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Two former standouts rivals, friends

POSTED: July 22, 2010 5:09 p.m.

Before Ken Wise’s name was even off the board in the Major League Baseball draft this season, he received a text message from his longtime friend, Josh Wright, wanting to stay up to date with which franchise was going to select the former East Hall High standout pitcher.

It didn’t take too long for there to be a reply from Wise on the other end with the answer: 19th round to the Baltimore Orioles.

This is the kind of communication you would expect from players that grew up all their lives playing on the same teams together, but rarely from players that only on special occasions — like an All-Star squad as kids — were playing out of the same dugout.

“We’ve been playing against each other since we were 11-years-old,” said Wise, a 2008 East Hall High graduate. “We play against each other every summer and are good friends.”

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that these two pitchers that have been taking to the mound against other for almost a decade now, including solid high school careers at rival schools — Wright at North Hall, and Wise with East Hall — are back on the same playing field again for the summer, even though both are now two years removed from high school.

This summer, Wise and Wright are toeing the rubber with the Sunbelt Summer Baseball League, a summer invitation baseball league populated with players from college rosters all over the country. And once again, both are playing on separate rosters — Wise with the Berkely Lake Tides, and Wright with the Signature Park Grizzles — even though both play home games down the road at Norcross High.

However, both players came together for one day last month as members of the league’s All-Star roster during a game last month at Strong Rock Christian in Locust Grove. Even though Wright never entered the All-Star game, mainly due to poor weather, Wise managed to get in the game for a couple of innings.

Both players have enjoyed the experience of playing in the Sunbelt League, which they say maintains great competition, that in turns draws out scouts.

Wright, who signed Tuesday with Brewton-Parker College, has particularly enjoyed the experience after injuring his scapula (the shoulder blade) while warming up four days before opening day with Volunteer State Community College this season. He missed most about 75 percent of the season.

“I’m really treating this summer like it’s my college season,” Wright said. “The competition is great in this league and every guy that comes to the plate can really hit the ball.”

Wright returned to action in April only after going through an orthopedic doctor and working extensively with re-gaining his strength through physical therapy at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tenn. Against Jackson State, Wright threw eight innings, struck out nine and allowed one earned run. He finished the season with a 4-1 record and a 1.30 ERA.

Even then, he wasn’t able to throw at full speed with the scapula still in the healing process. This summer, he’s increased his velocity and is throwing his fastball in the low 90s. Along with playing in the Sunbelt League, Wright also got the opportunity to participate in the Perfect Game showcase this summer in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“I’m about 95-percent back to full strength now,” said Wright, who is taking nine hours of online classwork through Western Oklahoma State this summer.

Meanwhile, Wise is working primarily in a relief pitcher role this summer with the Tides after working as the No. 2 starting pitcher with Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Fla. This season, Wise was searching to find a good rhythm on the mound while building his velocity to reach the 91-93 mile per hour range.

He finished the season at Santa Fe with a 5-2 record and four no decisions, but held opponents to a .180 batting average this spring.

When the summer rolled around, he intended on throwing bullpen sessions at East Hall until the call came from the Sunbelt League.

“This has been a great experience,” Wise said. “Nothing compares to playing the real game.”

With his upside as a pro prospect, Wise worked out with the Kansas City Royals, Orioles, Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs leading up to the draft. He said the highlight of the experience was a trip to Camden Yards on June 5 for a session in the outfield before the Orioles faced the Red Sox.

Since Baltimore was the only team to call for a local visit leading up to the draft — the other three tryouts were in the Atlanta area — he wasn’t surprised the Orioles were the team to call his name. Now, he’s just testing the waters with contract negotiations before deciding whether to return to college next year.

“My main focus this summer is to throw enough innings to stay in shape,” Wise said.


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