Former Sickles centerfielder Kenny Wilson spent most of his high school baseball career under the radar. His parents didn't believe in taking him to every showcase. Instead, hard work and a lot of talent would be noticed in the end. And when Wilson was drafted in the second round by the Toronto Blue Jays with the 63rd overall pick — becoming the bay area's top player drafted (and the first high school outfielder in Florida) — it might have surprised some. But not the Wilsons. "It's been a while now since I noticed he could make plays that would leave you just saying 'Wow,' " Ken Wilson Sr. said of his son. Little League coaches have been telling Wilson's mother, Mary, since her son was 9 that he would be Tampa's next big-leaguer. When Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan offered Wilson a scholarship midway through his senior year, he told him, "I'm not going to get you, but I'm going to try." Now, Wilson is $644,000 richer and living out his dream, starting out his pro career Thursday with the Blue Jays' Gulf Coast League team in Dunedin, going 1-for-4 with a stolen base. Right after he signed his pro deal last week, he looked back on it all.
You know, a lot of kids who are just graduating from high school like you, their main thought financially is hoping they get a nice graduation check from their grandparents. You really don't have to worry about that right now. What's that like, going from a high school ballplayer to a very well-off guy just in a matter of days?
It's all pretty sudden. It's actually kind of unreal when you think about it. I'm 18 years old. I'm a teenager. I've never seen money like that before. I'm not even going to know what to do with it. I've got good financial advisers. They're going to stash it away for me and put it somewhere and invest it in something later on down the road.
So what is your first purchase?
I want to buy a 2008 GMC Denali. That's my dream car. I just think it's beautiful. Everybody's driving Escalades. I want to switch it up. I want to be a little different.
So, have you ever been to Toronto?
No, I've never been. I've been to New York. We went to Cooperstown for a 12-and-under tournament. But that's about as far north as I've been. Actually, I just went up to Minnesota (for a workout with the Twins).
It can get cold up there, and they say "Eh" a lot.
I'm used to the hot weather. I'm not used to the cold or snow.
What was your favorite team growing up?
I grew up watching Ken Griffey Jr. in the '90s, so it was the Mariners. Then, when he got traded, it was the Reds. As of right now, my room is painted red and black, but we're going to have to paint it black and blue now, take off that red. I have a Griffey jersey hanging up in my room. I'll always keep that because I look up to him so much. I hope I can meet him some day.
Painting that room blue can't be a priority right now though, right?
Yeah, I can see if my mom or my cousin can do that.
What do you know about the Blue Jays?
I've seen them play. I didn't know too much, but I know more after talking with the scout. I wouldn't know where their minor league teams are. I know that they're in Toronto and that's eventually where I want to be.
Speaking of the scout, Joel Grampietro, he compared you buildwise to Red Sox centerfielder Coco Crisp. But you're not the mound-charging type?
No, I'm not (laughs). Not anytime soon.
What kind of player would you compare yourself to?
I just like playing hard-nosed baseball. Anytime I can get dirty, I like it. I don't like to leave a game not dirty. I'm always willing to do it. I'd rather make a diving catch than get a base hit or hit a home run. I like making the highlight catches, throwing guys out. I couldn't compare myself to a player because I know I'm not at that elite level yet. But just to have someone compare me to a player, that's a great compliment.
Off the field, where's your favorite spot to be?
I really can't say. I've grown up around baseball. I've always loved it. I never really liked anything else. I've got a few side hobbies but I hope that when I've done with the game, I can still be around it, whether it's advising or scouting or coaching.
Your dad mentioned that one of the great things about this is that since you were drafted by the Blue Jays, you'll stay close, playing in Dunedin. Are you going to go home and get mom's home cooking on a regular basis?
Absolutely. She cooks for me every single night. I will go home. I know she will always have something ready for me. I love her spaghetti and chicken. I got real lucky with that.
At what point did you think all this was possible?
From what I was hearing from Richie (adviser Rich Arena), we knew things were going to be good. We were hearing top five, top three (rounds), but with the draft you never can tell because people change their minds on the spot. I never was really that certain I was going to be a high draft pick. It was a shock really.
Any reason you wear No. 18?
My dad wore 18 when he played baseball as a little kid. I was 18 growing up. When it comes to baseball, he's the most important person in my life. After a bad game, he'd always be there to tell me not to sweat it. He always had some words of motivation.
What were the best words of motivation he gave you?
He always told me that life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.
That's a pretty good message, right?
It will be right here on my hat (showing the bottom lid of his new Blue Jays hat). Every year, I put my name, my number and I put the words "dedication" and "attitude" and the numbers "10/90" under my hat. I've been doing it since I started high school.