I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Lexington Legends righty Ali Williams and chat with him about his time as a pro, his experiences with the draft, and how it feels to be in the same organization with two of his favorite players. As always, Ali was more than happy to take a few minutes to speak with a fan.
I wanted to talk to you first about playing at Crestwood High. Was there anything that you picked up as an amateur that you felt helped you the most to get to where you are now?
“I would say the one thing I learned was perseverance. A lot of things aren’t gonna go your way, and you gotta be able to get through it. Baseball has a lot of ups and downs, and if you can’t persevere through the down times then the game is gonna kill you because there’s so much failure involved in it.”
Before the Draft, did you have a preconceived notion as to where you would end up?
“Well, the team I thought would pick me is the Royals, of course. But the Braves were calling the most. St Louis was right behind them, though. When I went to JUCO (at Charleston Southern University) St Louis was calling a lot, again. So I figured I was gonna be a Brave or Cardinal. Actually, the Royals called me the least until the Draft, and I didn’t think I was gonna get picked. I had so many teams interested in me I knew I was going to get picked someday. I just didn’t know how high or how low.”
Some players will tell you that they either felt they were ready to go pro or that they may have been better off going back to school and working on some things, first. At the time that you were drafted, how much confidence did you have that you could fulfill that
position (pitcher) for the Royals?
“I had a lot of confidence in myself. I’ve always had a lot of confidence. At that time, I was still a raw athlete on the mound. Being picked in the 34th round, I felt that was due to my being raw and needing a lot of work, mechanically. I knew once I was drafted I
would get a lot of coaching by guys who could help me a whole lot as far as straightening out my mechanics. So I knew once I got in the Royals organization that the sky was the limit.”
Was there one thing in particular that you felt has helped you out more than anything else, in terms of being able to develop on the mound?
“In 2011 in the Arizona League, being able to work every day on mechanics helped a lot. The AZL is really more of a developmental league, for young guys who really need to hone their skills. For me that was a great experience because I was able to go out there every day and work on things.”
How about as you’ve moved up the chain? How is that different?
“In the AZL it was about working on specific things, and that’s how it is at this level. Some guys say ‘well, look at the stats’, but sometimes it’s more about ‘we just want you to get better’. They might tell you that they just want you to work on your mechanics, or to work on your (secondary) pitches, but as you move up further you’re not really allowed to use your time on the mound to work on those things as you did in, say, the Arizona League. I had two great coaches when I was in Arizona who really helped me work on those things.”
Here’s something I always wonder about when I talk to players: how does it feel to see your face on a baseball card?
“I was a big collector of cards. I still have them. I collected baseball and basketball cards…there were some I would trade and some I wouldn’t. I’m just in awe to have a card and to autograph them. It’s like…wow (laughs)”.
Your relationship to Larry Doby, being his cousin…was that something that was well-known where you grew up? Do you feel like that made people look at you differently (as a player), maybe expect more from you because of it?
“Honestly, I didn’t really know who he was. My father would talk about him sometimes, but I couldn’t tell you, you know, his career averages or things like that. But I knew he was a Hall of Famer, that he played for the Indians, and that he was the second black
player in MLB and the first in the AL. I don’t think people really looked at me differently because of it. My father was a great player, as well (ed.-Ali’s father was a well-known semi-pro player in his earlier years in New York, playing in leagues with Willie Randolph), and a lot of people knew about him, so I got a lot more respect from people because of how great a player he was.”
What was it like to be a part of Spring Training for the first time, for you?
“I didn’t know it was gonna be as big as it was…but when you walk to the field and see hundreds and hundreds of fans taking pictures of you, and you’re walking to the field with the big-leaguers, and they’re speaking to you…
“I grew up a huge Atlanta Braves fan, and then to be able to see Jeff Francoeur walk out to the field beside me…well, it’s kind of hard to walk up and talk to someone who you grew up idolizing. I was also a really big fan of James Shields, and here I am out there on the same field with these guys. It’s crazy (laughs)”
For more about Ali and his experiences as a pro in the Royals organization, The Sumter Item (Sumter, SC) will be printing an article about him in the next few weeks. For you fans back in Sumter, be sure to check it out.