When Josh Rapacz was a young kid, he dreamed of playing professional baseball.
Last month, for about 10 minutes, it looked like that dream might die.
Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft had just ended.
Rapacz, a Richland High School graduate who had just completed his college eligibility with a stellar career at George Fox University, was obviously disappointed.
“I thought I was going to get drafted,” he said. “But I didn’t. But then the (Tampa Bay) Rays called about 10 minutes after the draft.”
Rapacz, a catcher, signed a free-agent contract with the Rays and was shipped off to Florida soon after.
He’s been with the Rays’ rookie team in Port Charlotte, Fla., playing in the Florida Gulf Coast League.
And he loves it — although he admits it can be a bit of a grind.
“It’s a business, but you’re still playing baseball,” Rapacz said. “I’m having a blast being out there.”
Rapacz has always had a blast out on the diamond.
He spent the last five seasons at George Fox, as the NCAA granted him a medical hardship year in 2011.
He was an NCAA Division III All-American as a catcher, a career batting average of .387, and he threw out 29 of 87 baserunners trying to steal a base on him.
Rapacz led the Northwest Conference in batting average his last two seasons — hitting .450 in 2013, then .391 this past spring.
In the FGCL, games usually start at 10 a.m.
“We play the early games because you get a lot of afternoon thunderstorms,” he said.
That means leaving the apartment at 6:30 a.m. to go to work.
“That’s OK,” he said. “We practiced at 5 a.m. at college a lot. You get used to it.”
The games are played, then there is either weightlifting or extra batting practice in the indoor cages afterwards.
“So we leave our apartments at 6:30 and will be back to them by 3 or 4 p.m.,” Rapacz said.
So that leaves some time for fun for a young Twenty-something, right?
“I go to bed super early,” he said. “Most of the time I get back by 3 or 4, I kind of just want to sit there. The beach is a mile and a half away. And there is a pool at our complex. But it’s so humid, it’s unbelievable.”
Besides, he says, he’s there to concentrate on baseball.
“I have a notebook I keep and I write down stuff that I haven’t learned before,” Rapacz said. “It’s a constant learning process.”
And with four catchers on the team’s roster, he has to learn sometimes from the bench.
“We have a lot of guys,” he said. “Most of them are pitchers. I haven’t played a ton yet. It’s kind of getting to know the system.”
Rapacz actually has played some first base too. But he’s started out a little slow, hitting .182.
He says the adjustment of hitting with wooden bats isn’t the problem.
“We did it in summer ball,” he said. “I like it better. I like swinging wood. The difference is seeing guys throwing 95 mph and not know where it’s going.”
The Rays have a 30-day policy that they don’t touch a player’s mechanics.
“For me, though, it’s just starting now,” Rapacz said.
Still, that’s not the biggest adjustment for him.
“So far it has been the language barrier,” he said. “We have a lot of Dominican guys on the team. I took Spanish in high school. A lot of guys don’t speak English. So we communicate in broken Spanish and broken English.”
Problems aside, Rapacz isn’t complaining.
“For me, the whole thing has been a pleasant surprise,” he said. “Just being down here and playing is great. The whole thing is so much fun.”