PORT CHARLOTTE — Nick Ciuffo and Riley Unroe have experienced many milestones since their dreams, getting selected in the Major League Baseball draft, came true last month.
Ciuffo, 18, the Rays' first-rounder (21st overall), and Unroe, 17, their second-rounder, signed their first contracts, a life-changing moment as their bonuses combined for about $3 million. They have played their first professional games with the Gulf Coast League Rays. Unroe, a switch-hitting shortstop, ripped his first homer against the GCL Red Sox over the replica Green Monster in Fort Myers.
"It was a very cool moment," Unroe said. "Don't think I'll forget that."
But Ciuffo and Unroe also have relished a few firsts off the field like most teenagers living on their own for the first time, proudly bragging on Twitter they figured out how to use the dishwasher in their two-bedroom apartment in Englewood.
"I cleaned," Ciuffo said with a smile. "This is the first time actually having to wash clothes and loading the dishwasher and that kind of stuff. We're just learning on the fly."
Of course, the two likely would have had to learn about laundry if they accepted their scholarships, Ciuffo to South Carolina and Unroe to Southern Cal. But the roommates are enjoying the simple life — and simple meals — that come with starting their career in the rookie league. Unroe already knew Ciuffo from playing together on the U.S. national team a few summers ago and their third roommate, Hawaiian infielder Kean Wong (fourth-rounder), from another tournament, helping the trio mesh together.
"It's easy because you have one thing in common, and that's baseball," Unroe said.
They're up by 6 a.m., at the ballpark by 7 and doing work before their games around noon. But after busing to games and back, they have most of the afternoon and evening to relax, explore or do chores. Unroe, a Mesa, Ariz., native whose father, Tim, played in the majors, loves relaxing at the nearby beach. Ciuffo, a left-handed hitting catcher from Lexington, S.C., filmed and posted a short Vine video called "GCL Cribs," giving friends back home a tour of their new home.
"I could be an accountant or something rather than a baseball player, so there's not too much to complain about," Ciuffo said. "You've got early mornings, but you're back at 3 or 4. And for us, we got a bunch of movies on sale at the mall, so we just watch movies. We've watched Accepted, Troy, Stepbrothers, Talladega Nights.”
They have bank accounts, and money, for the first time but not as much money as they thought. Ciuffo, whose signing bonus was $1.97 million, found that out the hard way during his first meeting with a financial adviser.
"Taxes," Ciuffo said. "That was a first. I didn't know much about taxes until I got a little bit of money."
Because their bonus is paid out in installments and not until two to three weeks after they started playing, Ciuffo said they lived on a "low budget" in the early going, making $1,100 a month. He and Unroe, whose bonus was about $1 million, cooked pasta and eggs and found deals, including $10.70 for a feast at Country Hound Cafe.
Unroe said one of the coolest moments — other than meeting and posing for a picture with Rays ace David Price after his late June rehab start — was saying, "I got the check" for a $50 bill at Outback Steakhouse with a few buddies.
"I've never been able to do that," he said. "It makes you feel older, makes you feel like an adult."
Said Ciuffo: "I'm still a kid. I'm just a kid playing baseball. It's just kind of nice we get paid to do it now."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.