of the Colorado Rockies, and he got a minor league deal in January.

“I’ve always been a hard worker,” he said. “I’m going to keep working hard. I’m thankful to be here. Not many have the chance to play affiliated ball.”

Now, he’s one of the few. And he’s one short step away from the majors.

“I try to live in the moment, live in the present, take it one day at a time.”

___

Information from: Las Vegas Optic, http://www.lasvegasoptic.com

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