By Tim Chambers
It’s not the big leagues just yet, but for one 19-year old, the atmosphere was better than some minor league baseball settings.
Former Unaka High School standout Josh Peterson was selected to play with the Gastonia Grizzlies for the summer of 2012, and was tabbed as the opening day pitcher for Tuesday night’s game.
The team is a collegiate summer baseball team playing in the Coastal Plain League. They are known as Gaston County’s team, much like the Twins are known to Elizabethton during the summer.
For Peterson, the crowd was much different on Tuesday than what he’s been used to seeing.
A sellout crowd of more than 3,000 people filed inside of Sims Legion Park to watch the 2011 Texas Rangers draft pick toe the rubber.
And despite taking the loss, his performance was very impressive.
He allowed only two runs and two hits before leaving after 85 pitches and five innings, trailing 2-1.
Peterson touched on his performance via telephone after the game.
“This is the first time I’ve thrown in about two weeks, so I felt pretty good,” said Peterson. “I knew I needed to have my best stuff when I found out that I was going to start the first game. I definitely wasn’t expecting it.”
After posting an impressive 6-1 season at Walters State, the 6-1 flamethrower was quite amazed with what he saw the first time out at Gastonia. It was much different than the junior college game.
“You look up and there is a whole lot more fans, and the tempo is totally different than at the juco level,” added Peterson. “I felt comfortable and just tried to block everything out. It’s all about going out there and throwing your game. You have a lot of things going on between innings, yet I just went out there and tried to block everything out.”
If Peterson is able to get a call to the big leagues one day, he won’t be the only major leaguer that’s played inside of Sims Park.
Andy Van Slyke (Cardinals, Pirates), Sammy Sosa (Rangers, White Sox, Cubs and Orioles), Juan Gonzales (Rangers, Tigers, Indians and Royals), Ivan Rodriguez (Rangers, Marlins, Tigers) and Tug McGraw (Mets, Phillies) have all taken the field there.
Peterson might feel right at home in this type of environment after growing up and watching the Twins play for so many years. General manager Mike Mains was always coming up with different type of gimmicks, much like they do in Gastonia.
Dunk the GM, Grandma Beauty Pageant, Dig for the Diamond and Salute to Underwear Night are just a few of many promotions. So is dollar night and all you can eat night.
Peterson’s Grizzlies are one of 15 teams that make up the league that expands in three states: North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Like the Twins, local families house the players during their summer stay. Peterson touched on his first few days there.
“I’ve been told that big crowds turn out for these games,” he said. “I heard someone say they sold over 3000 tickets for tonight’s opener. You look up and there’s not an empty seat in the stadium. It’s a good feeling to play in front of fans that love baseball.”
Peterson couldn’t say when his next start might come, but for now he just wants to improve his skills and enjoy the moment.
“It’s quite an honor to get an opportunity to pitch here in this town,” he said. “It feels great just to be here and getting to play baseball.”