What a year it’s been for Bassett graduate Nate Perry.
When the calendar flipped to 2017 no one could have imagined what was in store for the Bengals’ senior catcher. Perry was committed to playing college baseball at High Point University, a good place to be entering your senior season. But as time went on, Perry and those closest to him began sensing a bigger possibility: Major League Baseball.
His senior season may not have ended the way he wanted when he broke his finger in his final game, but just a couple of weeks later Perry got the call from the Houston Astros that changed his life forever.
“It was incredible,” Perry said. “From all of the stressful and nail-biting times earlier in the year to draft day, just the best day of my life. And getting to play for the Astros and put on that jersey, it’s just a dream come true.”
Perry was drafted in the fifth round of the MLB draft by the now World Series champion Astros. He is the highest draft pick ever to come out of Bassett High School. It wasn’t long after that he was on a plane to West Palm Beach, Florida to begin his career as a major league baseball player.
“I had just a couple of days after the draft and then they sent me my flight information and I was on a plane to West Palm Beach and played down there until the beginning of September,” Perry said.
It hadn’t quite hit him just how much baseball he was about to play. The Gulf Coast League (GCL) season began in early June and ran until September. Perry said the team played five days in a row and would get the sixth day off throughout the entire season.
“I thought I had played a lot of baseball and it was nothing until I got down there,” he said. “At first I was ‘wow, what have I gotten into,’ but after repetition… it just started to get a whole lot easier.”
Perry said he was the youngest player on his team down in Florida. He was playing against players that attended some of the best baseball universities in the country. Add that to the fact that he wasn’t able to play right away while rehabbing his injured finger and the start of his professional career was a little difficult.
“When I first went out I hadn’t seen live pitching in a month and a half and I struggled like crazy,” Perry said. “But hard work, hard work, staying after practice and working more, hitting more. Just getting reps, that’s what helped me a lot.”
Perry hit just .074 in his first eight games. But his struggles seemed to end on July 21. His Astros were playing the GCL Cardinals and that was a day that showed the GCL what Perry was all about. Perry went 3-for-3 that game with a home run and four RBIs. He finished the season with a .229 batting average with two home runs, three doubles and 11 RBIs in 27 games.
It took some time to get comfortable, but that’s to be expected from an 18-year-old making the jump from high school to the minor leagues.
“It’s just baseball. Baseball is baseball, so that part was easy, but the speed of the game was the hardest part for me to adjust to,” Perry said. “Everything is just 500 miles-an-hour faster it feels like. The pitching is faster, the runners are faster, the outfielders are faster… and I think the experience that the other players had was a big adjustment.”
The one thing Perry knew going in was that he was going to need to continue working hard. His former teammate at Bassett, Jonah McReynolds, was drafted by the Texas Rangers a year earlier and this summer played with the Spokane Indians. McReynolds, a close friend of Perry, gave him the biggest piece of advice.
“He said, ‘be ready,’” Perry said. “He was like, ‘you think you have played a lot of baseball, you think you’re pretty good at baseball.’ He was like ‘dude, it’s just going to smack you in the face.’ He said ‘be ready because everybody is out for your spot and it’s your job now.”
Perry said that hitting came easier to him than playing defensively behind the plate, and it showed with how well he progressed as a hitter as the season went along. Catching is one of the most difficult positions on the diamond and Perry said it took some time to get comfortable back there.
“Hitting has always been fairly easy for me. I have to work at it a lot, but not as much as I do with my catching,” he said. “Hitting a 92 or 93 mile-per-hour fastball, I’m not going to say it isn’t hard for me, but it’s more comfortable than catching a 93 mile-per-hour fastball all over the place.”
Perry did get a lot of experience calling games from behind the dish while at Bassett, but calling a game for a pitching staff you’ve known most of your life and calling a game for a team you’re still figuring out are two completely different games.
“I had never caught any of these people before. I think one of the reasons (Bassett head baseball coach Grant) Wickline really let me call games during high school was because I had been there since ninth grade, I knew our entire pitching staff, I had played with them from the time I was 12 all the way until I graduated. I knew all their stuff, I knew the kind of pitches they liked to throw in different counts, but when I got down there I had never caught these guys,” Perry said. “I didn’t know how much this guy’s curveball broke or if he could spot up a fastball so it was kind of difficult trying to call games at first.”
But, just like with the bat, repetition provided Perry with steady improvement and gave him more confidence behind the plate.
It’s not surprising that he’s put in the work to improve. Coaches and fans of the Bassett grad grew to admire his work ethic throughout his high school career.
And Perry has continued to be that type of player.
“I think my work ethic, that’s the main thing that has really helped me get to where I am now,” he said. “I would wake up and go to the gym every morning and the same thing when I was down there. I was always lifting and hitting extra, getting some extra catching stuff, but nobody is going to outwork me. I’ve always told myself that since I was little.”
Now back home until February, Perry is still working out every day and taking swings as much as he can. He’s even helping the younger generation with their swings in his spare time.
With spring training around the corner, Perry’s love for baseball has never been bigger.
“It’s made my desire for the game just multiply,” Perry said of his new career. “There’s no better feeling than just waking up every day and rolling out of bed, ‘oh, I get to play for a professional baseball team.’ It’s my job and I don’t think it’s quite hit me yet that I’m doing this for a living and I could play on TV and be on a big league team if I just work hard and do what I’m capable of.”
If 2018 is anything like 2017, Perry and all of his friends and family could be in for quite the exciting year as Perry continues his quest to make his dream come true as a Major League Baseball player.
Chris Doherty is a sports writer for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org