Catcher Devin Mesoraco, the Reds' top prospect, is soaking it all in. Mesoraco, 23, was drafted by Cincinnati in the first round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft and since has worked his way up to a September 2011 Major League debut.
It all started around 1993, when five-year-old Mesoraco first picked up a baseball. Father Doug was a baseball coach, so the younger Mesoraco had plenty of opportunity to be around the game.
But it wasn't until his junior year at Punxsutawney Area High School in Pennsylvania that Mesoraco felt he had a chance at going pro.
"I wasn't 100 percent sure that I would ever get drafted, but I was hoping," Mesoraco recalled. "Going into my junior year, I went to bigger showcases and bigger tournaments, and I played pretty well. I was able to compete with the best guys in the country, so I knew I had a chance at that point."
But Mesoraco's journey wasn't without obstacles. Surgery on his throwing arm immediately after his sophomore year inhibited his playing abilities.
"I love the game so much," he declared. "I grew up enjoying playing ball. [Playing baseball was] something I knew I wanted to do the rest of my life. Whatever it took to rehab or get back to that point, I was going to do it."
Now Mesoraco is taking that same determination into what is expected to be his first full season as a Red. He was busy during the offseason gearing up to make his mark on the organization.
"Being a catcher, I have to be very flexible and keep adding on to what I've been working on as a hitter," he said, "and reviewing some film and just checking out what went right or what went wrong, to get a better idea of where I need [to be] coming into next year."
Mesoraco said that the biggest hurdle he'll face this season is proving his worth to the team.
"I can't go in there trying to do too much, I've just got to play to my abilities," he said. "Just learning the pitching staff we have, learning some of the other pitchers in the league to figure out their tendencies, the way they approach an at-bat."
His teammates have been an invaluable part of his growth and preparation as he assimilates himself into the big leagues. He has plenty of praise for catching mentor Ryan Hanigan.
"He's a very smart, very sharp guy that it'll be a joy for me to learn from," Mesoraco said. "He's worked with pitchers that have been around for four or five years, so he knows every situation and he is very approachable for me to talk to. He's always there to help."
Mesoraco has learned that the quality most crucial to being a successful big leaguer is having a strong work ethic.
"You have to -- day in and day out -- go out there and try to get better in all aspects of the game," he said. "People can tell you all they want, and give you all the teaching they can, but you have to do it yourself."
Mesoraco also learned a lot from working with the likes of veterans Joey Votto and Jay Bruce.
"I really enjoy spending time with those guys, just seeing how they approach every day," Mesoraco said. "Joey is one of the hardest-working guys in baseball, and to just see what he does to prepare himself for the game is very valuable for me."
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.