Soon after Trey Ball struck out the 13th batter of his complete-game shutout against Kokomo on Saturday, he was the center of a dogpile as he and his New Castle teammates celebrated the first outright North Central Conference championship in the program’s history.
Since Ball was a freshman, he has wanted to be a member of the first Trojan squad to have the NCC title all to itself. As a senior in his last game on the field next to Sunnyside Elementary, Ball and his teammates accomplished the feat.
The Trojans won the first game 9-1. Ball then pitched a complete-game shutout in a 5-0 victory in the second game. New Castle (22-7, 11-3 NCC) entered the day tied with Huntington North for first in the conference standings, but Anderson swept Huntington North to open the door for New Castle to have the title all to itself.
While Ball enjoyed the celebration like any other high school baseball player soaking in a conference title, his teammates and coach were thinking about making sure he remained uninjured while the players jumped on one another.
Ball, a left-handed pitcher/outfielder, is a top-flight pro prospect who was recently invited to spend draft night at Studio 42, MLB Network’s New York City-area set that will be the center of its draft coverage on June 6, when the three-day event begins. He entered Saturday’s games batting .329 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs. He also entered with a 0.90 ERA.
Ball has signed with the University of Texas, and will play there if he elects not to sign with whichever team selects him in next month’s draft. Scouts from numerous organizations attended Saturday’s doubleheader to get another look at Ball. As he pitched, radar guns were lined up behind the backstop.
Ball didn’t take much notice of the scouts. He was focused on his long-awaited goal to win the conference.
“I’m still speechless about it,” he said. “It’s the greatest feeling I’ve probably ever had. It’s by far my greatest Trojan memory.”
Ball did notice that the doubleheader drew a larger crowd than usual, something he enjoyed. He just didn’t take time to analyze the motives of the attendees. Some were people from New Castle, schoolmates, friends and relatives of Ball and his teammates. Others were from all over the country, coming to report back to their parent club about Ball’s capabilities as a draft prospect.
Those two worlds are colliding as Ball mulls whether to accept the offer to attend the draft at Studio 42. The trip represents an exciting opportunity for someone who’s long dreamed of playing professional baseball, to be seen on a national stage as a key player in the future of a big-league franchise.
But while some of his closest family members would be able to hop on a plane and join him, it would likely mean he wouldn’t be able to spend draft night with his entire extended family and circle of close friends. For that reason, he might remain in New Castle to be able to have a full family gathering on draft night.
He hopes there will be one more complication to the trip as well. Now that his team has finished its regular season, it has begun its focus on the postseason. Semistate games will be played on June 8, and Ball hopes his team will still be alive at that point in the state tournament. If so, he’ll need to rush back for his team’s practice on June 7.
New Castle will begin postseason play against Connersville in the semifinals of the Class 4A Pendleton Heights Sectional. And just like players with a different future outlook in baseball, Ball wants to cap his career with a state title.
“It’s great, because some kids like Trey are going to get big-headed and be like, ‘If we don’t go far, oh I’ve got a future,’ ” teammate Michael Bear said. “Trey’s not like that. Trey’s not thinking about his future. He’s thinking about the team. He’s thinking about us.”
Playing center field, Ball went 2-for-4 with three RBIs in the first game Saturday. Bear pitched a complete game, striking out 12. Tyler Smith hit a two-run homer. Kodi King had three hits.
Kenny Martin hit a double in the second game. Ball allowed four hits and walked two batters.
As Ball tunes out the scouts and focuses on his team goals, others sometimes remind him of the excitement of the situation around him. His coach, Brad King, believes the opportunity to attend the draft is simply too good for Ball to pass up.
“I said, ‘Hey, it’s something, you’ve got to go,'” King said. “And at first he was kind of apprehensive. I think he wants to have a draft party at his house and have his friends and family over. And that’s just the kind of guy he is. But I’ll tell you what, if it’s me, I’m there. But all I’ve told Trey is, whatever he decides, I’m happy for him.”
Ball typically does not volunteer information about his status in the draft and the accolades he’s received as one of the projected top prospects. If others ask about the situation, he’s happy to fill them in, but he makes an effort to remain humble.
He recently made an exception, though. Baseball America rated him ninth on a list of draft prospects that included both college and high school players. The website then posted a link to the list on its Twitter account. Ball then retweeted the link.
It’s an action Brad King believes must have included some encouragement from someone else, given Ball’s humble nature. As Ball recounts it, he was simply a high-school senior, caught up in being named one of the top young players in the country in his favorite sport.
“I saw that, and it’s exciting,” Ball said. “I know some of the people around here, my family and friends, they want to see that kind of stuff. I kind of just hit the retweet button.”