A run-of-the-mill Saturday afternoon backyard pool basketball game quickly escalated into a moment Samuel Tidaback will never forget.
The 6-foot, 210-pound catcher out of the University of North Georgia received a text from his advisor, asking if the Plainfield, Ill., native was a Cubs fan. He replied he was, and soon after, his parents came running out of the house to share the news: Tidaback was now part of his favorite team, selected by the Cubs in the 21st round of the 2016 MLB Draft.
Tidaback prepped at Plainfield's Providence Catholic High School, began his collegiate career at Ball State and then transferred to Division II North Georgia after the 2014 season. He said he always thought of himself as a defensive catcher who enjoyed throwing guys out and blocking the plate. Offense was just a part of the game, hitting only .225 in 84 games in his two years at Ball State.
Upon his arrival at North Georgia, the coaching staff told Tidaback not to worry; he would be in the lineup every day. The result was a .321/.398/.526 slash line with nine home runs in his first season with the Nighthawks.
"When everything started flowing together, the ball started looking like a beach ball," Tidaback said. "Hitting was always just a thing I did. Once I got to North Georgia, I looked forward to hitting."
Tidaback continued raking as a senior, hitting .341/.417/.569 with 11 homers, 53 RBIs and drawing 20 walks compared to 26 strikeouts. He started talking to Cubs area scout Keith Lockhart in April, making the Cubs one of eight or nine teams in the mix, along with the White Sox and Mariners.
Although the Yankees are listed as his favorite team on North Georgia's website -- "I was a huge Derek Jeter guy," he explained -- Tidaback has remained loyal to the Cubs. Sammy Sosa was his favorite player, and with an aunt in Iowa, he's attended many Triple-A Iowa Cubs games.
"It's been a roller coaster, but I've always followed them, and watching them now is so much fun," Tidaback said. "I couldn't be happier to be a part of the organization. It's unreal."
Tidaback said he'll leave for the Cubs' complex in Mesa, Ariz., within the next couple of days and then begin short-season ball. Although he popped 20 homers in the past two years, Tidaback said the two things he needs to work on are overall conditioning and arm strength -- he threw out six out of 38 baserunners this season.
He's never played at Wrigley Field in an exhibition, but he has been at The Friendly Confines plenty of times. Now a lifelong dream is one step closer.
"Just being at Wrigley's a surreal feeling, and I can't thank the Cubs enough for what they've done," Tidaback said. "I can't say enough words about how happy I am to come home and to be representing the hometown team."
Cash Kruth is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.