POPLARVILLE, Miss. (PRCC Athletics) - The Big League dream is still alive for former Pearl River Wildcat Drake Nightengale.
The right-handed South Alabama Friday Night starter announced Monday afternoon he has signed with the New York Mets as an undrafted free agent.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Nightengale, who started for PRCC in 2017 and ’18. “I’m grateful to everybody who has helped me along the way. I truly wouldn’t be here without Coach (Mark) Calvi, Coach (Michael) Avalon and even Coach (Larry) Knight going back to my high school days at Sumrall.”
Nightengale is just the latest former Wildcat to head to the pro ranks in the last two years, joining 2018 draft pick Simon “Meaux” Landry and ’19 selections Colby White and Dexter Jordan.
“I am extremely proud of Drake Nightengale on his signing with the New York Mets. Drake is hands down one of the most competitive young men I have had the privilege to coach,” Avalon said. “Early on, Drake made it very evident to me that he had the desire to play professional baseball. After a lot of success and some tough times in the game, his determination and unending desire made this day possible. We look forward to following him as he continues on his journey and chases the ultimate dream all players have. Best of luck – we are proud of you.”
Like the aforementioned Wildcats, the 6-foot, 195-pound Nightengale has always had aspirations of being drafted.
The former Sumrall standout impressed during his junior debut at nearby South Alabama. Pitching mostly as USA’s Friday night starter, Nightengale built a 6-2 record, led the Sun Belt in opposing batting average (.196) and ranked fourth in both ERA (3.52) and strikeouts (91).
Despite the impressive numbers, Nightengale went undrafted in in 2019.
“I thought I made a really good case to get picked up in the draft last year. When I didn’t, it was really hard on me,” he said. “I really wanted to get picked up and I’ve always wanted to hear my name called.”
Determined to prove his point, Nightengale had a hot start to 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the season. The preseason Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year and Collegiate Baseball All-American posted a 1-0 record with a 3.09 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings. His 39 strikeouts were second in the conference, while his 13 Ks looking led the Sun Belt.
“I don’t have a prove-everybody-else-wrong mentality, it’s more of a prove-myself-right mentality. That’s how I’ve always been,” he said. “I know I can get guys out at any level and I know I can play baseball. Every time I step on the mound I want to prove every single time that I can do this.
“I told Coach Avalon this at Pearl River, I think I can get anybody out. I just wanted the opportunity.”
Nightengale said the Mets called him on Day 2 and considered taking him in the fifth round of a draft that’s normally 40 rounds.
“They were pushing to get me picked up in the fifth round, but the way things worked out they decided to take another guy from UNO,” Nightengale said. “I knew they had interest in me. When they called me, I knew that was the team I wanted to go with.”
With minor league baseball’s 2020 campaign in limbo because of the ongoing pandemic, Nightengale said he’s only been told to stay ready.
“They said they don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s all going to base off of the major league season,” he said. “We’ll most likely have something in the fall, maybe a short-season, but it’s not set in stone. They don’t know what’s going to happen yet. They just told me to stay in shape.
“When they call us to report, we have to be ready to report. That’s all I know.”
Regardless of when Nightengale will make his pro debut, the former Wildcat will be ready for the call.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make it to the big leagues. That’s what I’ve told everybody,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s as a free agent or the last pick in the draft, I’m going to do everything I can, work extremely hard and never give up to try and make it to the Big Leagues. This is just one step closer.
“I’ve played baseball all my life, it has always been my life and I’m going to do everything I can to hopefully make it up to the big leagues.”
PEARL RIVER WILDCATS
Nightengale was an impressive starter for the Wildcats, helping lead PRCC to the MACJC Championship in 2018. As a freshman, Nightengale was 4-3 in 12 appearances with 56 strikeouts against only 12 walks in 31 1/3 innings He also boasted a 4.88 ERA in seven starts. The next season, Nightengale was 4-0 with a 4.25 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings.
Looking back, Nightengale credited Avalon for helping keep his professional baseball dream alive.
“I tell everybody this: When Coach Avalon got there, those were the two best years of my life,” Nightengale said. “Coach Avalon really changed my baseball career. He instilled a hard work ethic. No matter what the situation, you have to keep fighting, keep pushing and make the most of it. I’ll tell anybody who asks me — hands down, Coach Avalon is one of the best coaches I’ve played for. He’s definitely helped my baseball career tremendously.
“I know I wouldn’t be in this situation without him.”
Prior to signing with PRCC, Nightengale already had a winning pedigree as a Sumrall standout. The right-hander tossed a complete game in the championship series to help lead the Bobcats to the MHSAA Class 3A State Title. He was also named the MHSAA 3A Player of the Year as a senior.
PRCC AND PRO BASEBALL
Pearl River has had 30 former players selected in the MLB draft since 1983: Jay Reeves (2nd round, 1983 draft, Atlanta), Todd Russell (28, ’89, Oakland), Greg Elliott (56, ’90, Chicago White Sox; 9, ’92, Houston), Brett Rossler (32, ’91, New York Mets), Wendell Magee (12, ’94, Philadelphia), John Blank (24, ’95, Minnesota), Nick Tisone (24, ’02, Houston; 19, ’03, Kansas City), Chad Catalano (32, ’03, San Diego), Rhyne Hughes (50, ’03, Pittsburgh; 8, ’04, Tampa Bay), Adrian Bowens (39, ’04, Detroit), Corey Bass (47, ’04, Houston), John Rodriguez (31, ’04, Tampa Bay), Thomas Royals (22, ’04, Detroit), Chris Thompson (21, ’04, Arizona), P.J. Treadway (31, ’04, Montreal; 42, ’05, Washington), Kyle Maxie (28, ’07, New York Mets), Craig Rodriguez (28, ’07, Colorado), Baron Short (7, ’07, Anaheim), Grant Hogue (46, ’08, Cincinnati; 35, ’09, Houston), Pat Daugherty (12, ’09, St. Louis), Brandon Fry (18, ’13, San Diego), Christian Talley (26, ’13, Tampa Bay), Taylor Byrd (7, ’14, Seattle), Braxton Lee (12, ’14, Tampa Bay), Ryan Deemes (36, ’15, Houston), Jacob Taylor (4, ’15, Pittsburgh), Zachary Clark (19, ’16, Milwaukee), Landry (22, ’18, Los Angeles Dodgers), White (6, ’19, Tampa Bay) and Jordan (16, ’19, Houston).