Baseball became a profession for Tony Mueller on Wednesday afternoon. That doesn't mean the La Crosse, Wis., native, who was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 13th round of the Major League Draft on Tuesday, will change his high-spirited approach to the game.
"I would play for free anyway," Mueller said.
Mueller, 20, won't have to. He signed a contract with Braves Midwest area scout Stu Cann on Wednesday. Mueller received a bonus of $50,000 plus tuition for his senior year at Winona State. He said he expects to report to the Braves' rookie-level team in Danville, Va.
Winona State coach Kyle Poock said Mueller is the highest-drafted player to come out of his program.
"It's a dream come true," Mueller said during a press conference at Logan High School. "It happened and I still don't even believe it, it's surreal. I'm excited to sign and start the next step in my career."
Mueller has been preparing for this moment for years. Both his older brothers, Dale and Jon, played professional baseball, and Tony's two seasons with the La Crosse Loggers further prepared him for the minor leagues.
"The biggest thing they said was that you've just got to keep working harder," said Mueller, who was drafted as an outfielder. "You thought you worked hard in high school and college, now it's double that. Playing for coach (Andy) McKay with the Loggers gave me good experience of minor league ball.
"It's a grind, obviously. The Northwoods League is a grind and this is going to be a bigger grind. It's just another challenge for me to step up to."
Mueller was flanked by Logan baseball coach Terry Curtis and Winona State coach Kyle Poock at the press conference in a Logan conference room. Friends and family joined the media contingent.
So Mueller, never one to feel pressure, fired off few quips.
On Curtis and Poock, he said, "Going from one to the other was like going to the same coach. They're not very good-looking."
Thanking family, friends, coaches and teammates, Mueller added, "And thanks to my sister (Wisconsin infielder Michelle Mueller) for being the best athlete in the family."
At least one day into his professional career, Tony Mueller hadn't changed.