Northwest Nazarene's King Signs With Tampa Bay Rays
The 2017 GNAC Player of the Year, King batted .324 with 15 home runs and 44 RBIs. Photo by Jaime Valdez.
The 2017 GNAC Player of the Year, King batted .324 with 15 home runs and 44 RBIs. Photo by Jaime Valdez.

Sunday, July 2, 2017
by Northwest Nazarene Athletic Communications

NAMPA, Idaho - When the season ended in mid-May for the Crusader baseball team, senior slugger Billy King patiently waited for the chance to play professional baseball.

The First-Team All-West Region and Great Northwest Athletic Conference Player of the Year waited through the Major League Baseball draft the second week of June, but never heard his name called.

Then he waited for a possible call from a team after the draft, but still nothing.

"A couple weeks after the draft I thought, 'Oh well, it's not going to happen,'" King said.

Then earlier this week, "I was sitting on the couch eating lunch with me dog," King recalls after finishing work for the Parks and Recreation Department in Mount Vernon, Wash., when he got the call.

The Tampa Bay Rays flew the Northwest Nazarene slugger to West Virginia where King signed as a free agent on Thursday with the Rays and became a member of Tampa Bay's rookie league affiliate, the Princeton Rays of the 10-team Appalachian League.

"It definitely was a surprise to say the least," King said by phone from West Virginia follow lunch with his new team. "It's an awesome experience so far; it's good group of guys.

"It's very interesting," he added, "the Dominicans and Columbians; it's a mix of a lot of different kids, but everyone's very welcoming and everyone's here for the same goal."

Play for a Major League Baseball team: A goal King was set to relinquish as he started making plans to finishing his degree and possibly join the Navy's officer training program prior to the call from the Rays.

But know, King's lone focus is his new job — baseball — and making it to the top of his new profession.

"Now that I have this opportunity — even when the draft was around, I didn't care what round I went in, I just needed to get my foot in the door and then go from there," the recent Crusader star said. "I'm just going to give myself every opportunity to get to that next level."

King adds that his passion for playing the game will help him succeed, and he gives credit to NNU's head coach Rocke Musgraves and the Crusader staff for helping inspire that passion.

"That's one thing I learned at NNU with Rocke and all the coaching staff there, they kind of believed in me and let me enjoy playing the game," he said. "That's one thing that made a big difference for me, just being able to have fun playing the game."

That passion showed in a phenomenal 2017 season on the field for King, who led the GNAC in home runs with 15, and RBIs with 44, shared the Crusader team lead in doubles with 11, was second for NNU in batting average hitting .324 (58-for-179), and in stolen bases with eight.

Not only was King the GNAC Player of the Year and a First-Team All-GNAC selection, but he was named to the Conference Commissioners Association Division II, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and the American Baseball Coaches Association First-Team All-West Region teams.

The Crusader slugger, who mainly played in right-field but also logged time at first base for NNU, said he will play at first base for the Rays when he makes his professional debut.

King's appreciated the chance to gets some practice reps, and watch from the dugout, adding "the pitchers aren't any joke."

But most of all, he's savoring the opportunity to play ball again — now as a pro.

"I was kind of starting to get over baseball and move on, then I got this call and I'm here playing and it's a dream come true."