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Craig signs with Pirates, headed to West Virginia

Dave Ongie • Updated Jun 15, 2016 at 5:20 PM

John Denver once described West Virginia as “almost heaven.”

There’s no doubt that Will Craig will feel like he’s walking through the Pearly Gates when he arrives at Monongalia County Ballpark in Morgantown, West Virginia, later this week to start his journey as a professional baseball player.

“It’s awesome,” Craig said. “It’s been my dream to play professional baseball, and it’s been my dream to make it to the majors and play for a long time. This is part of the process of getting there.”

The Johnson City native signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday afternoon less than a week after the organization took him in the first round of the MLB amateur draft with the 22nd overall pick. Craig will begin his career with the West Virginia Black Bears, a short-season Single-A affiliate of the Pirates.

The 21-year-old earned a bonus just north of $2.2 million when he signed on the dotted line, which isn’t bad for a kid entering the workforce for the first time.

“To be able to say that my job is playing baseball is pretty awesome,” Craig said. “This is my first real job I guess, so it’s a great experience for me. I’m excited to get started.”

To say the past week has been a whirlwind for Craig and his family would be an understatement. Last Wednesday, Craig was anxiously awaiting the start of the draft, and the consensus was that the 6-foot-3, 235-pound third baseman was destined to land with the New York Mets.

One week later, the former Wake Forest Demon Deacon signed with the Pirates and says he wouldn’t change anything about the process. Craig said he was able to unwind over the weekend and enjoyed watching some friends and former teammates get drafted as well.

After relaxing with family on Monday, he flew to Pittsburgh on Tuesday and signed his contract on Wednesday afternoon. Craig heard from former Science Hill teammate Daniel Norris after he was drafted on Thursday night and said he knows he can lean on Norris as he navigates the path ahead.

“He texted me after I got drafted, told me to stay humble, stay hungry and congratulations,” Craig said. “I know that if I ever need it, I can shoot him a text and he’ll respond to it.

“I haven’t talked to him much because he’s in this kind of by himself and I’m going to try to do this myself, but I know if I ever need him for anything, he’s just a text or call away.”

Going in the first round of the draft can be a double-edged sword. The money is certainly nice and Pirates fans will clamor to get a glimpse of the guy their team invested so heavily in. But on the flipside, there is pressure to perform up to the lofty expectations that come with going so high in the draft.

Craig acknowledged the pressure, but said it is nothing new to him. He felt it in college after being named the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year as a sophomore and it only intensified during his junior season as everyone expected him to top what he did as a sophomore.

Although the stage is bigger, Craig said he’ll continue to play the game the best he can and let the chips fall where they may.

“I’ve always had a little bit of pressure on me, and I’ve always done well with pressure,” Craig said. “I’m just going to try to go out there and play the game I enjoy and have fun doing it. If you struggle, you struggle. That’s part of it.”