As a freshman at San Antonio’s Ronald Regan High School, Andres Sosa was already starting as a shortstop on the school’s varsity baseball team. Now as a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, he is adjusting to a new level of competition.

While this is a tough time of transition for Sosa, who experienced a lot of athletic success in high school, he is taking it all in stride. This was made possible largely by taking a leap of faith and becoming a more committed Catholic via Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), including through its Varsity Catholic apostolate.

Sosa attended a retreat sponsored by the Catholic college ministry that took place in San Antonio earlier this year. It was a life-changing event for him, and he now feels closer than ever to God and wants to lead others in the same direction. He recently spoke of his experience and the Longhorns’ season.

 

The Longhorns have a winning record so far. What do you expect for the team the rest of this year, and what do you expect for yourself?

In Texas there are some really good college baseball teams. TCU [Texas Christian University], Texas Tech, Baylor and Sam Houston State are all capable of going far. We still want to do well ourselves and build on the Longhorns’ long tradition of excellence. Omaha [the location of the College World Series] is not out of the question for us.

For me personally, I’m not sure what to expect. Being a starter all four years of high school versus starting two games and being 1-for-10 at the plate this year is a big transition, but I’m not the first person to go through that. Every athlete going into college has to make that adjustment. Mark Kotsay’s story gives me encouragement, not only because of his collegiate transition, but because Augie Garrido was his coach before he came to Austin.

 

Why, of all the sports to play, do you play baseball?

When people ask me why I practice and work out every day, there’s one answer that sums it up. The feeling I receive when making a catch or throwing a runner out or getting a hit is worth all the work. It’s the thrill of accomplishment, of making something good happen with teammates. The teammates make for the biggest highs because those include when not only a single play is made, but when a bunch of plays make up a win or a championship.

That was what happened my sophomore year at Ronald Reagan High School. When we got a hit to win the regional and move into the state tournament, we celebrated on the field in a big way. It’s that feeling that drives me to strive for more.

I learned at Reagan that anything is possible, but that you have to work to make it happen. That’s what our coach taught us — that you have to work, not only on the field, but off the field, as well. That’s regarding preparation for baseball, but also in the classroom and elsewhere. It’s good that I learned this philosophy at Reagan, since President Reagan was an optimist who achieved a lot.

 

Have you always been a devout Catholic?

I was born in Mexico, baptized as a baby and at 10 made my first confession and first Holy Communion. I would call myself a Catholic, but that label didn’t run much deeper than going to Mass. I didn’t think I was too bad of a person, so after my first confession I never went again, and I never got confirmed.

I went to the University Catholic Center at UT starting last fall and met David Driskill, a FOCUS missionary. A little while later, he said I should go to the upcoming “SEEK” retreat in San Antonio. He said it would be great, not only because of the event itself, but because it would be near my home. I wasn’t sure about going, but he texted me around 20 times about it.

My mom also encouraged me to go, so I reluctantly drove there in January. I sat alone in my car in the parking lot for 30 minutes, watching people arriving in groups. I didn’t feel like I would fit in, so I called my mom to tell her that. She encouraged me again and told me to go in and that Jesus would be there. I finally made the decision to go in, and I’m very happy about the results.

 

What did you find at the event?

They had Mass every day and breakout sessions where you can listen to speakers on various topics and discuss things. Then, at the end of the day, there’s a keynote speaker for the entire group. The speakers presented eye-opening stories about being Catholic and how Jesus really, truly, loves us — to the point of dying for us.

I went to sleep on the third night of the event and had a dream. I was in a big, dark room with only one light on. In the dream a priest asked me, in a calm and serious way, if I wanted to experience the best feeling I have ever felt in my life. I said, “Yes,” and that’s when I woke up.

I expected something to happen, but I wasn’t sure what, so I asked God what he was intending for me. My friend Jack, who had recently formed a discipleship and accountability partnership with me, reminded me that the fourth day was for adoration and confession. Jack was used to those things, so he wasn’t scared, but I was so scared about them, mainly because I hadn’t been to confession since I was 10.

I had thought of myself as not really needing to confess anything, but doing an examination of conscience, considering how many of the commandments may have been broken, showed me how I had fallen short of what God wanted from me.

Jack, who is like an older brother to me, told me that confessing my sins would make me happier, so that gave me enough strength to stay in line. I wasn’t completely free of fear, though. I was so worked up that it was like heading into Game 7 of the World Series. It was an end point where something big was going to happen.

 

Did you make it through?

Yes, thank God. After each sin confessed, it was like a load of bricks being taken off my shoulders, so I started feeling lighter and more joyful. I felt so relieved to be rid of the junk of my past and be home with God. I went from being messed up to being blessed up, which was the best feeling in the world.

Remember what I said about the feeling I get when playing baseball? Well, this was 100 times better. It was heightened even more when we had adoration later that day. All the lights were out except one — a spotlight on Jesus in the reserved Eucharist on the altar. There was a tremendous peace that came from being made right with God and then being in the direct presence of God.

 

That completed the imagery of your dream.

Yes, that was the dark room with one light. I used to run from my problems, like St. Augustine, but after facing them, I was able to see Jesus more clearly and enjoy being in his presence. The more St. Augustine gave up, the happier he became because he was getting closer to Jesus.

Another part of St. Augustine’s life similar to mine is the concern his mother, St. Monica, had for him. Everyone knows that my mom and I are close. She gave me life, and we have an unbreakable bond, and she wants what is best for me, so St. Augustine seems to be my ideal patron.

 

Do you think you might end up working for FOCUS, like former LSU football player Ben Domingue did?

I would like to share my story at a future FOCUS event, and I may end up working for them, too. At this point, though, I haven’t even declared a major, so I’m just a 19-year-student who loves Jesus, family, friends and baseball. Ideally, I would like to play Major League Baseball, but that may not happen. Life is full of unexpected turns, so there will likely be more of those.

I was born in Mexico and had the opportunity to come here. My father got a work visa in 2006, and in 2015 he became a citizen — and I became one with him. A lot of people seem to think that if you come here from Mexico, it has to be illegally, but it can be done legally. I’m very thankful for the privilege of being an American and being able to work at being the best baseball player I can be. I’m even more thankful for being a Catholic, which means I’m loved by Jesus, who wants me to remain in him as a son of God the Father.

If I hadn’t become a committed Catholic, this transition year would probably have been a lot more difficult. It is challenging now, but with faith, it’s a positive experience. Trials can be good if we see them in the right way, kind of like the pain sometimes felt when working out. We stretch ourselves a little beyond what’s comfortable, with the goal of becoming stronger in the long run.

I pray for other people a lot now, and I hope they pray for me, too. As I prepare for confirmation, I’m studying the virtue of courage, which is so important. Probably most of the time, we know what is right, but the important thing is to do what is right. Getting that strength requires prayer and the sacraments. That’s why I hope Catholics who haven’t been to confession in a while go.

There’s no need to wait for a big retreat; just go to a good priest at a local parish. Then, when we approach Jesus at Mass or in adoration, we will have a much clearer sense of his presence.

Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.

His book, Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015), contains numerous Catholic sports

                                       interviews, most of which have appeared in the Register.