Growing up in the United States, you often hear about the promise of the American dream, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard enough, you can achieve your dreams. While that may not be the case for a large portion of society, the Colorado Rockies’ Stephen Cardullo is living proof that it can, and will, happen to the best of us.

After fighting in the independent league for four years, the Rockies decided to give Cardullo a chance when they signed him to a minor league deal last year, and called him for his first crack at the Majors on August 26. He’ll make his first home Opening Day debut on Friday.

Five days after joining the squad last year, Cardullo made a name for himself when he recorded his first MLB home run and subsequently his first grand slam, on his birthday. This year, he won the Abby Greer Award as the Rockies Spring Training MVP, after drilling 15 hits and recording 15 RBIs and nine runs.

From the beginning of his higher-education career, Cardullo was always an underdog. He walked on to Florida State’s team in 2007, where he spent the entirety of his college career.

In Tallahassee, Cardullo was no stranger to testing the waters at a variety of positions, and that helped shape the skilled player that he’s become today.

“I kind of was a utility player in college,” Cardullo said. “I came in as a third baseman, and then my junior year, I started the first 15 games at first base, then moved to second, then moved to shortstop, where I was like the last year and a half at Florida State.”

That versatility has become extremely valuable as he moves forward with his Major League career.

“I played multiple positions, which I felt like has always been beneficial for me—someone in my case—that way I can play in more positions, so there’s more options,” he said.

Although he didn’t play on scholarship, Cardullo worked himself into one of the best players at his position in the nation. After helping his team earn a trip to the College World Series during his sophomore year, he added his name to the Seminole history books the next year when he became the second FSU shortstop ever to earn a spot on the All-American first team. The same year, he was named a semifinalist for the Brooks Wallace Award, which is awarded to the nation’s top shortstop.

“I’ve always worked hard throughout my whole life regardless, in high school, going to college and walking on at Florida State, so I definitely was working hard with that, working hard with getting drafted as a senior,” Cardullo said. “I’m constantly working hard, I still am.”

That hard worked paid off after his senior year, when he got drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 24th round, where he spent two years in the minor league system. Unfortunately, the stars did not align in Cardullo’s favor, because the D-backs released him in 2012, forcing him to search for alternative options.

“I got released by the Diamondbacks during spring training in 2012,” Cardullo said. “They just parted ways with me. I knew I needed to improve as a baseball player; my skill set wasn’t there to keep me around.”

But he wasn’t ready to give up on his dream quite yet.

“The mindset definitely was a little changed, I would say, when I got released,” Cardullo said. “I think I kind of thought that getting released was kind of like getting fired. You got to pick yourself back up. I’m fortunate enough I had a great support system, I picked myself back up, and I’m here.”

He decided to go down the last resort route by signing himself up for the independent league, which took him straight to Canada as a member of the London Road Warriors. Shortly after joining his new Ontario team, Cardullo found himself in another tough spot when the team folded and another team in Florence, Kentucky picked him up.

“I put in a lot of hard work in the off season, and after the release, I still wanted to play,” Cardullo said. “I was fortunate enough that there were independent opportunities in baseball, so I did that just to kind of showcase and put the work in.”

Once his time with Florence ended, he found his way into the Rockland Boulders roster up in New York.

“That first year, I definitely took some time getting adjusted, being in Canada and then having that team fold and then going off to Kentucky,” Cardullo said. “That was a structured organization, which was real well.”

Throughout his entire independent league ordeal, Cardullo had to work his way back towards grabbing the attention of major league scouts by improving every day. That task came with its challenges, as Cardullo often found himself scrapping to make an extra buck with the poor wages of the independent leaguers.

“In the offseason, you just do part-time stuff like working camps and clinics,” Cardullo said. “During the season, the teams usually supply camp days and working camps, so I’d work camps and stuff like that during the season. Honestly, my parents helped out a lot. I had host families too, and that was real beneficial. It was like a home away from home.”

Now, as Cardullo preps himself for his first home opener on a Major League roster, all his hard work over the years is starting to pay off, with money worries being a thing of the past.

“It’s a great feeling, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Cardullo said. “I have to continue to get better and help this team win. Nothing’s secure, obviously, so I got to go in with a strong mindset and work the hardest I’ve ever worked. I’m confident I’m going to do that.”