THE Olympic Games has been a goal for Tim Atherton ever since he first picked up a baseball.
Just as that dream was on the verge of being realised, following more than 20 years of hard work and training, it evaporated in a matter of seconds, following Baseball Australia's decision to not send its national team to the final Tokyo qualifiers in Mexico.
"It's absolutely shattering - I still haven't fully come to terms with it," Atherton said.
"I didn't sleep properly for a week - I got really run down and ended up getting sick, as my body succumbed to the disappointment."
"Because it was so close (just one week from leaving), every one of us was in peak condition ready to compete for an Olympic gold medal.
"It wasn't like it was announced 12 months out when we were all just starting to prepare - we were all fully committed to the goal and had been for some time.
"All our time, efforts and sacrifices up to this point had been working towards this sole goal of firstly qualifying and then winning gold, so for it to be cancelled just like that was extremely hard to take.
"I feel sorry for all the coaches and representatives that had to make the final decision, as it would have been a difficult one.
"The hardest part is, with Paris not having baseball at its Olympic Games in 2024, this was a lot of our team's one shot because we're still seven years away from Los Angeles.
"Nothing in sport is ever set in stone but I'll be 38 by that point, which is definitely on the older side of things."
What the decision ultimately came down to was player welfare, and Baseball Australia couldn't get adequate assurances from the Mexican government
The team would have had to fly into public airports of a country that has more than 20,000 active COVID-19 cases.
They were also promised to be in a bubble, despite fans being allowed to attend the matches, which made social distancing hard.
Before leaving Mexico, all players would be required to record a negative test - posing questions to what happens to anyone that tests positive.
On top of this, flights in and out of the United States are scarce at the moment, and once returning home the players would be forced to quarantine before heading to Tokyo.
This meant there was a risk not all the players would physically arrive at the Games in time, let alone be ready to compete at maximum performance.
After weeks of agonising over it and weighing up the costs, both financially and psychologically, Baseball Australia informed the former Greenwell Point-based athlete and his teammates of the decision on Monday, June 7 - two days before it was released publicly.
"In my eyes, you can't put a price on Olympic success because if went well in Tokyo, the sport in this country would boom," Atherton said.
"The exposure would be massive and it shows all those young kids there are avenues to pursue your baseball dreams - the chance to compete internationally was one of the reasons I fell in love with the sport as a junior."
From the pitcher's perspective, the hardest thing he and his teammates are trying to comprehend is not even getting a chance to showcase their talents.
"It's been a rough period for everyone in the team, with plenty of why and what if questions being asked," the Berkeley Eagle said.
"If we went to Mexico and lost, we could tip our caps and acknowledge we did everything we could to qualify.
"But now being forced to watch the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela compete for the final Olympic spot while being stuck in the dugout is a terrible feeling."
Atherton, who's dealt with plenty of adversity during his career, ranks this right up in terms of disappointments.
"In my career, I've had three big disappointments including the Tokyo one," the former Minnesota Twins and Oakland Athletics minor league pitcher said.
"The first is shoulder surgery preventing me from resigning with an American minor league club in 2015.
"Then being hit by a truck at the end of 2017, just days before signing with the Milwaukee Brewers.
"I was driving down to teach at Greenwell Point and had stopped to grab a pie at Albion Park and got hit by a moving truck, which hyper-extended my elbow.
"It happened on a Tuesday and two days later I found out Dave Nilsson (the now Australian coach) had intended to sign me over in Perth.
"That was a huge setback for my career, as I'd obviously worked my way back from shoulder surgery and two years later, was robbed of an opportunity because I was hurt - through no fault of my own.
"It just seems like every time I'm at peak condition and good things are about to happen, it all turns belly up.
"As tough as those two were, this Tokyo news is definitely been the hardest to deal with to date."
With it being a fortnight since the agonising decision was made, Atherton has had little time to process what this means for baseball in this country.
"When you talk about athletic development, you've got the juniors and when you mention performance, you've got the national team and this was set to be the first time we'd stepped foot into an international diamond since the Premier 12 in 2019," he said.
"We obviously didn't play last year with COVID-19, which has been the case this year and most likely next year.
"I get these are unforeseen circumstances but it's hard to continue to grow our sport when you're not playing on the international stage for so long.
"Thankfully, all our local competitions are going ahead and numerous players are performing in the United States - showing there's still a lot going on."
Once the pain of the Olympic Games starts the fade, Atherton and his side, which also features Eagles' Steve Kent and Wollongong Cardinals' Trent D'Antonio, will start working towards two big international tournaments, World Baseball Classic and Premier 12, in 2023 - as well as competing in the Australian Baseball League with the Brisbane Bandits over the summer.
"I'll probably now take a little break from the sport before starting to ramp up my training ahead of November's ABL," he said.
"The fire is still there for me to succeed in the green and gold on the international stage."
We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.