By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Expectations are high for Josh Sale, judging from being a first round draft choice and receiving a seven-figure signing bonus to play baseball for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Payback begins tonight.
“I am going to try to live up to them,” said Sale, the 17th overall selection last year’s amateur draft. “I know that some people have set the bar pretty high for me, but I hold my bar pretty darn high and I expect myself to do what I feel like I should do.
“As long as I stay within my guidelines and make sure I am taking care of myself in terms of BP (batting practice) and working on my balls off the bat on defense, I feel like I will be where I need to be.”
Tonight, that will be at Hunnicutt Field, as Sale (pronounced “sah-lay”) and the Rays will open the Appalachian League season by hosting the Burlington Royals. First pitch is slated for 7 p.m.
“I have got to start showing what they paid for,” said Sale, also an avid golfer, who was raised by his Samoan parents in Seattle.
With a team that includes three first round draft picks, including fellow outfielder Drew Vettleson — who is also from a suburb of Seattle — and catcher Justin O’Connor, Sale thinks the Rays will have a team to watch this season. There are six other players drafted in the top 11 rounds.
“Judging from what I have seen from (the instructional league) to when I first showed up and judging how we have jelled and the chemistry we have got inside this team, plus the talent,” Sale said, “I feel like we are going to have a really strong team this year and I hope to make Princeton proud.”
Even though Sale just arrived in Princeton last Friday from extended spring training in St. Petersburg, Fla., the 6-foot, 215-pound 19-year-old likes what he has seen. He’ll turn 20 on July 5.
“I like it, I like it a lot. Some people painted a different picture for me, but I like it the way it is, it is more than what they told me it was,” Sale said. “The people around here seem to love baseball so I am excited to play for them. I am excited to play my first pro season and I love this ball park so far, it seems like home.”
It will be for the next two-plus months. Sale had other options, having verbally committed to play at Gonzaga following his senior campaign at Bishop Blanchet High School in Seattle, where he also played football.
However, the pull of professional baseball was too much to deny.
“I think they had a pretty good idea I was going to go, they just didn’t know what it was going to take. The Rays gave me what I was looking for,” said Sale, who then delivered the bad news to the Zags. “(I told them), ‘I respect all you have done for me and nothing against you guys, you guys have a great organization, great school, but my dream has always been to go the league and start playing as a pro.’ ”
What does Sale bring to the Princeton Rays? Just what Tampa Bays Rays was looking for from a prospect ranked by some as the top high school hitter in the 2010 draft. Baseball America has also tabbed him as the No. 6 prospect in the entire Rays’ system.
“A hitter with power, I don’t want to be labeled a power hitter because most people think a power hitter is going to hit it out every time,” said Sale, whose upper body is colored with tattoos representing his Samoan heritage, including his father, who is an acclaimed powerlifter. “I want to be a guy who is going to be able to go from line to line and I will give you the occasional bomb.
“I would say to describe myself, between the lines it is all in balls out, that is just the way I have always been, pedal to the metal. When I am in the dugout, you can keep it kind of loose, there is no tension, but once you step between the lines it is business.”
The business side of baseball was also good to Sale, who became an instant millionaire with his signing bonus.
“From where I came from I never thought that kind of money would have been around me and my family,” Sale said. “I always dreamed of it, but the blessing and the belief of the Rays and belief that I am worth that, I take it in stride and say, ‘thank you’.
“Money has never been a big thing to me, I have come into a little bit of it so it’s a little different, I have been able to do things I have never usually been able to do, but deep down I am the same person.”
Don’t expect many extravagant purchases. He’s not looking for a Sale, nor does he need to.
“Deep down I am not going to go out and get a whole bunch of stuff,” Sale said. “I have got two cars, that is all I need hopefully for the next 10 or 15 years, and I might buy some clothes here or there to make sure I am up to date.
“Other than that I use it for food and taking people out on the night and just making sure we all have a good time.”
Being a part of one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, Sale is excited to have been selected by Tampa Bay, which is well known for patiently working to develop their prospects.
“They are deep and they take their time with you and make sure you are properly developed, but that tells me I am getting help,” Sale said. “As long as I know I am getting taken care of I am just going to go out there every day and if something comes up I know they will be able to take care of me.”
Sale hasn’t played much baseball in front of crowds since his high school career ended more than a year ago. He’s ready for that to change, after spending all spring in Florida in extended spring training, playing under the hot sun with no spectators in the seats.
“I signed late and I picked up about five games or so in instructional league (last summer) and that was the about the only playing I have got since high school,” Sale said. “It is fun to come out and have a season ready and lined up.”
The Appalachian League is a little bit of a mystery to Sale, but he’ll learned plenty in a 68-game season that begins tonight against the Royals.
“To be honest I haven’t heard a whole lot about it,” Sale said. “A lot of this is still kind of new to me, but from what I have seen and what I have heard there are rivalries around here.
“I want to keep those rivalries intact and make sure that we’re the team that everybody is chasing.”
That includes the Bluefield Blue Jays. Sale has been informed of the Mercer Cup rivalry between the clubs. The Rays are looking to claim their seventh Mercer Cup title in the last nine years.
“I have heard about the Mercer Cup, we had a couple of fans yesterday, we were talking about Bluefield and they were like, ‘We don’t even talk about Bluefield’,” said Sale, with a smile. “As long as we can keep it that way and make sure Bluefield is behind us, we hope to keep these people happy around here.”
— Contact Brian Woodson