School or turn pro? Gray finds peace during intense situations

By CAMAL PETRO,

Believe it or not, there are some things Joe Gray enjoys doing as much as being on the baseball diamond.

Almost.

When he’s not roaming center field or in the batting cages, Gray most likely has a line in the water catching fish at a local pond. It’s what he does to unwind when he faces a stressful situation.

“It’s mind-boggling that something that simple can help me think straight,” Gray said Tuesday. “It gives me something away from the field and all the tight situations I get put in with expectations. I don’t expect anything other than being myself whenever I’m fishing.”

On the first day of the First-Year MLB Draft, when he was expected to hear his name called, Gray carved out a little time to hook a few fish at a pond in Hattiesburg. In less than an hour, he caught and released four bass before heading back home to hang out with his family prior to the start of the draft.

He knew Monday night was going to be intense.

RELATED: Gray speaks to PineBeltSPORTS moments after being selected in the MLB Draft

“(My advisor, Scott Boras) told me that it was going to be stressful and I just had to trust it,” Gray said. 

The draft started at 6 p.m. but Gray didn’t hear his name called until after 10 p.m. when the Milwaukee Brewers selected him in the second round with the 60th overall pick. Minutes before the Brewers had to decide who they would select, Gray received a phone call from his advisor asking if the money was right.

"I'm going to deal with the consequences with the path I choose," Gray said. "If it works out, so be it. I took my chance and I told them, 'Yeah.' Me and (my advisor) had a talk earlier about knowing your worth. Don't take this so personal with the selection and the number. Obviously, if a team is willing to spend a million dollars on a kid, they obviously like you. There's still respect there. Either we open the number up or we don't. Either we stick there or we open it up and that's all your decision. His job is to tell me the good, the bad and the ugly, and I'm the man who makes the decision about it." 

Believe it or not, Gray said he only received two phone calls that night, which made the evening even tenser.

“After the first round, I didn’t hear anything,” Gray said. “We got to the second and I got a little antsy and started moving around a lot. Next thing you know, I get a phone call. It was either going to be bad or it’s going to be good. He’s either going to tell me to pack it up and go to school or he has a deal.”

With the way the first couple of rounds go, teams have to be sure a player will sign or the team could lose that allotted money. It would be a wasted pick, essentially, if a team picked Gray and he chose to go to school instead of turning pro.

Gray’s selection has a slot value of $1.1 million, which is slightly less than Gray’s number, but the Brewers told his advisor they could wiggle a little toward what Gray wants. Negotiations won’t take place until most likely next week, however, and Gray has said he’s still very open to delaying his professional career to play at Ole Miss. If that’s the case, he wouldn’t be eligible for the MLB Draft again until 2021, following his junior season in Oxford.

“Hopefully, we go about this right,” Gray said. “I just have a decision to make about whether I’m going to go to Ole Miss or go to professional ball. That is still open. It’s very tough. I’m catching heat about it on Twitter.”

Just days after holding up the 5A State Championship trophy, Gray, his Hattiesburg teammate Dexter Jordan and about 15 other prospects had a workout with the Milwaukee Brewers at MGM Park in Biloxi, home of Milwaukee’s Double-A affiliate, the Biloxi Shuckers.

To make matters worse, Gray was fighting a stomach bug. He was throwing up all morning, but still completed the workout and he could tell the team had interest.

After his selection Monday night, Gray couldn’t fall asleep until after 4 a.m. Tuesday. He didn’t know what to do, admitting he had to take everything in slowly. Nothing could be done Monday night and into the wee hours Tuesday, but the excitement of his next step in life kept him awake.

Moments after the Brewers picked him, Gray said the past week was the scariest time of his life. Heading into summer 2017, Gray was highly rated by just about every prospect list. His stock, however, took a slight hit heading into his senior year.

This past spring, he quieted all of the noise with a .491 batting average, 16 doubles, six home runs, 36 RBI and 60 runs while leading his team to a state championship. He capped off his five-year varsity career with a .454 average, 20 home runs, 146 RBI and 155 runs.

On top of his production from the plate, he locked down center field with a 0.976 fielding percentage. Hattiesburg’s home ballpark, Smokie Harrington Field, has a 455-foot center field wall, making it deeper than every major league field in the country.

Still, though, he didn’t know how far he’d fall in the draft. Going to Ole Miss seemed more of a possibility if he didn’t reach the dollar figure that he thought he was worth. After all, it’s not unheard of for a player to improve his stock while in college.

“I know I’m legit,” he said, “but with the signability and all of what goes into that, I thought, ‘Is this really going to happen or am I going to take the route of going to school?’”

Earlier Monday, while fishing, Gray thought his two landing spots could be pick No. 38 or a pick couple slots before Milwaukee’s. Neither of those were Brewers’ selections and Gray said the conversations with the team started happening that evening. At that point of the draft, the money was on the borderline of what he thought he was worth, but the Brewers provided an opportunity to at least have a conversation.

Nothing is certain, however, but Gray will be spending a lot of time with a line in the water as he contemplates what his next move will be.

Follow @PineBeltSPORTS on Twitter for more on Gray during this process. 

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