From his time as a star with Washington Township High School, through his years of college, Bill Rice would keep tabs on the annual Major League Baseball draft. He never heard his name called. The Sewell, NJ native never gave up hope, however and forced a professional team to take a close look at him when he attended an open tryout hosted by the Phillies in Lakewood last summer. The result of that was everything he hoped for.
The tryout had a large turnout. The lefty hitting Rice, who played at Gloucester County College prior to transferring to the University of South Carolina-Aiken, had low expectations going in, but felt that an opportunity to be seen by professional talent evaluators couldn't be a bad thing.
Following the audition, Rice said there was a stretch when he didn't hear anything from the Phillies and he began to doubt there ever would be. Rice thought the club would never reach out to him. However, roughly three weeks later, a phone call from the Phils' assistant director of minor league operations proved his suspicions wrong.
"Steve Noworyta called me and said, 'I think we're gonna bring you on board', and I was a little shocked. I didn't really get it. At first it didn't sink in. I was stunned. It didn't really hit me till two days later," Rice said.
Rice's very first trip to Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park was for the tryout in June 2010, but he ensured that it wasn't his last visit there by putting up solid numbers (.305 BA) with the Gulf Coast Phillies. He earned a promotion, up two levels, to the BlueClaws of the Class A South Atlantic League.
There was considerable disappointment for Rice as he went undrafted year after year. But the 5-foot-11-inch 185-pounder used that level of discouragement as fuel to help himself stay focused on achieving his goal of playing professional baseball.
"I watched the entire draft every time, waiting for a phone call and it was disappointing. But I was never the type of person to give up, and my family helped to support me," Rice explained.
The 22-year-old considers playing professional baseball in his home state a dream come true and expects to have a lot of friends and family at each game in the Jersey Shore town of Lakewood. Previously, Rice's father would drive over 17 hours to see him play in Florida. Now dad is less than 90 minutes from seeing his son in action.
Rice joins Jesse Biddle as BlueClaws players that grew up as Phillies fans. Extremely excited to be part of the Philadelphia organization, Rice was fortunate enough to be coached by some of his boyhood idols.
"I always liked [Mickey] Morandini and Kevin Jordan a lot, and then I got to play under those guys in spring training," Rice said. "It was pretty neat and I just remember calling my dad and saying, 'Mickey Morandini is so cool!'"
As Rice lives his dream and continues to meet and play for some of his childhood heroes, he tries to enjoy each day as it comes, taking nothing for granted. The most memorable aspect of his professional career has been playing in front of the Lakewood crowd and it's something he'll take away from this whole experience and treasure, as a highlight of his baseball career.
"This ballpark's great. It holds a ton of people...to hear that crowd roar after a good play and things like that...that's what you play for- to have a crowd. It's all I've wanted."
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