On May 21, 2021, Josh Sale signed a contract with the Gastonia Honey Hunters. There was no fanfare for this signing, in fact, the great majority did not care. It wasn’t that the Honey Hunters are an Atlantic League team. Rather, it was that Sale had been out of baseball long enough that he was no longer a name that piqued interest. Thus, Sale signed with the Honey Hunters and no one batted an eye.
To understand why Sale matters and where he is now we need to take a step back to where Sale once was. In 2010 he was the 17th overall selection of the Major League Baseball Amateur Player Draft. The Tampa Bay Rays took the young slugger and strapped a rocket ship to their soon-to-be star. Baseball at large thought the world of Sale and his immense talent. While with the Rays he would rise as high as the 88th overall prospect in the game according to Baseball America. At every step of his minor league journey Sale appeared destined for greatness, but there was one person standing in the way of said greatness, Sale himself.
In 2012 Sale was suspended for using a stimulant. The following season the Rays suspended him for a public incident at a strip club. Finally, in 2014 Sale was suspended a second time for drug abuse. That suspension cost Sale his spot with the Rays and for the next seven years, it appeared to cost him his place in professional baseball. Baseball wasn’t what mattered during that time. Not in the face of addiction and a desire to turn his life around. Sale’s time fighting his demons is his own and beyond the details provided it’s not my place or anyone else’s to rehash his struggles. Thanks to Sale’s own words we do know that he struggled, but we also know that he believes he is in a better place now.
Baseball is only baseball, it’s not life. There’s no direct correlation between Sale playing baseball again and him having his life together. Still, it’s undeniable that watching Sale excel again at baseball is warming for the soul. He was down and out but he fought hard and is back. There’s a spark to his play and a glint in his eye that speaks to someone who absolutely loves what they are doing. Maybe that’s because of where Sale is coming from or maybe it’s something else? I don’t know, chances are you don’t either, but it’s been fun to watch Sale play the game of baseball nonetheless.
Play is exactly what Sale has done. He’s appeared in 108 games for the expansion Honey Hunters. In a season that has been both hot and cold for the new club he has been a bright spot every single time he takes the field. He’s slashing .287/.390/.601 in 444 plate appearances with 31 home runs and a 85.7 SB%. He’s been everything the Honey Hunters could have ever hoped for and then some. The then some is the most important part for someone who finds himself back in baseball after a long partially self-imposed exile. His results have been great, a 5.6 fWAR does not lie, but he’s also succeeded at the elements that can’t be measured or quantified in a baseball player. His teammates have flocked to him while his coaches rave about him and Honey Hunters fans find his personality infectious.
Maybe his 2021 ALPB results will lead to a second shot in affiliated baseball for Sale. Maybe, just maybe, his performance this season will lead to him fulfilling his draft day promise as he takes an MLB diamond for the first time. Whether it does nor not, Sale’s return has been a storybook near-ending to a tale that had every opportunity to be anything but that. On May 21, 2021, Josh Sale signed a contract with the Gastonia Honey Hunters and baseball has been all the better for that fact.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Gaston Gazette