Former Hurricane standout Wilson part of whole new ballgame
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As far as former Hurricane High School baseball star Alex Wilson is concerned, it's no big deal to be the second Major Leaguer born in Saudi Arabia.
In fact, he's in much the same situation of Major League Baseball's first Saudi-born player - Craig Stansberry.
Stansberry lived in Saudi Arabia for about a month.
"I've been asked about it about 100 times over the last four days," said the 26-year-old Wilson, who was promoted from Class AAA Pawtucket to the Boston Red Sox on April 10 and made his Major League debut a day later. "They ask, why am I from Saudi Arabia and do I remember it? No, I don't remember it. Dad was working in the oil and gas industry and that I happened to come along over there."
These are good times for the former Daily Mail Putnam County Player of the Year, who has played at two colleges, had Tommy John surgery and spent four years in the minor league system of the Red Sox.
Wilson made his Majors debut last Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles.
The circumstances were anticlimactic at best for the baseball fan, but nerve-wracking, to say the least, for the 6-foot right-hander.
The Red Sox trailed 3-2 in the top of the ninth and Wilson was called from the bullpen to keep the deficit at one to give his team a chance for a comeback in the bottom of the inning.
"The first batter I was definitely nervous," said Wilson, who walked Manny Machado on five pitches. "I couldn't find the zone really. Salty (catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia) came out and just said, 'Let's go, lock it in.' As soon as he turned around and walked back, (Dustin) Pedroia came over and said, 'Have fun, just have fun.' I took a deep breath and got back to what I do."
Four pitches later, Nick Markakis ground into a double play and Wilson finished the inning by striking out Adam Jones swinging on three pitches.
"It was nice to go out there and have a nice clean inning and take a step in the right direction," he said. "I wanted to get the first-game jitters out of the way and be a good, consistent arm for the team."
He was a long way from this dream six years ago.
Wilson's good, consistent arm broke down in 2007 following Tommy John surgery. He was miserable, but maintained the focus that he has had for much of his teenage life and beyond - to make it to the Majors.
He threw 138 pitches as a freshman at Winthrop University. He was 6-4 with a 2.51 ERA in 111 1/3 innings as a sophomore before a bone chip was discovered in his elbow during play in the Cape Cod League.
Upon further review, it was discovered that Wilson had a shredded elbow. Following surgery, he transferred to Texas A&M in January 2008 and was chosen by the Chicago Cubs in the 10th round of the 2008 Major League Amateur Draft. He opted to remain in school, and was picked in the second round by the Boston Red Sox in 2009.
"Tommy John was a setback, transferring schools was a step in the right direction," said Wilson, who started at Winthrop, the same school that 2011 Hurricane graduate Sam Kmiec transferred to after his freshman year at Wake Forest.
"I got drafted, I sat in AAA all last year, I had a good year and knew if I stayed consistent, do what I do, hopefully I would force their hand. After spring training, I go to Class AAA as expected. The first week, I get called into the office and told, 'Congratulations, you're going to the big leagues.' It took me by surprise, because it was so early in the year."
Wilson wasn't drafted as a reliever, but decided in 2012 at Pawtucket that would not be a bad route to pursue. He went 5-3 with a 3.72 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 40 games, starting in just three. His career earned run average in Class AAA was 3.83.
Suddenly, the notoriety that comes with being the game's starting pitcher was traded for the unremarkable life of a middle reliever.
In fact, Wilson doesn't have a label yet - middle relief, setup man, etc. - and is only concerned about competing and handling "this level of talent."
"Most people don't make their debut in the ninth inning of a 3-2 game," he said.
"They told me to not look at it as a demotion but look at it as an opportunity. Generally, it's the fastest way to the big leagues."
The rest of the tradeoff has him not worrying about much of anything but playing baseball.
"It's incredibly different (than the minors)," Wilson said. "No more waiting in lines at the airport. Drive up to the plane, don't lug around your own bags anymore. I went to a hotel and at dinner and came back and my bag was waiting for me at the room.
"That takes away the worries of the little things. They try to simplify your life outside of baseball to make it as easy as possible to compete and do your thing on the field."
So far so good for the guy who relies heavily on his fastball and slider and will slip in an occasional changeup to keep batters honest.
"I guess Wednesday (today) will be a week," he said. "It's been a surreal experience. I don't know if I wrapped my head around it."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4837.