By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Drew Vettleson played his first professional baseball game on Tuesday night as a member of the Princeton Rays.
Sitting in the Hunnicutt Field bleachers were his parents and girlfriend, all of whom traveled from Seattle for the occasion.
Needless to say, the Vettleson family was happy.
“He played football and basketball and I actually thought his sport would be basketball, but baseball just kind of took over,” said Vettleson’s father, Jerry. “I am excited about it, very excited about it.”
So was his son, as opening day approached.
“I am definitely feeling the butterflies for tomorrow,” said Vettleson, during a “Meet the P-Rays” gathering on Monday at Hunnicutt Field, “but it is going to be exciting.”
Vettleson, an outfielder with the Rays, was a first round supplemental selection by Tampa Bay in the 2010 amateur draft, having been taken with the 42th overall pick out of Central Kitsap High School in Bremerton, Wash.
Some might feel a little overwhelmed with the expectations of being such a high selection, but Vettleson isn’t one of them.
“It feels really good to be the 42nd pick, I have a little bit of pressure, but I feel I am ready for it so I am excited to come out here and perform good,” Vettleson said. “I try to keep high energy, always happy, I am always smiling out there, I try to be a fun player to watch so that is my main goal.”
No wonder. Vettleson is getting paid to play baseball, and he certainly likes his summer home in Princeton.
“I am definitely excited about getting started here playing,” Vettleson said. “I like the field, we have a new surface this year and it feels good out there.
“I have been waiting for the last year in a half just to get out here and play in a couple of games so I am definitely excited.”
Vettleson, a three-sport standout, signed late last season with the Rays, and only played a few games in an instructional league. He then spent the last several months playing games that don’t count in Florida in extended spring training.
He’s ready to play games that actually matter.
“It is a little rough, it is a grind, it is hot down there. You come out every day and get your work in and do extra work because they are not real games,” said the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Vettleson. “It is just trying to get all your work in and getting ready for the real season so it is definitely a grind.”
It’s worth it. He had other options, having verbally committed to play at Oregon State, but the pull of pro ball was too much to resist.
“My dream is to play pro ball,” said Vettleson, who will turn 20 on July 19. “Once I got that call that I got drafted, I was pretty much ready to come here.”
His career started as the P-Rays’ right fielder batting second in the lineup. His debut was successful, as the lefty swinging Vettleson collected two hits, scored once and swiped a base in a 7-5 win over the Burlington Royals.
That’s the type of performance he would like to repeat, outside of the one strikeout he did have.
“I want to be a high average, gap-to-gap hitter, that can hit a home run too, but not straight power,” Vettleson said. “I just try to hit the ball, put the ball in play, no strikeouts, or keep those down to a minimum.”
Vettleson is joined on the P-Rays by two other first round selections, including outfielder Josh Sale and catcher Justin O’Connor. Sale and Cameron Seitzer, the son of former major leaguer Kevin Seitzer, each homered in Tuesday’s opening night win.
He’s excited about the prospects for the team this season.
“Being in extended you get to know everybody really well,” he said. “I feel like this team already knows a lot. All the new guys, all the college guys from this draft, we have all met and they are all really nice guys, really cool guys, I hang out with them a lot.
“We are all coming together really early so it is going to be good, real good.”
So is being a Ray. Few minor league systems are as deep as what Tampa Bay has built, and Vettleson is glad to be part of it.
“It is a great system, they are great about player development,” Vettleson said. “I am excited about being in this system because they talk about how there are tons of coaches there for you. They are not just there to be there, they’re there to get every person to the big leagues that they can.”
He also realizes getting a promotion in a stocked system could be difficult, but he’s not intimidated by that realization.
“It makes you want to work harder to beat out the next person,” said Vettleson, who grew up as a fan of the Ken Griffey, Jr., and the Mariners in Seattle.
The Rays also want to beat everyone else in the Appalachian League, and especially the Blue Jays. Vettleson has heard all about the Mercer County rivalry involving the two teams.
“They are what, about 12 miles apart, it is a pretty nice rivalry,” Vettleson said. “Hopefully we will see a lot of fans there and hopefully we will bring home the Mercer Cup.”
—Contact Brian Woodson