February 1, 2013 12:06:28 PM
Christian Dale had a wrinkle few student-athletes get to experience at his college signing ceremony.
The Columbus High School standout also received a message that could help him reach a similar destination of the guest speaker who spoke Thursday at the Columbus High baseball team's ninth annual First-Pitch Banquet.
Not only did Dale sign a scholarship to play baseball at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, but he also listened as former Mississippi State University standout pitcher Chris Stratton talked about the patience he learned through the ups and downs of a journey that has taken him into professional baseball.
Stratton, the 2012 Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year, went 11-2 with a 2.38 ERA for the Bulldogs last season. His road from a freshman at Tupelo High who didn't get called up to the varsity team in his first season to a college pitcher who struggled as a sophomore peaked last year when the San Francisco Giants used the 20th pick to select the right-hander in the first round. Stratton pitched last season with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in Class A ball last season. He said Thursday he likely will play this season in California or Georgia. His message to Dale and to the rest of the Columbus High and Middle School players was to have patience because there are going to be times when very little goes right, to enjoy life, and to cherish all of the relationships in your life. He related a quote MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson took from a Polish pianist to drive home his point. The quote goes, "If I do not practice one day, I know it. If I do not practice two days, the orchestra knows it. If I do not practice three days, the whole world knows it."
Dale's hard work has helped him take the next step on his baseball journey. The 6-foot, 150-pounder went 4-3 with a 2.11 ERA in 10 games (six starts) last season. He had four complete games and two shutouts. He allowed 36 hits in 49 2/3 innings while striking out 60 and walking 16. He also hit .373 with 31 hits, including seven doubles, and 15 RBIs.
Dale said he dreams one day of wearing the red and blue of the University of Mississippi. He realizes he needs to add weight and to get stronger if he wants to realize that goal. Still, with a variety of pitches and a fastball that has hit the mid-to-high 80s, he feels he has a good start to his career. He believes JCJC is the right place for him to learn even more to push him higher.
"Jones pulled me away," said Dale, who thought he would end up at East Central C.C. "I am happy and excited about next year. It is just the atmosphere. It is just like a four-year university. It is the biggest junior college in the state. My dad told me I should reach out to Jones and that it would be a good place for me to go."
Dale was still interested in ECCC at that time, but the more he researched and learned at JCJC he felt going to school in Ellisville was the best fit for him.
"I feel like it will make me stronger and a better person and give me a better work ethic. Everything," Dale said. "By the time I get with Jones, I will be ready for DI. I just don't think it was meant to be right now."
Columbus High coach Jeffrey Cook said Dale has been a key contributor for most of his varsity career. He said Dale has plenty of room to mature physically to earn an offer to play baseball at a Division I school.
"I think Jones is a good fit for him," Cook said. "I think (JCJC coach Christian Ostrander) has a good plan for Christian. I think he is a pitching guy, and I thought that was a great situation for him. They have unbelievable facilities down there, and they went down there and loved it. ... I think he is going to do good there."
Cook said Dale has "unlimited" potential in part because he doesn't think he as gained any weight since his sophomore season despite hard wok in the weight room. He feels added weight and a focus on baseball can help him attract the interest of four-year schools.
"He is just a baby. He is going to grow and develop. He really hasn't developed his potential body wise," Cook said. "I know he is going to get stronger and faster. He throws so many pitches so well and for strikes just does an outstanding job."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.