The Atlanta Braves are probably happy that their 24th round draft pick out of Dallas Baptist University decided to stick with baseball.

Bryce Ball’s father played hockey, and Ball grew up playing on the ice as well as the diamond. Ball even admitted that he was “brutal at baseball. Like really, really bad” in his first season playing the game.

In the end, Ball’s dream was always to play baseball, and he stuck with it. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but his first week of professional baseball has proven to be quite the reward. The first baseman played five of the first six games this season for the Danville Braves, Atlanta’s rookie affiliate, and capped the opening week as the Appalachian League Player of the Week.

Ball, the team’s starting first baseman, walked off the field Sunday night as the league leader in batting average (.526), slugging percentage (.947), OPS (1.473), and hits (10), and was tied for first in on-base percentage (.526), tied for second in home runs (two), and tied for fourth with seven RBIs and four extra-base hits.

“It’s been a little bit of a journey. It’s kind of a been all over the country sort of deal and I think that’s ultimately helped my success here,” Ball said before Sunday’s game in Danville.

Coming out of high school, Ball only had one offer to play college baseball, from North Iowa Community College, a Division II junior college in his hometown. Looking back to that now, Ball admits that it was absolutely necessary for him and his game to play at the JUCO level out of high school.

“I had one offer and decided to take it and just took it and ran with it. That was my one opportunity to play baseball and it’s led to this,” Ball said. “Out of high school, I just wasn’t ready. After seeing it this past year playing Division I, I don’t think as a freshman I would’ve came in and contributed right away. I probably would’ve sat. I think the JUCO route was the best because it’s kind of like a stepping stone.”

There was a time before Dallas Baptist that Ball thought he might be drafted by Major League Baseball. He said he was approached by scouts following his freshman year at North Iowa, but never got the call. Ball would’ve preferred getting that draft call to having to go through the recruiting process again.

“I hated the recruiting process. I just didn’t like it because at the end of the day I had to pick one and had to tell how many schools no, and I don’t like doing that,” he said.

But he ended up at Dallas Baptist, and he knew when he got that phone call that he was going to the right place for him.

“That really excited me because that meant I was going to develop and eventually end up in an organization, which was ultimately my goal,” he said.

The idea of getting drafted can be eye-opening and create extra motivation. For Ball, it caused him some headaches before he moved on to Dallas Baptist. It got in his head and consumed too much of his thinking, but he learned in his sophomore season and made the adjustment when he went to Dallas.

“My sophomore year I had a tough time dealing with that because I was just trying to impress everybody and had a down year compared to what I had my freshman year,” he said. “This past year I just told myself to keep it simple and whatever happens happens.”

Then came the draft. Ball knew he wasn’t going in the first two rounds, so the first day wasn’t too stressful. He did believe that he had a good chance to be taken on the second day, within the top 10 rounds, but that call never came. Ball wasn’t too happy with that turn of events.

“I was really bummed out about that,” he said.” After the second day I had my mind made up that I was going to go back to school, and I think I might have just done that out of emotion... It just kind of fired me up a little bit.”

Then the third day came around and Ball was on the phone with teams all day. The issue with teams wasn’t his talent, but he wasn’t wavering on his asking price and wanted a team to meet that number.

“I have a number and that’s what it is and luckily the Braves met it in the 24th,” he said.

Keeping things simple helped get him drafted, and what has helped him get off to a league-best start to his professional career. He was upset not getting picked in the top 10 rounds, but since the deal got done Ball has moved on and is focused on what matters — playing baseball.

“If I keep it simple I’m going to do well,” he said. “I think I know deep down that I have the talent to be a top 10 round draft pick, but I mean that’s in the past. We can’t change it. I don’t really think about that... I don’t think it’s about the round. I think it’s about if you show up and work hard every single day you’re going to be rewarded.”

Ball couldn’t have asked for a better start to his professional baseball career, but he knows he can’t get too wide-eyed thinking a call up is in his future. It goes back to keeping it simple, and that’s the mindset he takes into every day.

“If I keep hitting, if I keep doing well on defense it’s going to happen eventually,” he said. “Every day is a new day. It doesn’t matter what I did yesterday.”

The Danville Braves began a six-game road trip Tuesday night at Bluefield. Ball and his Danville teammates will return to Legion Field next Monday to face Bluefield at 6:30 p.m.

Chris Doherty is a Sports Reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him 276-638-8801 ext. 215. Follow on Twitter @BulletinSport

Chris Doherty is a Sports Reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him 276-638-8801 ext. 215. Follow on Twitter @BulletinSport

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