Appel’s homecoming a thrill for Little League coach
No one associated with the Post Oak Little League from a decade ago could have ever imagined any of their young players would ever be the first pick in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, much less be selected by the hometown Astros. That’s fairytale kind of stuff.
Back then, the top concern of coach Cary Gray was hoping the players would make their high school teams in the following few years. All of the Little Leaguers were able to accomplish that, and one went on to do so much more when it came to baseball.
Right-handed pitcher Mark Appel, who was coached by Gray for 3 1/2 years in the Post Oak Little League on the west side of Houston, was drafted No. 1 overall by the hometown Astros on Thursday following a terrific career Stanford, and now a community is bursting with pride.
“It’s surreal,” said Gray, a Houston lawyer. “I saw something [general manager] Jeff Luhnow said about it had to be every kid’s dream come true. We all follow the Astros, watched them play and suddenly to see that happen, who would have thought it? We used to worry about the kids making their high school teams. We never gave any thought to one of them being the No. 1 pick in the Draft.”
Gray still keeps in touch with Appel and exchanged text messages with him Thursday night after the pick was made. He talks with pride about the man Appel has become and is proud of him for returning to Stanford to get his degree.
“He was a really nice kid [in Little League],” he said. “He was a solid citizen and always has been, and he kind of did everything he did with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. He was there to prove himself, and that’s why he’s done so well.”
Gray’s father had season tickets to the Astros since they began playing in the Astrodome, and Gray now has season tickets for Minute Maid Park and attends games when he can. But when Appel makes that first start for the Astros, he will clear his schedule to be there.
“I can barely imagine it right now, to be honest,” he said. “I’m sure it will be a thrill for all of us. It’s been a lot of fun watching this.”
Gray said Appel’s grandparents and other relatives still live in Houston, where Appel lived until he was 12 years old before moving to California.