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Monday, October 10, 2011

Interview Part 1: John Toale, Promise to Parents

Damaschke Field, in Oneonta, NY, in August 2009. John Toale played at Damashke as a member of the visiting NY-Penn League's Elmira Pioneers from 1983 to 1985. (G21D Photo)

Part 1: Promise to Parents | Part 2: Big Adjustments | Part 3: Career Pattern | Part 4: Lengthy Time


After graduation, John Toale had a decision to make.
He had already signed a letter of intent to play at Florida State University in 1983, and get his education with a full scholarship. But the Red Sox thought enough of him to draft him in the second round.

Toale chose the Red Sox. And he chose his education.

"I had made a promise to my parents, which I'm very grateful to today," Toale told The Greatest 21 Days recently, "that if I did go in the draft and did choose to go into the minor leagues that I wold finish my college education."

Toale did finish his college education, hopping in his car as soon as the baseball season was over and heading to Tallahassee for the fall semester at Florida State.

He did that every fall for nearly a decade, getting closer to his degree, but, to is disappointment, hardly getting closer to his ultimate goal of playing in the major leagues.

Toale ended up playing 10 seasons in the minor leagues for seven different organizations. Toale, though, never made it above AA.

Toale today is living in his home state of Florida, working in medical sales. It's a job he says he enjoys, and a job he never could have gotten without his degree from Florida State.

Toale spoke with The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone, touching on both the successes and the disappointments of playing a decade in the minor leagues.

It was after many of the successes that came many of the disappointments, Toale recalled.

But Toale also covered simple life in the minors. The high school kid from Florida arriving in Elmira, NY, rooming in the decidedly unglamorous local YMCA. Then there were the equipment shortages, the after-game meals of concession stand standards and the ballparks.

Then, as the years passed with Toale getting no closer to the major leagues, came the slow realization that that degree he was working for at Florida State was becoming more important by the year.

That degree actually came courtesy of the team that drafted him, the Red Sox.

As an extra incentive to sign, the team offered to pay for his schooling. It's a provision teams often offer to young players, but one that the players don't always take advantage of.

But they were willing to offer that, along with using their second round pick on Toale, after he caught the eye of scouts at Coral Springs High. After a good sophomore season, Toale broke out his junior year. Slowed by an injury his senior season, Toale still commanded attention.

"A lot of the scouting took place my junior season," Toale said. "Kind of my senior season was trying to live up to the expectations from the year before and exceed them."

Some had talked about him even hitting the first round of the draft. Toale thought the injury was what slid him to round 2.

Still, it was an accomplishment. As Toale noted, the Red Sox took him with the 47th pick overall. Their first round pick, 19th overall, was Roger Clemens.

And Toale signed, promising his parents he would get his education while pursuing his baseball career and the majors.

Given the trajectory of his career, though, Toale now knows that was a mistake. He got off to a slow start in the minors and never was able to recover.

But the part he did make work was the schooling. The 1983 Coral Springs High graduate became a 1992 Florida State University graduate.

Helping make that part work was a guidance counselor at FSU. Every June, Toale was on the phone, picking out his classes. "I owe a lot to her," Toale said. She'd help get him into the classes he needed, all over the phone.

By early September, Toale would be finishing out his minor league season, while the fall semester began at FSU. That meant he had a week or two of classes to make up after he and his car arrived at Tallahassee. If his team was in the playoffs, it would be even harder.

"Baseball was No. 1," Toale said. "You really didn't want to have to tell your team that you wanted to go to school and that you were going to leave in the middle of the playoffs.

"You kind of had to balance when the season was going to end and when you had to be there. There wasn't a whole lot of time to waste."

Once there, Toale noted, the contrast was stark. The summertime professional baseball player went from being in the newspaper every day and signing autographs for everyone who wanted one, to being a student and doing none of that.

"Then you go off to college," Toale said, "and nobody even knows who you are."

"It's a big change in reality."

The first change in reality for Toale, though, came in 1983, one of the last players to arrive at short-season Elmira, adjusting to wood bats, ill-fitting uniforms and trying to get in a rhythm when his team seemed content to use its second round pick only in a platoon.

Go to Part 2: Big Adjustments

Part 1: Promise to Parents | Part 2: Big Adjustments | Part 3: Career Pattern | Part 4: Lengthy Time

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