Billy Sylvester is entering his tenth professional season and his second as a member of the Washington Nationals organization. Sylvester attended the Hudgens Academy before playing two record-breaking seasons at Spartanburg Methodist College. He signed with the Atlanta Braves in 1997 as a free agent. The 6-5/220-pound right-hander is married to his high school sweetheart, Jodie and the couple reside in Turbeville, SC with their three-month old baby girl Sara Beth.
DP-Please list any pro statistics of importance, awards won, led league or organization, honors, etc:
BS-2000: Carolina League All-Star, 16 saves;
2001-Southern League All-Star, Double-A All Star, Futures Game participant, 23 saves;
2002- Southern League All-Star, Double-A All Star, 26 saves;
2003-18 saves; 2004- Texas League All-Star, 12 saves;
Greenville Braves all-time saves leader (55)
DP-Please list any major high school/college accolades?
BS-High School: All-State junior and senior year; All-Region junior and senior year; Player of the Year SCISA in senior year; No-hitter in SCISA/Low Country Challenge; All-Region during sophomore year at Spartanburg Methodist College; Single-season record holder for wins and innings pitched in a season; Signed letter of intent with Clemson University
DP-What are some of your nicknames?
BS-B Sly, BSlizzy
DP-What is your greatest high school thrill?
BS-Playing for the state championship!
DP-What is your greatest thrill, or two, beyond high school?
BS-1) Beating Brevard to win Region X Tournament, 2) Signing first pro contract, 3) When I was put on the Braves 40-man roster and 4) Winning championship in Myrtle Beach and Frisco.
DP-What was your toughest adjustment (in and out of baseball) after high school?
BS-Just being away from home and learning to adjust without any supervision, it was harder to make the adjustment off the field than on, there is no one to push you but yourself and that was the hardest part; on the field, once I knew I belonged and was as good as the rest it was easy because it was just playing ball like I had done since I was a child.
DP-What is the biggest crowd you’ve ever performed in front of and where?
BS-30,000, not counting TV, at Turner Field in Atlanta and about 20,000 wild maniacs in the Caribbean Series in Caracas, Venenzuela.
DP-Tell people out there what it feels like to sign a professional contract:
BS-It was very special because since I’ve been playing baseball that was my goal and to accomplish it was a great feat.
DP-As a successful closer for a number of years, take us through what allows you to recover quickly:
BS-I believe the time I put in running, long tossing and doing flat ground work gets me prepared physically and mentally to perform on a daily basis.
DP-Give us an idea of a typical day at the park (start to finish) in which you close a game out for a save:
BS-I’ll get there about two hours before the team stretch so I can take my time getting my work in, I hate to be rushed. First, I’ll run poles or sprints then sit-ups, long toss and flat ground. Then I’ll come in and shower and put on my BP uniform and hangout until time for the team stretch. Then I go out for team stretch and BP, during BP I usually hit fungos or catch the infielders at 1B for the first two groups, during the third group I’ll go shag in the outfield. After BP I’ll go in and eat and play some cards until 30 minutes before game time, then I’ll take another shower and put my uniform on and go to the dugout for the national anthem. During the game I watch from the dugout until the third inning and then I go to the pen and hang out during the eighth. I start throwing with the outfielder between innings to get ready for the ninth. When I get the call, I’m fairly loose so I get the catcher down and throw as hard as I can for ten throws then I start working location and breaking balls. When I get into the game, my goal is to get the hitters out as fast as I can so I’ll be available the next night to do it again. After the game I’ll ice for 20 minutes and eat then I shower and leave.
DP-You have knocked on the door of MLB and have faced many of the games greats. What keeps you enthusiastic and will not allow you to walk away from baseball?
BS-My arm feels great and I’m getting hitters out and I’m making money playing a game I would play for free!
DP-Who have you gotten out that has a shot of making the Hall of Fame?
BS-Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Cal Ripken Jr.
DP-Who has made the greatest impression on you as a baseball player and why?
BS-Eddie Watt, he was my first pitching coach. He taught me how to go about my business, get my work done and not to worry about what other players are doing because I can only control one player and that’s myself. That information has been the best piece of advice I’ve gotten. He also treated everyone the same whether it was a non-drafted guy or a first round pick or the clubby or the GM, he treated everyone with respect.
DP-You signed as a free agent out of a workout with some of your buddies, tell us that story:
BS-I was going to summer school at Francis Marion University before I went to the Cape Cod League. My buddy, Jerry Waller, and I went to the field at the school to work out after classes. We worked out for about an hour when we were leaving and some guys started showing up. We found out it was a Braves tryout so we stayed. That was on Friday and on Wednesday I was playing Rookie Ball in Orlando, Florida.
DP-What has been the biggest difference between professional baseball and the college ranks?
BS-After going to SMC there wasn’t a big difference in how Coach Wallace prepared us, how practices were run and how the game was managed. It was an easy transition. The difference from college and pros are that in college everyone pulled for everyone, we didn’t care what happened as long as we won. In pro ball, some guys pull against their own teammates so they have a chance to advance instead of someone else.
DP-Who is your favorite athlete (non-baseball)?
BS-John Daly, it’s amazing how much he has overcome to be one of the best golfers in the world, plus he can hit it pretty far!
DP-Who is your favorite MLB pitcher to watch and why?
BS-John Smoltz, he paints at 100 with a 88 mph slider and 91 mph splitter!
DP-Who is your favorite MLB team other than who you are employed by?
BS-Atlanta Braves, I grew up pulling for them and a lot of my buddies are still there.
DP-Name the five best-known people you have played golf with:
BS-Greg Maddux, Adam LaRoche, Marcus Giles, Eric Chavez and Jim Harrick (UCLA head coach during last NCAA basketball championship).
DP-What is your favorite sport to play other than baseball?
BS-Basketball, it’s so fast paced.
DP-What is your favorite sport to watch other than baseball?
DP-If you could have dinner with three people in history, who would they be and why?
BS-1) God, it would be awesome to be in his physical presence, 2) Catfish Hunter, I would talk to him about being the first free agent, being a country boy from a small hometown and making it big, and keeping baseball separate from family and 3) Strom Thurmond, he has done so much for the state of South Carolina.
DP-Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
BS-Hopefully doing something in baseball.
DP-What do you feel Diamond Prospects can provide high school players in the future as compared to what was around when you were a prep athlete?
BS-Exposure; Diamond Prospects will be able to put high school baseball players in position to play in front of a lot more college and pro scouts at an early age so these scouts can become familiar with the players.
DP-Give a high school player who is reading this article one piece of advice.
BS-It’s not going to be handed to you, you have to work for everything you get.
DP-Billy, we hope you catch a break in 2006, your stuff and numbers speak for themselves, hope to see you in the nation’s capitol!