Toby Welk was sitting on the bench in the Aberdeen IronBirds' dugout as the raucous din from the crowd pounded in his rookie ears.
The stands were packed for Aberdeen's season opener June 14, and it was a whole new experience for Welk. He came from Division III program Penn State Berks. The crowds were never this big at his college games, and manager Kevin Bradshaw knew it. So he sat the young player and told him to watch and listen.
"I remember [him saying], 'Hey, I know where you come from. We're gonna play the other guys. You just soak it all in,'" Welk said on
Glenn Clark Radio
Aug. 28. "... So right from the start, it was definitely different. Getting out on the field definitely had a little more nerves than I'm used to."
It only took a week for Welk to get used to the crowds and the noise, and from that moment on, Welk put on a show. He slashed .344/.397/.500 with 62 hits, 22 runs and 28 RBIs for the IronBirds. And with Low-A Delmarva in the middle of a playoff push, the third baseman got called up to give the team an extra edge.
When asked if he could have dreamed of this good of a start to his career, Welk said, "No, I couldn't have. As you're going through it, you don't really realize what you're doing, and I kind of like it that way. I never want to get too high or too low. But at the end of the day, the end goal is to get to the top and I'm still down the totem pole."
It would have been difficult for anyone to predict the impact Welk, drafted in the 21st round, would have this year. Playing at the Division III level means it wasn't a complete lock for Welk to get drafted. He was the D3baseball.com National Player of the Year, so he wasn't an unknown player, and despite being in contact with five teams before the draft, he didn't see it as a 100 percent possibility.
"I just prayed," Welk said.
Welk knows coming from a small school also brings lower expectations. His solution to that: put everything on the table.
"I said to my dad after I got drafted, 'Well, they let me in, and now I have nothing to lose,'" he said. "I finally get to play with the best in the country. It's kind of like I have a little chip on my shoulder. I didn't sign for the most money. I didn't get drafted in the highest round. I was just grateful for the opportunity."
Welk isn't too superstitious; he doesn't have a regular meal that he eats to make sure he's hitting well during a game. But he does credit being around some of the best young hitters in the country with helping his focus and keeping his work ethic at a high level.
It also doesn't hurt being teammates with the first overall pick in catcher Adley Rutschman, either.
"His concentration and focus level is unmatched," Welk said. "He is very locked in with everything he does. He does everything perfect. You don't see him get completely fooled by a pitch. He's all business when he gets to the field."
Like everyone else in baseball, Welk is fully aware of the Orioles' rebuild and the opportunities of climbing the minor-league ladder. There have been some conversations about it with teammates, but those are centered around doing it together.
"Getting an opportunity to win together is probably one of the best ways to bond with teammates," Welk said. "We've really bonded well. It feels like even more of a brotherhood. We're always together and we're always having fun."
And if Welk continues on his current path, the crowds are only going to get bigger.
For more from Welk, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Patrick Cavey