In mid-July, nine-year Major League Baseball pro Steven Souza Jr. opted for retirement. The journey was long and hard-fought, and various lingering injuries eventually took their toll on the 33-year-old’s body. Choosing to walk away from all he had ever known mid-season was arguably the most difficult decision the Everett, WA. product has ever had to make. But, unable to give his all when on the field, in the weight room or even in his activities away from the game, it was the right one.
But it wasn’t a choice he made on his own. Souza Jr. did so with the help of his God.
“Sixteen years after my name was called in 2007 by Mike Rizzo and the Washington Nationals, I have finally decided to hang up my glove and my career,” Souza Jr. shared in a post on Twitter. “It’s been an incredible journey that I dreamed as a kid I would be able to go on. Without Jesus none of this would be possible, and I am forever grateful for all that He blessed me with.”
Souza Jr. enjoyed a career with five different MLB teams spanning 505 games and nearly 1,900 at bats. He hit 72 home runs, had 207 RBIs, and a .229 career batting average. He may be best remembered for two different dives from his perch in the outfield: 1.) his dramatic diving catch for the final out to seal a Jordan Zimermann no-hitter, and 2.) a poorly-timed dive that saw Souza Jr. leap for a pop-up that landed nearly 30 feet from where he landed in the grass at Target Field.
“I want to give a special thanks to all of the players and coaches who impacted not only my career but my life. I want to give a special thanks to my wife and my family for supporting me during this amazing journey. Without your love and support I never would have made it out of the GCL (Gulf Coast League). I don’t know where Jesus is leading me next, but I do know that I want to share my experiences and my love for the greatest game in the world with those who strive to do what I did. Here’s to the next chapter!”
Originally drafted by the Washington Nationals, Souza Jr. found his calling with the Tampa Bay Rays, with whom he spent three full seasons and put up the best numbers of his career. He was shipped to Arizona for the 2018 season, but only managed to play 72 games thanks to multiple injuries. 2019 was a complete write-off for Souza, thanks to an ACL injury. In 2020 and 2021, he combined for just 28 total games played due to injury and performance-related issues stemming from his lengthy time on the disabled list.
After appearing in 10 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in their run to the National League Championship Series in 2021, Souza Jr. managed just six games for the Seattle Mariners in 2022, going 3/19 at the plate. Having been designated for assignment to the Mariners’ farm club, Souza Jr. opted to call it a career, and walked away after nine years in the show.
But prior to his start in the Major Leagues, Souza Jr. battled a number of demons that shapeshifted their way through pills, women, riches and various other temptations.
“I was living that life you see so much on TV,” Souza Jr. said in a 2015 interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “Everyone’s got big cars, money, alcohol, women all around them… Everyone is looking at this guy because he’s got all this, and that’s what I wanted to be.”
But for Souza Jr. and his family, that lifestyle wasn’t healthy, nor was it a productive way to live as an MLB hopeful.
“These trials I have gone through, I wouldn’t be the man I am today without going through them,” he added. “Obviously the damage I did to people around me and to my family, I wish I could take that back. But what I went through, I can appreciate. God took me through that and made me the man I am today.”
It wasn’t until a teammate invited him to Sunday morning service that he really found his true calling as both a person and player.
“It was one of those moments where you don’t know what to expect,” Souza Jr. continued in his conversation with the Times. “There was definitely a little anxiety. But as soon as I walked into the church, it was comfort. Everyone there was welcoming me. And as soon as the message started being preached, it was just a release.”
Rediscovering his love for baseball happened shortly after that. Cracking an MLB roster – and sticking – was the next step in the journey. Now 500 games later, Souza Jr. has determined the time has come to say goodbye, but not without one further reflection on that day he first set foot in the church sanctuary – a day that changed his life.
“I could feel the Lord moving,” he said. “It was like, Lord, I’m coming after you. And what a blessing it was that he answered.”