TERRE HAUTE —
Many friends, family and supporters of Josh Phegley will have the chance to see him in a Chicago White Sox uniform by taking a drive up U.S. 41 to Chicago on Monday when Phegley could make his Windy City debut.
But parents John and Joan Phegley and Terre Haute North baseball coach Shawn Turner were among those at Tropicana Field to watch Phegley make his Major League Baseball debut. Phegley batted eighth and was the starting catcher for the White Sox against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The 5-foot-10, 220-pound Phegley fell behind against Rays’ starter Jeremy Hellickson in his first at-bat. He took a first-pitch fastball for strike one and fouled off a breaking pitch to put him in an 0-2 deficit. Phegley chased a change-up that dropped to the dirt for his first career strikeout.
In his second at-bat, Phegley went with an outside pitch and punched a ball through the right side to score Gordon Beckham for an RBI single.
During his third at-bat, Phegley struck out swinging on three strikes. His fourth at-bat came with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning, and Phegley provided a sacrifice fly to give him his second RBI of the night.
Phegley finished 1-for-3 with two RBI in an 8-3 loss for the White Sox.
What was reported on Thursday became official Friday as Phegley was promoted by the Chicago White Sox from its Triple-A farm team at Charlotte.
Turner was thrilled to be there to witness the his first career hit. Phegley’s high school coach happened to be in Florida for his son’s baseball tournament and headed to Tampa when his son’s games were rained out. Fans watching on television got to see a brief smile from Phegley at first base.
“More than anything else, he always had a big smile on his face,” Turner said Friday afternoon. “Always the hunger to do better, but an eagerness for that next opportunity. But an appreciation for what he had done. Good teammate, great kid to coach. Had a known he was such a diamond in the rough, maybe I’d have appreciated having him even more than I already did.”
Phegley becomes the first Major Leaguer from Vigo County since fellow North graduate Brian Dorsett made his debut on Sept. 8, 1987 at age 26. Dorsett last played in 1996.
“I think the hardest thing for people to remember, there’s just a select few that ever get an opportunity to make it to the big leagues,” Turner said. “For him to make it in four years, it may seem like forever. He really is ahead of the national progression. Proof positive that those that work hard and keep a positive attitude have that opportunity.”
Phegley was having his best minor league season in his fifth year as a professional after an All-American career at Indiana. He had a batting average of .316 with 15 home runs, 41 RBI, 18 doubles in 61 games for Triple-A Charlotte.
“I’m real excited for him. That’s every kid’s dream to be a big league ballplayer. He’s living that dream. Couldn’t happen to a nicer kid. Great young man. It’s wonderful,” said Wayne Newton Post 346 manager John Hayes, who took his 2006 squad to a national runner-up finish in the American Legion World Series in 2006 with Phegley behind the plate. “He’s one of those kids that comes to play every day. He doesn’t take a ball game off.”
While Phegley was criticized by some early in his pro career for his ability to block pitches, he’s always been outstanding throwing out baserunners. He was throwing out runners at a 41 percent clip at Charlotte after nabbing 46 percent in 2012.
“He hit the ball well, but defensively he was like having an eraser on your team. If the other team tried to run, he was gunning them down,” Hayes said.
Phegley was part of one of the best Terre Haute baseball teams ever that year, as three other players from that team have made the professional ranks. Nick Ciolli played in the White Sox organization, Brady Shoemaker remains with the White Sox, and Koby Kraemer is just getting started in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
Kraemer’s father, Kyle, coached against Josh Phegley for four years in both baseball and football at Terre Haute South. He’s not surprised by how far his athleticism has taken him.
“I remember him more for his senior year when he had 160 yards at halftime against us in football and had runs of 85 and 60 yards for touchdowns. Maybe he did some some things in baseball against us in baseball, I chose to forget them,” Kraemer said. “Physically, he had all the tools.”
Phegley’s father, John Sr., who was elated to attend his son’s debut Friday in Tampa, said Josh was definitely a talented youngster.
“Everything he hit was super hard, but he hit those line drives that would hit the fence. He didn’t hit those big towering shots,” John Phegley recalled. “In Babe Ruth, I still remember his first home run, it was at 14-year-old All-Stars at New Castle. I’ll never forget that one.”
Still, it will be an adjustment for Phegley.
“He’s going to find out that the fastballs are a little faster and breaking pitches are a little sharper but hopefully he adjusts to that,” said longtime Terre Haute North assistant coach Fay Spetter, a former All-State catcher in the 1970s for the Patriots. “I’m still just super thrilled. Just gives me goosebumps to even think about it. It’s a great day for Terre Haute and for Josh and his family.
“Josh was always the first one in the cage and always the last one out of the cage. When practice was over, him and Nick Ciolli just hit ball after ball after ball. It just paid off for both of them,” Spetter added.
The White Sox series at Tampa continues through Sunday. The White Sox play a make-up game against the Chicago Cubs on Monday before they resume a road trip that takes the White Sox to Detroit and Philadelphia before the All-Star break.