Wil Myers: Just A Guy From Thomasville
- Name: Wil Myers
- Age: 23
- Organization: San Diego Padres, Durham Bulls
(Photo: Wil Myers, age 3. Courtesy: Wil Myers.)
Author: Patrick Kinas, DNAOfSports.com creator.
“I was never the best player on the team.” – Wil Myers.
If true, why would Myers have been offered $2m to be lured away from a college scholarship offer at South Carolina? If true, how could Myers be so coveted around the baseball world? If true, why would Myers be bestowed as the best rookie of his class in the major leagues?
Hundreds of stories have been written about North Carolina native Wil Myers, bursting on the scene in 2013 with the Tampa Bay Rays, and winning the American League Rookie of the Year while playing in just 88 games, a modern day baseball record.
However, this story delves into Myers’ childhood to provide a lens into the major league baseball life that now spotlights Myers as a burgeoning star.
There is no such thing as an overnight sensation. Choose your industry. In business, music, Hollywood, politics or sports, the sensation does not simply arrive.
The same is true for Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Wil Myers, Thomasville, North Carolina’s prodigal son.
For Myers, his story began prior to his first baseball memory.
“I can honestly say I don’t remember picking up a ball or a bat.”
“I do remember my parents telling me stories about me hitting whiffle balls at age 2 in the small apartment that we had. They said I was hitting it all over the house. I’d get mad when they took it away from me.”
When Myers reiterated that he wasn’t the best on his team, the reason why was a product of his immense baseball talent.
“Coming up, I always played 1-2 years higher in age group above where I was.”
“I was never the best player on the team. Everybody was older than me and more advanced as far as their growth. I really believe that helped me as a player. I never thought I was too good. I never thought that I didn’t have to work. I was always trying to get better and get better.”
As Myers grew up, his teammates were the older brothers of his childhood classmates. In other words, Myers was too good for his age group, and played up in class.
“I was 9 years old playing with 11-year-olds. I wasn’t a big power bat in the lineup. I was always a good hitter, and could always hit, but because I was younger than everybody else, up until high school, I always hit 7th, 8th or 9th in the lineup.”
Even toward the bottom of the order, two years the junior of the rest of his team, Myers still began to turn heads and elicit whispers in the baseball community.
Just a couple of years later, the baseball community in which to play was in western North Carolina.
“I remember when I was 10, 11 and 12 years old, if you played AAU baseball then, you lived in Concord, NC. Every weekend, you were at Gibson Park and Hartsell Park in Concord. I was there every weekend playing (against) some good competition. A lot of those guys from then are still playing through college and professional baseball. There was a lot of good competition at that age. You lived in Concord.”
Wil’s dad dabbled in baseball as a kid. A little junior-varsity baseball in high school, but his attention turned to other activities. From high school, Eric enrolled in the Marines.
After Wil was born, Eric’s part-time job was throwing batting practice to Wil, however that job didn’t last very long.
“I can honestly say, I can count on one hand how many times my dad threw BP to me. He wasn’t a great BP thrower. I went to batting centers a lot. The thing I really remember my dad teaching me was keep my elbow up when I threw.”
Ok, so maybe Eric’s BP didn’t have a direct fingerprint on Wil winning the Rookie of the Year trophy.
Something else did.
“He’s the one who never told me I was that good. He always said you gotta keep working. You’re a pretty good player, but you gotta keep going. Don’t settle for anything. I owe a lot of that to my dad for being honest and telling me if I went 2-4, he’d want to know what happened those other two at-bats, which I really appreciate a lot b/c it’s helped me over my career not to give any excuses and take accountability for myself.”
Fast forward to 2008, where during Wil’s junior year at Wesleyan Christian Academy is playing for the 3-A NCISAA state championship against Charlotte Christian.
One of Myers’ fondest baseball memories still remains a moment in the opener of the best-of-three title series.
And surprisingly, this cherished memory doesn’t even involve the big league slugger’s bat.
“I was pitching. We were playing Charlotte Christian. It was game one of the state championship. I pitched six innings in a seven inning game. We were up 6-3 and my coach took me out of the game in the top of the 7th. He moved me to SS and put the SS in to close out the game. Double, HR, now 6-5. Next guy walks. As soon as Coach called time and walked toward the mound, I came straight from SS to the pitcher’s mound because I knew he was going to call me back in. I knew it and I wanted that game. I started that game and I wanted to close it out. I still get chills thinking about it. I came in and got a double play and then struck out the next guy to win it. That inning right there – the fact that I wanted the ball right there. It gives me chills still thinking about it. That was the highlight of my baseball career to that point."
Myers earned the win and the save.
"How about that?", Myers quipped.
Yes. How about that.
No one who knew Wil was surprised.
Wesleyan won that game 6-5 and won the second game 14-4 to claim the state title during his junior year.
Somehow, Myers didn’t even make the 3-A all-state team. The voters might want to conduct a recast of ballots.
One year later, Myers tore through his last year of prep baseball, and signed his LOI to play at college powerhouse South Carolina.
“It wasn’t honestly until my senior year where I realized that hey, I’m pretty good when I started playing with kids my age finally for the first time.”
Instead of opting for Gamecock baseball, Myers was lured to professional baseball by a $2m bonus by the Kansas City Royals, and his amateur days were over.
Next stop, the major leagues.
But not before a trade brought him to the Rays and another key time in his development with a hitting coach he had never known before 2013.
Dave Myers is in his sixth year as hitting coach for the Durham Bulls, and while they share the same last name, there is no relation to each other. That is, outside of their shared passion for hitting, teaching and learning. Dave has trained hundreds of major league hitters over his tenure spanning 3 1/2 decades in the game as a player, coach and manager. Myers is widely respected across the game and known for squeezing the last drop of hitting talent out of hitters’ bats.
Wil’s bat wasn’t a trickling faucet, dripping overnight in the bathroom sink. Wil’s was a waterfall of offensive power that needed some refinements, tweaks and occasional rebuilds of confidence.
Wil, though, didn’t grow up with swing coaches. He didn’t take hitting lessons.
“As far as teaching me a swing, I never really had anybody instruct me, like hey, you want to do this, this and this,” Wil said.
“For big league hitters and for anyone who plays baseball after high school, they’re born with their swing. Luckily enough, God gave me the ability to be able to hit.”
Enter Dave Myers, Wil’s hitting coach in his first year in the Rays’ system after the December, 2012 trade from the Royals.
“Dave’s my guy. I love Dave to death. He has a really dry sense of humor. Some guys can take it like he’s in a bad mood all the time, but I understand where he’s coming from. I kind of have a dry sense of humor.”
“He really is the one who got me on track last year when I was struggling pretty bad and we worked in the cage and we got back to the fundamentals of what it took to be a good hitter and we got back to the basics. As soon as we started working in the cage for 2-3 days, it was like something clicked for me.”
“I owe a lot to Dave and what he’s done for my career, especially to get me to the big league level. You don’t hear Dave Myers much, but he’s done a great job with me.”
Rookie Of The Year
“It was obviously very flattering to be able to win that award. Just to think you were the AL RoY in 2013, it is just a great honor. To see all the guys who have done it before. It’s one of those things as you look back on the season, I had a great year, but I want to continue to work hard and not just settle for one good year to keep battling and have a good career.”
The expectations had suddenly been raised, and Myers, still just 23 years old, was quickly becoming one of the centerpieces of the Rays franchise. Prognosticators examining the Rays entering 2014 saw Myers and Evan Longoria in the middle of the lineup, a pitching staff of David Price, Chris Archer and Alex Cobb and the Rays were the darling pick to win the AL East and possibly the World Series.
Then injuries hit, and hit hard. Jeremy Hellickson went down. Matt Moore soon followed. Then Alex Cobb. Then after a slow sophomore start, Myers collided with Desmond Jennings at Fenway Park in late May, resulting in a stress fracture in Myers’ wrist.
Two and a half months have passed, the cast is off and Myers is finally back.
Not the second year in the majors that Myers had envisioned, but baseball progression, particularly at the major league level is rarely linear.
“I came into my second year wanting to do too much. I wanted to look at scouting reports, wanted to watch video, wanted to analyze too much stuff, try to sit on pitches instead of playing to my strengths. This year, I’m hitting .227 in the big leagues with five HRs, not the year I expected.”
“I tried to get in my head too much and tried to figure out what they’re going to throw in this count instead of just playing to my strengths and staying with my approach, and doing the things that have always made me successful. With this injury and me being out for 6-8 weeks, it was good for me to sit back and realize that you need to stick with what’s always worked for you instead of trying to do too much.”
Myers is back now, clocked his sixth home run in his third game back from the injury and brings his care-free, Thomasville attitude into the Rays’ clubhouse on a daily basis once again.
Has life changed for Myers after this “sudden” fame and “overnight” success?
Not at all.
“I’m still a guy from North Carolina. I still want to be that guy. I don’t want to be a guy that changes. I don’t want to look like a so-called big leaguer. I just want to be my normal self because that’s who I am. I don’t want to try to be anything I’m not. I don’t want to try to look real sophisticated. That’s just the way I want to act.”
“I’m just a guy from Thomasville.”Tweet
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