In the end, the opportunity to play professional baseball -- and the financial security that came with it -- was too good for Austin Nicely to pass up.
Nicely, a left-handed pitcher from Spotswood High School in Rockingham County, signed a pro contract with the Houston Astros on Thursday, passing up the chance to pitch collegiately at Virginia.
The Astros took Nicely with the first pick in Round 10 of the major league draft earlier this month. According to a Baseball America report, Nicely signed for $610,000 -- $470,600 more than baseball's $139,400 slot for Nicely's draft position.
Nicely said signing his first pro contract was "totally a dream come true."
"This is what I wanted to do since I was a little kid," he said by phone from Houston on Thursday.
Nicely said he had decided prior to the draft on certain conditions pertaining to "value" -- "In case baseball ended tomorrow," as he explained it -- that the team that drafted him would have to meet before he'd sign. He described passing up the opportunity to pitch at Virginia as "the toughest decision of my life."
"It's a good thing and a bad thing. Definitely a blessing, but still a stressful time," Nicely said of the past two weeks since getting drafted. "To weigh that and figure out what was best for me was definitely the toughest decision I've had to make."
Nicely arrived in Houston on Wednesday to take a physical for the Astros. After signing Thursday morning, he stuck around for the Astros' matinee against the Milwaukee Brewers.
He says the plan is to report to the Astros' Gulf Coast League team in Kissimmee, Fla., within the next week. The GCL Astros begin their season on Friday.
"Everyone is saying I'm a pro baseball player now. It's still sort of unreal," he said. "But at the same time, I've got lot of work ahead of me, a lot of grinding. I've got to use my abilities to the fullest."
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