Bowen Field has made quite an impression on Mitch Nay.
All those trees in the background will do that.
“I really don’t think there will be any other place that I play that is as pretty in the outfield, this is unbelievable,” Nay said. “I just can’t believe how high up it is, it is pretty cool.
“I still haven’t gotten over the trees. Where I am from there are no trees, it is all rocks out there, this is awesome out here.”
Nay, who is a native of Chandler, Ariz., is spending his first season as a professional baseball player as a third baseman for the Bluefield Blue Jays.
For those who were complaining about Friday’s temperatures that lingered in the mid-80s, Nay has survived much worst.
“This is awesome. Today it was 85 and they say that will be one of the hotter days we are going to have, or maybe 90,” Nay said. “In Arizona it is like 110 so this is really nice. This is like A.C. (air conditioning) to me.”
A first round draft compensation choice last June by Toronto, Nay also had a scholarship offer to Arizona State, but the 58th overall pick decided to chase his dream on the diamond.
“This opportunity was a lot better for me at that time and I just figured I would be a better baseball player coming this route and just working on my skills and becoming a better player,” Nay said.
Nay, who received a $1 million signing bonus, suffered an injury after arriving Florida last spring and didn’t play in the Gulf Coast League or any other league.
“I went there and about two weeks in I got hurt and they shut me down for the season,” Nay said. “I went back there in the fall for instructs (instructional league) and this year is my first year.”
So far the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Nay is making the Blue Jays look good. He had two hits in Thursday’s opener, added a single on Friday and had an double on Saturday night.
“I think they just saw I am a hard worker and I am going to try to get better every day, along with skills,” Nay said. “I am just trying to get a lot better this year and learn what pro ball is all about and what I need to do to be successful.”
Originally a shortstop until a growth spurt forced a move to third, Nay isn’t the first family member to play at the professional level.
“I just played baseball, I played football two years in high school, but I didn’t really like that much,” Nay said. “From a young age, my grandpa played pro ball, it is just the only thing I really thought about doing.”
He has done it well. Currently the 16th ranked prospect in the Toronto organization, Nay had a monster season for Hamilton High School as a senior, batting .495 with 14 home runs and 54 runs batted in, while earning All-America honors.
“Now that I am here, it is kind of a dream come true, but I wouldn’t say I am surprised I am playing pro ball,” he said. “It is really fun, it is the life for me and I like it a lot.”
Upon learning his summer destination would be West Virginia, Nay approached several of the holdovers for the Blue Jays to learn what life would be like in Bluefield and the Appalachian League.
“They just said it is a lot of fun, it is a good place to start your career,” Nay said. “It is really pretty here, I am already in love with the backdrop and all the scenery. They just said to work hard and learn and get better every day and win some games, that is also important too.”
Definitely. While the point of the Appalachian League is develop young players into better players, baseball is about winning, and so is Nay.
“When you get on the field the developmental stuff goes out the window,” Nay said. “You want to win, no doubt, the Gulf Coast League, you want to win too, but this is just different because you have fans and it is a stadium.
“We definitely want to win games. The win (Thursday) night felt good and we had a good time after and we are just going to try and keep getting ‘Ws’ and playing hard.”
With a talent-laden collection of Blue Jays, Nay expects the wins to come.
“I like our team right now, we have got really good pitching, up and down the rotation, the bullpen is good, we hit,” he said. “We can hit for sure and we have got good defense, I really think this is a good team and we are going to playing hard all year.”
Nay played his first professional game in front of a crowd that exceeded 1,000 on Thursday, and did just fine, with a pair of hits, along with two runs scored and an RBI to assist with a 5-0 win.
“It is pretty fun, it is a lot of fun to get out of Florida and get in front of a crowd at night,” Nay said. “It was a lot of fun last night, it was a full house, I have never played in front of that many people before, it was really fun.”
Dealing with pitchers at the professional level is always an adjustment, but Nay seems to understand what it takes to succeed with the bat.
“I think the biggest adjustment will be simplifying what you are trying to do at the plate, just trying to hit the ball hard, also just looking for strikes,” he said. “Out here you have got to make sure you are trying to hit a pitch you want to hit, you don’t want to go outside the zone because it is almost impossible to hit the ball outside of the zone.
“Just trying to get good pitches and put the ball in play and the rest will take care of itself.”
Baseball is also about defense, and Nay is a third baseman, which is known as the ‘hot corner’ for a reason.
“I am just trying to get better over there. I have got a lot of work to do with different parts of that game, footwork, all that good stuff, but that is my position and I like being over there,” Nay said. “Honestly, if you can just square it up and catch the ball, that is half the battle, you just take your steps and throw. It is hot sometimes, but it is a good position to play.”
Growing up in Arizona, Nay saw plenty of the Diamondbacks on television, but actually grew up as a fan of the Atlanta Braves. Now he is playing for another team far from home, but the 19-year-old Nay is learning about life on his own.
“It is different, but I am getting used to it,” Nay said. “It took me like a month or two to get my routine down and figure out what I need, you know water, all that good stuff, it is not bad, I like it, it is a lot of independence.
“Sometimes I wish I had some laundry to take home, but I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”
While Toronto was far from the only team interested in Nay, the Blue Jays bit first, and Nay likes what he has seen so far.
“I got some different calls during the draft and Toronto is the team that picked me and I am just happy to be here and playing for somebody,” Nay said. “Toronto is a great organization that is going to help me develop.
“I already can tell they are really paying attention to every part of the game and I like the way they are helping me develop.”
Not slated to turn 20 until September, Nay is in no hurry to speed through the Toronto system. He simply wants to get better, no matter where he is.
“That is definitely out of my hands, I honestly just want to get better, every year I want to learn something more,” Nay said. “Every day actually I want to learn something about myself that I didn’t know the day before.
“I am just trying to be even more consistent, clean and just be a better player all around. However they move me, that is fine with me. I just want to get at-bats and innings and that is really all that matters to me is just getting better.”
He’ll be glad to do just that this summer in Bluefield.
“This is really nice, the weather here is much more favorable,” Nay said. “We play under the lights every night and the fans are here, it is just a lot of fun.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
Bowen Field has made quite an impression on Mitch Nay.
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