The first week of the Danville Braves’ season is about over. First-time manager Anthony Nuñez has gotten a taste of being the head man for a professional baseball team, and the crop of 2019 draft picks have a few games under their belts.
For some, like 24th round draft pick Bryce Ball, from Dallas Baptist, they’ve seen some immediate success. Others have taken some time to get adjusted to the professional game.
Friday’s 2-1 win over Johnson City, Danville’s third win in the first four games, was the third come-from-behind victory of the season. And in the team’s lone loss entering play Saturday, the Braves led in the late innings of that game as well.
“The chemistry we have right now is unbelievable,” Nuñez said. “It’s a learning process. They’re learning. I’m learning too.”
The Braves opened the new season with six straight games in Danville, but on Tuesday, they hit the road for the first time. For the 10 first-year draft picks, and the players who have only played in the Gulf Coast League to this point, it will be the first experience on the road in the professional atmosphere.
“I’m looking for them to keep competing all the time and a good effort,” Nuñez said. “That’s the only thing I ask for.”
“I don’t know what to expect. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve heard some stories, but I want to find out for myself,” Ball said. “I want to find out for myself and see how it is.”
“I’m just looking forward to see how we play on the road. Obviously we’re playing pretty well [at] home right now. Everybody’s got a lot of confidence,” ninth-round draft pick Cody Milligan said. “We like playing in front our fans, but I’m excited to see how we do in front of someone else’s fans, see if we can break their hearts a little bit while we’re on the road.”
Fast startThrough the first four games, Ball is hitting .500, second in the Appalachian League. He’s got one home run, five RBIs and two doubles. As a 24th-round draft pick, expectations probably weren’t for Ball to get off to such a hot start, but he had confidence he could come to Danville and make a name for himself.
“I knew I could kind of do this. That’s why I decided to sign. I thought I was ready,” Ball said. “Surprised? Maybe a little bit, but I’m really confident in my approach and what I do and luckily things have been going my way.”
Legion Field at Dan Daniel Memorial Park in Danville has been notorious for being a nearly impossible place to hit home runs. Ball, who hit 18 home runs this past season at Dallas Baptist, got his first of the season in Game 2 of the season-opening doubleheader against Princeton.
“The first couple of days we had practice here I didn’t know if I was going to hit many home runs here,” Ball laughed. “The first one felt good. It felt really good, took the pressure off, get that one out of the way.”
“He’s got a special swing. The kid’s got some potential,” Nuñez said. “He puts the ball in play, he makes contact, he’s got some power so he’s got potential.”
Even with the hot start, Ball said he’s still getting comfortable swinging a wooden bat after playing with aluminum bats at the college level. But the bats are just one part of the adjustment to professional baseball.
“I need to get adjusted to everything on and off the field. It’s kind of the first time being on my own kind of thing,” he said. “Everything is an adjustment right now.”
Milligan, from Cowley College, played catcher most of his life. He said after Wednesday’s doubleheader he has probably only played around 15 games at second base, but that’s where he’s played in his first week in Danville. Milligan spends a lot of time each day working with the coaching staff at his new home on the diamond, and his confidence grows each day.
“I just get better every day. I figure if I can’t help the team with my bat I’ll try to help them with the glove,” he said.
Milligan has struggled getting comfortable at the plate. He did have quite the first professional hit, hitting a walk-off home run in the first game of his pro career, but outside of that it’s been an adjustment at the plate.
“(It’s) just the velocity with the sink. I’ve seen a lot of velocity. I saw it last year in college, but the sink is just something that’s kind of messing with me,” he said. “If I can just dial in, take those pitches the other way and then take the four seams and pull them like I have, just kind of something that’s kind of got to come around for me.”
His confidence isn’t shaken yet. Milligan just wants to keep grinding to help the Braves win baseball games.
“With the speed I have and base running ability I have, if I can get on base for the team, help the team any way I can,” he said. “The glove is there right now. I’ve got to keep working with that, obviously, but just getting on base. Getting hits would be nice, but any way I could get on base would be perfect with me.”
This weekThe Braves were back at home Saturday, but results were too late for publication. They’ll finish the opening homestand today at 4 p.m., against Johnson City. They’ll then go on the road for the next six days, starting with a three-game series at Bluefield, followed by another three-game series at Pulaski.
Chris Doherty is a sports reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach him at (276)638-8801 ext. 215.