Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

June 24, 2014

Bird gets his shot with Rays

PRINCETON — It doesn’t matter to Kyle Bird that he was the 1,057th pick in this month’s Major League Baseball draft.

When the phone call came, the native Floridian told the Tampa Bay Rays representative, “Just give me a shot.”

So he met a scout over lunch, signed a contract “and off we went,” he said.

Things happened quickly. Once he got a call to report in for a physical, he said, “I drove down (to the Rays’ extended spring training facility) on a Thursday night, had my physical Friday morning, then Saturday I drove up here (to Princeton).”

Now he’s looking to trade baseball on one coast of Florida for the other.

The left-hander who pitched this spring for the Saints of Flagler College in St. Augustine has hopes of someday pitching for Tampa Bay on the Gulf Coast in St. Petersburg, some 210 miles to the southwest of his college environs.

He should know a little about Florida geography by now. A resident of Green Cove Springs, just outside Jacksonville, he spent two years in the capital city of Tallahassee, pitching out of the bullpen for the Florida State Seminoles.

It was a big jump for a teenager who was the first in his family to go to college.

He made a pair of appearances at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament as a freshman and also made a brief stint in a College World Series game that same year against the University of Arizona, according to the Florida State athletics website.

Then he transferred to Flagler, a Division II school on the Atlantic coast. This spring he put in 12 appearances, 11 of them starts. In 54 innings, he went 2-4 with one save and finished with a 5.00 earned run average.

He holds Flagler’s record for pickoffs in a single season, with 12. Bird picked off three runners in a game in March at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke.

In college, he said, “I just learned that the game’s a lot faster, and that you have to think more as you go. At the same time, the game almost becomes simpler: Things you wouldn’t really look at in high school, you learn those little things that make the game so much easier at the college level.”

One change was “knowing how to field my position,” he said. “I learned that was kind of a big step from high school to college.”

He drew some attention from pro scouts while at Clay High School with records of 8-1 and 9-1 in his junior and senior seasons, but didn’t get drafted.

“This past year over at Flagler, I had scout day,” he said. “After that, I got a lot of questionnaires from a lot of guys. I talked to a couple of guys leading up to the draft.”

“The surprising thing was, I didn’t get anything from the Rays. I didn’t get a questionnaire, I never talked to them or anything, and then on the third day of the draft, they gave me a call and said, ‘Hey, if we take you here, would you take it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, give me a fair chance and I’ll go.’ ”

“They said, ‘Is there anything holding you back?’ and I said, ‘No, just give me a shot.’ ”

At Flagler, he said, his coaches “were really excited for me, just glad I got the opportunity. ... They couldn’t have been happier with any decision I made, whether to go or to stay, they were happy with whatever I wanted to do.”

He immediately began researching the Tampa Bay organization.

He said, “I looked up a lot of stuff and I heard a lot of things from different people. They said this would be the perfect place for me.”

“They said they develop pitchers extremely well here, so I was very excited about that. They said, they’ll take it slow, but they’ll work with you and make sure that you are ready, and they’ll do the best they can to get you to the major leagues.”

“I was extremely excited about that, excited to get the opportunity to come up here and throw for a professional team.”

However, in his research, he didn’t find out much about the Appalachian League. “I heard the competition’s good up here — and really not much else,” he said.

His first impression of his new team?

“It’s a very good group of guys,” he said. “Everybody’s here for the same reason, to play ball and to win games.”

“It’s a team, it’s an actual team that wants to win and wants to do good for the season. It’s not guys that are just individuals and are all about themselves. They’re guys that want everybody to go good and everybody to get better.”

That is in harmony with what he’s always been taught, he said.

His parents “support me every step of the way,” he said. “They’re always staying positive. They always teach me to be positive, no matter what’s coming your way, and always take the positive side of everything.”

His hometown listing on the Princeton roster is Jacksonville, but Bird had a common-sense explanation for that.

“Not a lot of people know the small town of Green Cove Springs, Florida. That’s where I went to high school. I just say (I’m from) Jacksonville because more people know about Jacksonville than they do about Green Cove Springs.”

That small-town atmosphere made the move to Princeton “really not much of a transition,” he said. “Where I came from, it’s a very small town. It’s probably about the same amount of people here as there is back home.”

He said one of his few challenges so far has been “trying to find a good fishin’ spot up here.”

Overall, he said, “It’s been nice. It’s a very laid-back, quiet town, and I don’t think there’s anything better than that.”

— Contact Tom Bone at

tbone@bdtonline.com

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