He was only 5, but Oscar Mercado can still clearly remember that one Christmas morning.
Under the tree, in the duplex apartment he lived in with his mother, Martha Arevalo, and father, Oscar Enrique Mercado, off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia, was the start of a dream.
It was a plastic baseball bat, glove and rubber ball.
"You always believe in Santa, and what not," Mercado said. "I just woke up, and there it was...I was a little kid playing around with it. I loved it."
Right then, Mercado's love for the game of baseball was born.
Thirteen years later, Gaither's rocket-arm shortstop and budding pro-baseball superstar, is just hours away from hearing his name called in the 2013 Major League Baseball first-year player draft. His dreams, within reach.
"It's just one more step closer to my goal," he said. "As soon as my name is called, I'll be really, really excited. But, at the end of the day, I know it's going to be time to get after it and pursue my ultimate goal of making it to the big leagues."
Oscar Mauricio Mercado was born in Cartagena on Dec. 16, 1995. The majority of his family, including his parents, lived in his native country.
His father was a soccer player, and played some basketball in high school. His mother tried getting him involved in karate.
Neither sport appealed to their son.
"He wasn't good at all for karate," Arevalo said, "so we had to try something else."
Right before his fifth birthday, the MLB playoffs were on television. Him and his father would watch the games, including the World Series.
The fire sparked in his heart.
"At that age, with me, he sat down, and...he was very curious," Oscar Enrique Mercado said, "asking about it at just four years old."
That Christmas, his mother bought him the plastic baseball equipment as a gift. He'd play catch with his father every morning, and every afternoon after his dad returned home from work. They'd practice in the gravel lot outside of their condominium, under an overhang that provided shade.
Ground balls, batting practice and long toss become the daily routine. Dad, quickly, became coach.
"In Colombia, it's not like here, where you drive five minutes and there is a field," Oscar Enrique Mercado said. "Maybe I'd have to drive 20 minutes to find a field that's not good with no grass and it's very brown, all to be able to practice with him when he was seven or eight years old."
Still, dad saw a glimpse of his son's soon-to-be major talent, at a very young age.
"When he started to play baseball...he was able to play with 8-year-old kids," he said. "He was at that level."
Oscar Enrique Mercado had dreams of moving them to the United States, to provide a better life for the family. When Oscar was 7, his father left for the states. He found a job, a house and a school for his children.
Less than two years later, Oscar migrated to the U.S, and the family settled in Brandon. He was 8.
"The biggest problem, I must say, was probably the language barrier," he said. "After six months, and as a little kid going to school every day, you pick things up quicker and I got over the language barrier."
Baseball was a language Mercado knew well. Two weeks after him and his mother arrived, Oscar's father signed him up to play in youth leagues at South Brandon Little League Park.
His skill level continued to improve. He had better equipment and facilities to work with, which helped with his growth.
He moved Tampa at age 11, and was enrolled at Gaither for high school. He played immediately as a freshman, which he said was key in his development. That year, he hit .310 and scored 15 runs in 42 at bats.
He got stronger and more balanced over the years. He worked on his base running. As a sophomore, he hit .338, drove in 23 runs and stole 10 bases.
His biggest jump came from sophomore to junior year, when he played travel ball with the Tampa Bay Warriors. He learned how to hit the ball over the fence, because he had "zero power" his rookie year. Then came the rocket-arm, something he groomed by "playing a lot of long-toss."
He hit .370 that year, drove in 29 runs and hit his first high-school home run. He stole 12 bases. This year, he hit just .286 in 63 plate appearances, but was already on scouts' radar, mainly because of his defense. He has quick feet, soft hands and a lightning-quick back-handed throw, something he said came from years of work with his father, dating back to their time in Colombia.
"A lot, a lot of ground balls, listening to the fundamentals and paying attention to detail," Mercado said of how he worked on his defense, foot work. "A lot of repetition, but a lot of good-quality repetition...I've taken so many (ground balls), I could not tell you how many."
Mercado's received every national accolade you can think of.
Rawlings First-Team All-American.
Perfect Game All-American.
He received a full scholarship to Florida State, and signed with the Seminoles.
Now, all that's left is to hear his name called in Thursday's draft. He's projected to be the first Tampa Bay-area player taken, and could go in the first two rounds. He's worked out for the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, Cincinnati Reds and several other teams, he said.
"I've heard a lot from a lot of teams," Mercado said. "You never really know what's going to happen, and a lot can happen in a day, especially with certain players being taken. At the end of the day, I'm just going to wait to hear my name called. I'm not going to come to any conclusions before that."
He'll have a number of family members in town to watch the draft. Of course, his mother and father will be by his side.
"Six months ago, I said it was far, but that will be a big day for me," Oscar Enrique Mercado said. "Maybe the most important day in my life."
"You can't imagine how proud I am," Arevalo said. "I'm very happy. Since he was four of five years old, we knew this was his dream. I'm happy he's going to [fulfill his dream]."
It all goes back to that December morning, and one gift, that's forever changed his life.
"From that moment, he started a career that never stopped," his father said.
Come Thursday night, Mercado may have more than one major league team believing in Santa.
Ryan Bass is a reporter for Bright House Sports Network. He can be reached at Ryan.Bass@BHSN.com, or on twitter, @Ry_Bass.