Jul. 26—WATERTOWN — Clay Grady knew he wanted to play Division I baseball at the college level ever since he was a youngster.
As a Virginia native, his college choice was Virginia Tech, one that he made early on as he verbally committed to the school back when he was a freshman.
But before Grady, who graduated from high school this year, heads off to the college ranks, he's already making a name for himself with the Watertown Rapids.
"This is definitely different," Grady said on Monday afternoon before the team took a bus to Utica. "I've played on travel ball teams and showcase baseball, but I've never played in a collegiate league, so it's definitely a lot different competition, that's for sure."
Grady, who plays shortstop for the Rapids, didn't arrive in Watertown until early June and his first game was near the middle of the month. But he hit the ground running and hasn't let up in forging a memorable summer for himself.
"I've been doing well, you see fielding isn't much of a change from high school ball," said Grady, wearing a Virginia Tech baseball cap. "But I've done well, I've adjusted in the field and hitting wise, I feel like I've done pretty well."
Heading into the week, Grady led the Rapids in batting average at .390 in 82 at bats, having generated 32 hits, including 10 extra base hits, including six doubles, three triples and one home run, while driving in 17 runs.
"I've been playing pretty well, I feel like," Grady said. "I've been hitting and seeing the ball well and playing defense pretty well, too, it seems like."
Grady, who had scored 27 runs, also walked 10 times as well as recorded eight stolen bases.
"I'm a fast guy, but I definitely feel like I'm more of a double and triple kind of guy, I get some power every once in a while and put a ball out there," Grady said. "But I just like to try and square up on baseballs and put something out there and then run."
Perhaps Grady's most productive day was in Watertown's wild 26-25 loss at Boonville on July 17 in which he went 4-for-7 — including hitting a home run along with a double — and driving in seven runs.
"I think I had four hits and I think a lot of other guys had four or five hits," Grady said. "I got seven at bats that game, so that was a very long game. I think it was four hours and 15 minutes. We lost, but I'll definitely remember that for the rest of my life. That was an interesting game."
Grady was also quick to connect on his home run against Boonville, which is known around the circuit as a hitters park.
"I had my home run in my first at bat, the first pitch I saw in the game, actually," Grady said. "It fell pretty good, you know getting that out of the way."
As with all summer collegiate leagues, the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League features the use of wood bats, something Grady was already accustomed to coming into this season.
"We use wood bats all throughout high school for summer ball, but we obviously use (metal) bats throughout the season for high school baseball," Grady said. "So it's definitely different using it because you have to square up the ball a little bit more and it's a lot tougher to get some hits, especially against pitchers like these."
Grady has mostly batted second in the Rapids' lineup and has been at the heart of the team's offensive growth this season.
"From top to bottom, we've got guys that can hit," Grady said. "All college baseball players are good no matter what level you play at, and we have a lot of different types of hitters in our lineup, which goes well together, we just don't have one type of hitter."
"We've got obviously Tyree Bradley, everyone knows he's a big power hitter, Elvis (Lopez) can put the ball out there," Grady said. "And guys like me and Ellis Schwartz get on base, and there's guys like Owen Parliament and Tyree and Elvis there to knock us in."
Grady has also been steady for the Rapids at shortstop, which is his natural position, as he's recorded a fielding percentage of .958 in 23 games at this position.
"(Rapids assistant) coach Dan Myers is a pretty good infield coach. He played baseball in college, so he knows quite a bit about the game and I like to do some drills with him and with some of the other infielders on the team," Grady said. "We get some work in together and it's good to learn from everybody."
After struggling in the month of June, the Rapids (18-23) have rebounded and have generated a 12-6 record in the month of July entering Tuesday night's game against Utica. The Rapids, who dropped an 11-1 decision at Utica on Monday, will also host Newark at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Toyota Field at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
"I think we have more team chemistry," Grady said. "We were all from different places, we came from different areas, it just took a little bit, a few weeks really, to come together. It's a lot easier to play as friends than as a bunch of individuals and random kids.
"But once we started hanging out and coming together, it just gets a lot easier because you know you want to get that hit to help your friend, and not just somebody you don't know. You want to help your teammates out, and it's just a lot easier to play like that."
Grady is coming off an eventful high school season for Nansemond River High School in southeast Virginia, as he helped guide his team to the state's Class 5, which is the state's second largest class, championship game.
"For high school, we lost in the state championship, extra innings on a home run," Grady said. "It's tough to lose like that and end your career, but I had a good high school career and had some good coaching from there."
Virginia Tech recorded a strong season in baseball by faring 44-15 this year and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
"They did well, they were ranked as high as second in the country in all of college baseball and were one game away from going to Omaha," Grady said. "It's a very good program."
Next month, Grady will be headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference school, which is located in Blacksburg, Va., in the southwestern part of the state, about a four to five-hour drive from home.
"It was my dream school, that's why I verbally committed so early, because being from Virginia I've always wanted to play for a hometown kind of team," Grady said. "A Virginia native should play at that school in Virginia."
Grady has also enjoyed the insight he's picked up from the Rapids' coaching staff.
"When we take (batting practice), it's just kind of coach (Mike) Kogut or coach Myers or coach (Riley) Moonan giving tips," Grady said. "It's not so much because they want to change very much until you get to college, I feel like it's just kind of making use of what your swing already is and making small adjustments along the way."
Although hailing from the South, Grady is a passionate Boston Red Sox fan.
"I was just raised in a household that's always been Boston fans," Grady said. "My dad's always been a Boston fan."
His favorite big league ballplayer is, not surprisingly, Boston's standout shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
"I feel I play a lot like him, he plays the game fast, he's got a little a bit of flash to him," Grady said. "I like to try and make the game exciting and I feel like he does the same thing. You're not just playing for yourself, you're playing for fans out there, too, and I feel like that's a big part of the game, make it fun."
Grady, who is used to visiting Virginia Beach on the ocean, has found time this summer to enjoy Lake Ontario.
"It's nice, but it's a lot different, though, because I've got the ocean beaches back home," Grady said. "And the lake beaches are here which we went to a couple weeks ago, which is also very nice."
Along with his personal successes this summer, Grady has enjoyed his time in Watertown, as well as the atmosphere at the Rapids home field at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
"I like this park, it's really fan friendly," Grady said. "It just makes it a lot more fun to play in a game with so many fans and they're so close to the field while you're playing, it's very nice." Grady added about his time spent in the area and around the league:
"I like it here," Grady said. "It's cooler here, it's been hot the last couple days, bit it's definitely cooler. There's some fun things to do here and great people. Definitely a change, but I love all the people and the atmosphere here, it's awesome."