The Atlanta Braves are probably happy their 24th-round draft pick out of Dallas Baptist University decided to stick with baseball.
Bryce Ball’s father played hockey, and Ball grew up playing on the ice as well as the diamond. Ball even admitted he was “brutal at baseball, like really, really bad” in his first season playing the game.
But Ball’s dream was always to play baseball, and he stuck with it. And in his first week of professional baseball, Ball’s proven the work has paid off.
The first baseman played five of the first six games this season for the Danville Braves, Atlanta’s rookie affiliate, and capped the opening week as the Appalachian League Player of the Week.
Ball walked off the field Sunday night as the league leader in batting average (.526), slugging percentage (.947), on-base plus slugging (1.473) and hits (10) and was tied for first in on-base percentage (.526), tied for second in home runs (two) and tied for fourth with seven RBIs and four extra-base hits.
“It’s been a little bit of a journey. It’s kind of a been all over the country sort of deal, and I think that’s ultimately helped my success here,” Ball said before Sunday’s game in Danville.
Coming out of high school, Ball only had one offer to play college baseball, from North Iowa Community College, a Division II junior college in his hometown.
“I had one offer and decided to take it, and just took it and ran with it. That was my one opportunity to play baseball, and it’s led to this,” Ball said. “Out of high school, I just wasn’t ready. After seeing it this past year playing Division I, I don’t think as a freshman I would’ve came in and contributed right away. I probably would’ve sat. I think the JUCO route was the best, because it’s kind of like a stepping stone.”
Before he ended up at DBU, Ball said he thought he might be able to launch his professional career earlier by being drafted. He was approached by scouts following his freshman season at North Iowa, he said, but never got the chance to move up to the minors.
And while he understands the path through the junior college was beneficial, Ball admits he would’ve preferred being drafted to having to go through the recruiting process to get to DBU.
“I hated the recruiting process. I just didn’t like it,” he said, “because at the end of the day I had to pick one and had to tell how many schools no, and I don’t like doing that.”
After finding a spot on the Dallas Baptist roster, Ball was optimistic about getting a chance to continue playing the game he loves at the professional level.
“That really excited me, because that meant I was going to develop and eventually end up in an organization, which was ultimately my goal,” he said.
As he worked toward that dream, Ball said maintaining the right mentality proved a challenge. While at North Iowa, the dream consumed too much of his thinking, he said. Eventually, he learned how to balance those thoughts and found himself in a better place as he made his way to Dallas.
“My sophomore year [at North Iowa] I had a tough time dealing with that, because I was just trying to impress everybody, and had a down year compared to what I had my freshman year,” he said. “This past year, I just told myself to keep it simple and whatever happens happens.”
After a successful season at DBU, Ball’s shot at playing professional ball finally came.
He knew he wasn’t going in the first two rounds, so the first day wasn’t too stressful, he said. He believed he had a good chance to be taken on the second day, within the top-10 rounds, but that call never came.
“I was really bummed out about that,” he said.” After the second day I had my mind made up that I was going to go back to school, and I think I might have just done that out of emotion. ... It just kind of fired me up a little bit.”
Then the third day came, and Ball was on the phone with teams all day. The issue with teams wasn’t Ball’s talent, but Ball wasn’t wavering on his asking price.
“I have a number, and that’s what it is and luckily the Braves met it in the 24th,” he said.
Now that the deal is inked, Ball is back to focusing on the game.
“If I keep it simple I’m going to do well,” he said. “I think I know deep down that I have the talent to be a top-10 round draft pick, but I mean that’s in the past. We can’t change it. I don’t really think about that. ... I don’t think it’s about the round. I think it’s about if you show up and work hard every single day, you’re going to be rewarded.”
Ball couldn’t have asked for a better start to his professional baseball career, but he knows he can’t get too wide-eyed so early in the season and in his career. He’s only worried now about keeping things simple every day.
“If I keep hitting, if I keep doing well on defense, it’s going to happen eventually,” he said. “Every day is a new day. It doesn’t matter what I did yesterday.”
The Danville Braves began a six-game road trip Tuesday night at Bluefield. Ball and his Danville teammates will return to Legion Field on Monday to face Bluefield at 6:30 p.m.
Chris Doherty is a Sports Reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him 276-638-8801 ext. 215. Follow on Twitter @BulletinSport