Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

June 17, 2014

Unroe came ‘out of womb’ playing baseball

PRINCETON — Imagine leaving home at age 17, going across the country, not knowing a soul and beginning a new job, a new career. Such was the case of Riley Unroe a year ago.

Unroe, a graduate of Desert Ridge High School in Mesa, Ariz., was the 60th player selected in the 2013 baseball draft. He moved cross continent to Florida and played 46 games in the Gulf Coast League for the Tampa Bay affiliate.

“Being away from home for a long time, for the first time, was a big adjustment I had to make,” Unroe said. “That kind of filled in having friends like Thomas Milone and Nick Ciuffo, who had to go through the same thing. We just kind of stuck it out together and figured out a way to get through it.”

Unroe batted .246 last summer with seven doubles and three triples. The 5-foot-10 switch hitter is penciled in as shortstop for the Princeton Rays this season. His two friends, Milone and Ciuffo, they are also in Princeton, scheduled to start in the outfield and behind the plate.

Unroe is glad his Gulf Coast League days are behind him and is grateful for his opportunity to climb the baseball ladder.

“It’s an honor to be here. We get to play in front of fans. There are no fans in the Gulf Coast League, so it’s awesome,” Unroe said. “I love the atmosphere, the town, it’s great and a real pleasure being here.”

Unroe has baseball in his blood. His father, Tim played in the Major Leagues for Milwaukee, Anaheim and Atlanta between 1993 and 2000. In 2001 the elder Unroe took his skills to the Japanese League and played for the Chinichi Dragons.

“I’ve got to believe I came out of the womb playing ball,” Unroe said. “My dad played some years of pro ball and I grew up watching him, hanging out in the dugouts and clubhouse with other players and I just fell in love with the game. I would say around 4 years old I have my first memory of being in the locker rooms.”

His father wasn’t the only ball player in the family. Riley’s mother, Simone also took to the diamond and a teammate of his father’s also influenced the young Unroe.

“My mom played softball growing up,” Unroe said. “It wasn’t like she just sat down, sat around and did my laundry, she was out there as well. And growing up around Mark DeRosa, he was a big part in my life, hanging out with him.”

DeRosa was a teammate of Unroe’s father who wrapped up a 16-year Major League career last season with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Unroe enjoys all aspects of the game, hitting and fielding, but there is one thing he truly enjoys about the game.

“I love the challenge of trying to be the best at the plate, where everyone fails the majority of the time,” Unroe said. “I can’t say I favor offense over defense, you have to have a well-rounded game if you’re going to make it to the big leagues.”

After 48 hours in his new home for the next two-and-a-half months, Unroe said, “I love the area. The weather is incredible. It’s awesome. I’m from Arizona, so days like this you don’t see too often. I’ve been exploring a little bit and it’s an awesome town.”

Unroe and the Rays open the season Thursday as the Bristol Pirates visit Hunnicutt Field.

— Contact Bob Redd at bredd@bdtonline.com, Twitter @bdtredd

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