Seven men, one dream and the journey to the big leagues

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The road to the big leagues is more challenging than most fans realize.

Each step up the ladder through the minor leagues produces another set of obstacles. A player’s energy is sapped by long bus rides, bad food and cheap motels. His skills are tested by opponents just as hungry as he is to reach the majors. And his desire can take a hit at any time by a prolonged slump or streak of bad luck.

I spent a week at spring training in Arizona talking to players about the challenges they have faced in chasing their big league dreams.

From established big leaguers like Torii Hunter and Colby Lewis, to journeymen like John Lindsey (pictured) and Corky Miller, to rising star Dustin Ackley, they each had a unique take on life, sports and their love of baseball.

But they all had one thing in common: To them, it’s the journey itself that matters most.

Here are their stories.

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Video: Jaime Garcia hits a 399-foot grand slam

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Jaime Garcia has been at the center of trade talks for several days now, but on Friday night, he commanded center stage for an entirely different reason. The Braves’ southpaw went head-to-head with Dodgers’ lefty Alex Wood and mashed his first career grand slam: a two-out, 399-foot blast that cleared the wall in right field and put the Braves up 9-0 in the fifth inning.

The bases-loaded knock was the third career home run for Garcia, whose contributions at the plate have been few and far between over his nine-year track in the major leagues. Not only did the homer mark an impressive career first for the 30-year-old, but it was just the second pitcher grand slam in Braves’ history and the first since 1966.

Garcia looked almost as impressive on the mound during Friday’s series opener, issuing one run, four hits and three strikeouts through his first six innings. The Braves currently lead the Dodgers 12-1 in the top of the seventh inning.

As for whether the slam will affect negotiations between the Braves and Twins? MLB.com’s Mike Petriello put it best:

Ryon Healy exits game after taking a ground ball to the face

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Athletics’ first baseman Ryon Healy had a scary moment during Friday’s loss to the Mets. Lucas Duda smacked a single to the first base side, where the ball took a high hop and caught Healy in the left temple. He crumpled to the ground after getting struck by the one-hopper, but was eventually able to stand and walk off the field with assistance from a trainer.

Prior to the injury, Healy went 2-for-3 at the plate with an RBI single in the first inning. He was replaced by Yonder Alonso, who finished off the rest of the night’s 7-5 loss with a walk in two plate appearances.

Following the game, manager Bob Melvin told reporters that Healy did not appear to have sustained a concussion as a result of the hit. Healy said he thinks he’ll be good to go for Saturday’s game, though a final decision likely won’t be made until tomorrow.