Lakeland Senior High Graduate Makes the Big Leagues
BY JON SALM
If Lakeland native and current Chicago White Sox pitcher Christopher Sale had made Lakeland High School’s varsity baseball team as a freshman, he might not be the player that he is today. After watching four freshmen join the varsity squad without him, Sale knew that he needed to improve.
“Not making varsity absolutely made me push myself to become a better baseball player,” Sale said.
Sale pushed himself to become one of best high school pitchers in the Polk County, and one of the best college pitchers in Florida when he attended Florida Gulf Coast University. Now, the 6-foot- 6, 180-pound lefty is one of the best professional pitchers in the major leagues.
In 2012, his first season as a starting pitcher, Sale posted a stellar 17-8 record against a 3.05 Earned Run Average. He was selected to represent the American League in the MLB All Star game and has earned a reputation as one of the best young pitchers in the game. At the end of the season, Sale finished sixth in the voting for the American League Cy Young Award, presented to the league’s best pitcher.
When Sale started lighting up opposing batters in high school, his parents, Allen and Marla, never thought that he would reach his current level of success.
“We thought that if he could just get a college scholarship, it would be great,” Marla said.
Out of high school, Sale was drafted in the 21st round by the Colorado Rockies, but opted to accept a college scholarship instead.
At Florida Gulf Coast, Sale became one of the country’s top amateur prospects. In addition to pitching for the Eagles, Sale spent a summer in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League after his sophomore year.
“It was one of the best baseball experiences of my life,” he said. “You hear about these guys playing at schools like Georgia, Florida, and Texas. Now I’m playing with and against them. I learned so much about the game.”
Bolstered by this experience, Sale returned to FGCU for his junior season with a new sense of confidence and swagger. He exceeded all expectations, going 11-0 and leading all Division I players with 146 strikeouts. MLB scouts kept a close watch as Sale became eligible for the draft again after the season. (College players must play three years or be 21 years old to re-enter the draft.)
When draft day came, Sale watched at home in Lakeland surrounded by friends and family. While he knew that he would likely be a first round pick, he admits that he was still a nervous wreck.
After hearing his name called as the 13th pick by the Chicago White Sox, Sale could finally relax.
“It was a fun moment,” Sale said. “It was something that I’ve worked for my entire life. Everyone there was close to me and had helped me get to that point. Being able to share that experience was really special.”
After he was drafted in June 2010, Sale quickly rose to the major league level. While most draftees spend at least a few years honing their skills in the minors, it took Sale less than two months. At 21, Sale was pitching in the majors.
Sale owes much of his success to his family, who he credits with supporting him all the way from Little League games at Peterson Park to the White Sox games at U.S. Cellular Field.
“My family is something that I’ve always been blessed with. My mom chugged me along to so many games growing up. My dad has thrown more baseballs with me than I can ever imagine. He could come home from the worst day at work and would be right out there throwing with me, no questions asked.”
Now that Sale is married and a father himself, he has learned to appreciate family even more. He met his wife, Brianne, during his sophomore year at FGCU; and their son, Rylan, is two.
“My wife and son really help put things in perspective. I’ve learned that there are a lot worse things that getting hit or giving up a home run. Every day, I get to go home and see my wife and my son. It is something that I am very appreciative of.”
Even though Sale now lives in Chicago with his wife and son, he is as close as ever with his parents. Allen and Marla travel to Chicago often and Christopher trains in Florida during the off-season. Despite the distance and hectic schedule of being a major league ballplayer, Christopher understands what matters most to him.
Sale said, “If there’s one thing that’s important, it’s family.”