Should fans ever walk through the gates of Atrium Health Ballpark, sit with a cold drink or an ear of roasted corn, and enjoy a baseball game, chances are high that a chant will arise at some point in the game. Lil Wayne’s “Go DJ” leads the way for the Ballers Faithful, with the noise levels growing in correlation with the importance of the at-bat for a 6’3” 20-year-old from the greater Chicago area.
Chicago, of course, is a baseball powerhouse city that holds two Major League teams in the Cubs and the White Sox.
As for Cannon Ballers infielder/outfielder DJ Gladney, the decision was easy.
“My choice was the White Sox from day one,” shared Gladney.
Gladney was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on the west side of Chicago. He would eventually find his way to the southside, landing at Illiana Christian High School. Gladney found his footing in baseball, and really figured out his talent in his senior year.
“Honestly, I did not really start realizing (talent) until senior year during my baseball season,” detailed Gladney. “In July during travel ball, a few guys (scouts) would come out and watch. It didn’t really kick in for me until I started sitting down and talking to some of these guys who were coming over to my house and asking me to come out to my high school games.”
Throughout his early years of baseball in middle and high school, Gladney gained even more backing and support from his hometown White Sox, being selected as a member of the White Sox Amateur City Elite (ACE) program.
“They (White Sox) really helped me,” said Gladney. “I don’t think if I had that kind of exposure that I would be in the position I am right now. Not only did they help me with my skills, but they also helped me learn how to become an adult and how to go about my business in a professional way. They were great for those couple years that I was with them; I really enjoyed it, and I appreciate everything that they did for me.”
Gladney used his success in both high school and within the ACE program from 2013-2018 to gain attention from high level competition in a variety of levels, including coach Edwin Thompson and the Eastern Kentucky University Colonels.
But for Gladney, college would become even tougher of a decision. On June 5, 2019, in the 16th round of the 2019 MLB Draft, Gladney’s hometown Chicago White Sox selected him 470th overall. Gladney is one of only four players from Illiana Christian High School to ever be an MLB draft pick, also holding the distinction of being the highest picked position player ever.
“It was surreal,” described Gladney. “When I got drafted, it was my second-to-last day of school. On the third day of the Draft, I was watching it on the way home in the car. As soon as I got home and set it up on the TV, I got a call about 10 minutes later. The only thing I can remember is that everyone around me was jumping up and down and I just stood there staring at the TV. Now that I look back on it, it was an amazing moment.”
Gladney opted to pass on college at Eastern Kentucky, signing on June 14, 2019, for an above-slot signing bonus of $225,000, the third highest signing bonus in the 16th round of the 2019 Draft. Three days later, the White Sox sent Gladney to the Arizona Complex League for his first exposure to professional baseball as a 17-year-old.
“I didn’t even go to graduation,” shared Gladney. “I was ready to go.”
Gladney’s 50 games in 2019 with the AZL White Sox went fairly well, with Gladney batting .264 with 8 home runs and 25 RBI.
After enduring no Minor League Baseball in 2020, Gladney found his way to White Sox minor league spring training in Camelback Ranch in April 2021, where he was assigned to the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers as a part of the inaugural Cannon Ballers squad. After not playing organized baseball for a year, Gladney details some of the struggles that he endured in 2021 with Kannapolis.
“It was more a feel thing,” stated Gladney. “Not playing baseball for a year; it was for me personally, also not playing in front of that many fans before, so it was kind of nerve-wracking. So once again, I was saying to myself ‘Can I be here with these guys?’”
Gladney entered 2021 as an 18-year-old, turning 19 on July 14. The Illinois native appeared in 71 games, batting .191 with 49 hits, 19 of those being extra-base, 28 RBI, 31 walks, and 124 strikeouts. Despite the high strikeout numbers, Gladney found ways to get on base, reaching as high as eight games in a row with a base knock.
With the combination of Gladney’s youth and the struggles with adjusting from the Arizona Complex level to Low-A baseball, the White Sox opted to assign Gladney to Kannapolis again in 2022, where he would join a loaded roster full of young talent across the roster. Over the 2021 break and in 2022 spring training, the White Sox helped Gladney shift from his normal position of third base to first base, as well as playing in the outfield corners when needed.
When Gladney showed up for the 2022 season to Kannapolis, he had a completely changed mannerism from 2021, including the new hairstyle of dreadlocks with red-dyed tips.
The return of DJ Gladney to Kannapolis prompted a great amount of excitement in the area, with many fans knowing Gladney for his light-tower power and his overall optimistic temperament on the diamond. Gladney is making the most of his return to Kannapolis, including on May 28, when Gladney hit two home runs on the road versus Carolina, to put himself on top of the all-time leaderboards for home runs in Kannapolis Cannon Ballers history.
“It feels great to back (in Kannapolis),” shared Gladney. “It feels good to have people support me. It feels good to step in the box and have people chanting your name. Not even just that, also the diehard Kannapolis fans cheering for the whole team. They support us no matter what, and that is amazing. The atmosphere is great, and I love it here.”