Feb. 11, 2010

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Best Sale under the Sun

By Barrett Neale



The defining quality of pitcher Chris Sale is competitiveness.


Sale, a junior at Florida Gulf Coast University, said that whether he was pitching, golfing or playing checkers, he always competed as hard as he could. He becomes a different person on the mound.


“Off the field, I kind of like to think of myself as a nice guy,” said Sale, a 6-6, 183-pound lanky left-hander. “But when I get on the field, I look at the person standing in the batter’s box and I just want to do everything in my power to make him fail. The competitiveness in me doesn’t want to let anyone get a hit off me, let anyone get on base.


“I look at him and I’m just like: ‘You’re not going to get a hit. You’re not better than I am. I’ve worked too hard to be here and there’s no way you’ve outworked me and there’s no way that you’re going to get the upper hand in the situation.’”


Coach Dave Tollett thought Sale would develop and improve throughout his career, but he said Sale had excelled even more than he had expected. Last season, Sale made first-team Atlantic Sun, had a 2.72 ERA that was second-best in the conference and a .246 opposing batting average that led his team. Sale struck out at least seven batters each game he started, ending the season with a 7-4 record, 104 strikeouts (second in the A-Sun) and only 27 walks in 89.1 innings for the Eagles (23-7 A-Sun, 36-18 overall).


“He brings an intimidation factor to the other team,” junior catcher Bobby Greene said. “A tall lefty, no one really wants to face that every day. Right off the bat, he’s got that advantage going for him. His pitches and his stuff, when it’s all dialed in, it’s unhittable and nobody wants to face us.”


Last summer, Sale played in the Cape Cod Baseball League and received the BFC Outstanding Pitcher Award. He said he appreciated the recognition, but tried to keep a level head and not think too highly of himself – a mindset Tollett had noticed.


I think he knows his role,” Tollett said. “That hasn’t changed. He’s such a team guy. When he’s not pitching, he’s the first one out of the dugout shaking hands with the next guy pitching.”


Greene also noted Sale’s efforts to motivate his teammates when he’s in the dugout, but said Sale acted much differently off the field.


“He’s a goofball and always making jokes, always trying to lighten the mood,” Greene said.


Tollett said that although Sale was more laid-back off the field, he still worked hard.


“He got a 3.75 last semester,” said Tollett, entering his eighth season. “He’s good in the classroom. He’s good in the community. He’s the first one who volunteers to do community service. He’s a pretty good kid.


“We’ve got some team managers and Chris will take those guys out to breakfast. A lot of players of his caliber don’t even associate with those type of guys. I think that says an awful lot about what type of person he is. He hasn’t let anything exceed him or he doesn’t think he’s better than anyone else. He treats people the right way.”


Tollett said MLB scouts called Sale a potential first-round draft pick, and having a player of that caliber was a rare opportunity. But when talking about his favorite memories from college, Sale did not mention any of his individual accolades. Instead, he recalled his team’s back-to-back conference championships. (Because of the Eagles’ transition to Division I, they have not been eligible for the NCAA tournament. FGCU becomes eligible this season.)


“My freshman year I was actually pitching when we clinched and just being at the bottom of that dog pile was something else, when no one else thought we could do it and we did,” Sale said. “And then coming back that next year and people still doubting us, saying it might have been a fluke, thinking we wouldn’t be able to do it and we did.”


But this season, Sale said, opponents are less likely to underestimate the Eagles. They are the preseason favorite in the A-Sun, and he said it would be important to approach the season one game and one pitch at a time.


“Coach ‘To’ says that every day,” Sale said. “[He] says, ‘You can look towards June but you’re not going to get there if you don’t focus on what’s right ahead of you. We haven’t won one game this year and we have to go out with intensity. We have targets on our backs and people are going to come in here and try to beat us just because we have that title.’”


If Sale plays the way he did last year, Greene said, he will put the Eagles in a position to win every time he pitches.


“It’s hard to describe,” Greene said. “He’s one of the best pitchers I’ve ever caught. He brings it on the mound every day. There’s nothing more you can ask for in a pitcher.”


(photos courtesy of FGCU Media Relations Office)