While some New Castle residents shook their heads and laughed in confusion, others quickly shared stories or flashed hats adorned with a signature of the latest local athlete bound for the pros.
To some, it was an interesting, yet unknown, fact. But for those who know Trey Ball, today’s Major League Baseball Draft is a long-anticipated beginning to what they hoped will be a long career for the Trojan pitcher.
“It’s probably the biggest news since Steve Alford went to Indiana and the NBA,” said resident Dave Maddy.
Ball has a ways to go before he eclipses the former Indiana Mr. Basketball in many eyes, but he’s done everything right so far.
The Gatorade Indiana Baseball Player of the Year is a consensus top 10 pick in tonight’s draft based on projections. Most teams interested in him see him as a pitcher, but others project him as an outfielder.
Listed at 6-foot-6, 190 pounds, Ball finished his senior season at New Castle this year with a 0.76 ERA and 93 strikeouts, while also batting over .300.
As someone who watched the University of Texas commit play since Little League, Chris Bertram doesn’t think it matters where Ball plays.
“He’s gotten better … and bigger every year,” Bertram said with a laugh. “I think he’s going to be unstoppable. He’s good mechanically and has already been swinging a wooden bat, so he’s ready for the big time.”
Carrie Rector, Ball’s aunt, said she’s seen big-time potential in her nephew for years. She remembers family gatherings in the summer when her daughter, Abbey, and son, Will, would play Wiffle ball with Ball and he’d “knock the ball way out there.”
On Wednesday, all three were at a baseball diamond in Baker Park as Abbey, 12, and Will, 10, worked on their skills, hoping to be just like Ball one day.
“It’s new to us because he’s just family; he’s Trey,” Rector said. “To hear everybody look at him in a celebrity status is kind of odd to us, but it’s really cool that someone we’re related to could be playing in the pros someday.”
It’s a connection many around the community want to share.
Bertram said Ball gave out copies of his Little League baseball card at his high school graduation open house. Some of the players on the travel team Bertram coaches also had things signed by Ball at New Castle’s baseball banquet.
Getting their hands on memorabilia is only part of Ball’s influence on the team of 13, 14 and 15-year-olds.
Along with using Ball as motivation as they took batting practice on Wednesday, the players talked openly as fans about where Ball would land and with what team.
SB Nation projects the Kansas City Royals taking him at No. 8, but Bertram’s son, Cacey, said he hopes Ball falls to the Pittsburgh Pirates at No. 9 so people can potentially watch him play at their Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis.
Watching Ball play is something Cacey got used to last season playing on New Castle’s JV team.
As Ball’s backup pitcher, Cacey said his teammate was the perfect person to emulate on the mound or out in the field.
“He shows great leadership and does everything right,” Cacey said. “It makes you want to be better and you can just follow him and basically try to be him because obviously he’s going to be a pro someday.”
While Ball won’t be the first pro baseball player from New Castle — recent picks include Ben Smith in the 37th round in the 2003 by Baltimore and Jeff Pass in the seventh round in 1998 by Arizona — he perhaps has the most potential.
It’s the kind of upside that Bertram said could, in time, make Ball the most popular face in the history of New Castle athletics.
“It might even be bigger because I think Trey can stay longer in his sport than what Steve did in his,” Bertram said. “Don’t get me wrong, Alford was a heck of a basketball player, but Trey is just one of those kids that come around once in a long time.”