By David Willis
---- — ANDOVER — After a lifetime of dreaming, John Farrell’s first professional start could have been a bit less painful.
After all, being hit in the leg with a comebacker to the mound wasn’t exactly how he imagined his professional baseball career kicking off.
But a nasty bruise wasn’t about to ruin the former Andover High star’s spirits as he began the journey that he hopes will one day see him pitching in the major leagues.
“I know it’s cliché, but it really is a dream come true,” said the former William & Mary ace. “I have always wanted the chance to play baseball for a living. When I got that call, I was overwhelmed with joy.”
After being selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 21st round of the draft two weeks ago, Farrell opened his pro career on Wednesday with 1 2/3 hitless innings as a starter for the single-A Hudson Valley Renegades.
“I’ve imagined this since I can remember and I can’t believe I am really pitching for the Rays,” he said. “Getting to pitch in front of a decent crowd, and I love the challenge in every area of my life, not just baseball.”
Farrell became the highest pick ever to play at Andover High, and the first former Golden Warrior to be selected since current Andover assistant Kevin Shepard was taken in the 30th round in 2004 out of Boston College.
Andover resident Mike Yastrzemski was drafted in the 14th round by Baltimore, but he played at St. John’s Prep, and current Major Leaguer Ryan Hanigan was not even drafted.
“I had watched most of the draft, but I shut it off after about the 20th round,” said the former Andover Legion star. “A scout from Tampa Bay (Lou Wieben) called me. He said, ‘Congratulations.’ I asked ‘For what?’ He said, ‘Because we just selected you in the 21st round of the draft.’”
“I was hoping I was going to get my shot. I wanted to play baseball for a job, and now I want to make the most of it and work as hard as I can to be successful.”
Farrell began to realize being drafted was a possibility during his breakout senior season at William & Mary when he finished 6-2 with a 2.37 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings.
“The whole year I was filling out questionnaires for major league teams,” he said. “Then, about 2-3 weeks before the draft, a few teams started to call me. That was when I started to realize it could be a reality.
“I thought the (Washington) Nationals might draft me, the (San Diego) Padres were interested and then obviously Tampa.”
Former Renegades players include 2010 American League MVP Josh Hamilton, three-time AL All-Star Evan Longoria and current Red Sox starter Ryan Dempster.
“I was drafted on Saturday, and the scout drove down to my house in Andover (last) Monday to go over my contract. The next day, I reported to Wappingers Falls, N.Y., where I will be playing this summer. We started practice that day, it was pretty bang-bang.”
Farrell made his first professional start on Wednesday. He retired the first batter he faced himself, fielding a grounder and throwing over to first, then after inducing a groundout to the shortstop struck out the next two batters he faced.
“Getting that first out really settled me down and made me comfortable,” he said. “I threw a fastball that broke the kid’s bat.”
He had to leave the game after being hit by the comebacker in the second — which he was still able to field and throw for the out — but said he was fine and expects to make his next start on Monday.
“They don’t want to throw me too many innings because I pitched so much in college, so they will limit me,” he said. “But I am willing to do anything. I think it will be great being a professional baseball player.”