Former Murray High standout gets taste of celebrity life in North Dakota this summer
Jul 31, 2018 03:21PM
● By Carl Fauver
Former MHS baseball player Drew Staley is continuing to play his sport at a Montana school and for a summer league team in North Dakota. (Shelby Reardon/The Dickinson Press)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
If you have ever wondered what it might be like to be Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler, Paul McCartney or Bono, a former Murray High School baseball star can tell you a little about it… at least on a small town scale.
“They treat us like rock stars up here,” Drew Staley said. “These Dickinson, North Dakota baseball fans saw their local college program eliminated. Now we’ve come along and they love us. We sign autographs during batting practice and host little league camps for kids. It’s been insane being a celebrity.”
The “we” Staley refers to are members of the Badlands Big Sticks collegiate summer baseball team, playing home games in North Dakota’s Stark County seat of Dickinson. The team is named for the rugged natural rock formations (Badlands) common to both North and South Dakota. And Drew is one of the players helping them live up to the second half of their name.
“I’ve always been known as a pretty good hitter, and I’m batting about .380,” Staley said. “That makes me the second best hitter on our team right now and fourth best in our 8-team league.”
Not only are the Big Sticks brand new this season, but so is their entire Expedition League, with teams in North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. The team will play 64 games, through mid-August. Staley said they play in front of several hundred fans nearly every night – particularly for home games – and he’s thrilled his college coach recommended him to the league.
Aaron Sutton has spent the last two seasons as head coach of the Montana State University-Billings baseball team, where he has amassed a 50-30 record in league play. Last season he was named co-Coach of the Year in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. He’s also the one who delivered the disappointing news to Staley last spring, that he would be red shirting his freshman season.
“I was upset when coach Sutton first told me I would be red shirting,” Staley said. “But later it made sense. I’ve gotten a 100 times better playing (for the Big Sticks). Also, the guy I was playing behind (at third base) in Billings is an amazing player. I doubt I would have beaten him out no matter how hard I worked. So I’m glad I saved a year (of collegiate baseball eligibility).”
That former MSU-B starting third baseman – Kaleo Johnson – was drafted in Major League Baseball’s 32nd round by the Tampa Bay Rays. With him moving on, Staley has high hopes of starting for the Yellowjackets at the defensive corner next spring.
In the meantime, Drew and his father, Paul, are both excited about the North Dakota experience.
“It’s an unbelievable league and he is getting so much good experience,” Paul Staley said of his son and the Expedition League. “He doesn’t earn a salary (in order to maintain his amateur status for college play). But he lives with a sponsor family and his food is provided. They play nearly every day, almost all summer. The practice will help him a lot when he returns to Montana.”
Staley expects to have time to spend at least a few days at his parents’ Murray home – after the Big Sticks season – before his September 1 due date back in Billings. One of the things he hopes to do is reconnect with a couple of former Murray High School baseball teammates who are now a year behind him, on their collegiate baseball journeys.
“I keep in touch with Jayden Sinju and Easton Brinton who were both juniors on the Murray team, when I was a senior,” Staley said.
Sinju was a Deseret News first team all-state outfielder this past season, and is moving east.
“I decided in March I wanted to play baseball at Nebraska Northeast Community College next year, even though I have never been to the campus,” Sinju said. “I saw everything I needed to see during a virtual tour on line. I like the coaches and they offered me a full tuition scholarship. A year from now I hope I can play in a summer league like Drew. Maybe we can even be teammates.”
This year’s Deseret News honorable mention baseball player from Murray, pitcher Easton Brinton, plans to play next year at Mesa Community College in the Phoenix area.
Meantime, Staley has a couple of weeks left to enjoy the rock star lifestyle afforded to 19-year-old baseball players who are lucky enough to spend their summer in Dickinson, North Dakota.