Q: So the spring had to be thrilling for you. You were part of one of the best teams in the state and were selected in the MLB Amateur Draft. How would you describe the season?
A: It really couldn’t have gone any better, besides wanting to win a state championship. It was a great spring, and just really a lot of anticipation, how are things gonna work out and shape up. Everything unfolding the way it did, getting drafted, and even though we didn’t get to the state championship, I feel like it was a really great spring. Nothing to be real ashamed about. I loved every minute of it.
Q: How did you find out you’d been selected?
A: So we knew I wasn’t gonna be a first- or second-day guy. MLB has a thing online where you can see the round, the name and the pick pop up. And they have the team beside it. I believe it was a Wednesday; we had gone through the day and hadn’t heard anything. I think we pulled it up around round 30th [round]. My mom was watching it on her iPad. And my dad and I were doing things around the house. My mom was really glued on the iPad. The 38th round came around I heard her scream and go crazy out of nowhere. It actually scared me. She was like, “You got drafted, Christian! You got drafted!” That’s how it went.
Q: What was that moment like for you?
A: It was a surreal moment, I guess, especially when I got the call. They drafted me, and 30 seconds later I got a call from Dan Radcliff, their regional scout. He said, “You’ve been selected in the 38th round.” When he said that, that’s when I was like, “Wow. If I want to, I can go play professional baseball in the minor leagues.” That’s when I was like, “Dang.”
Q: What made this season so successful for you on the mound?
A: I think just the people around me and my support system. And of course my parents are a huge, huge portion of that. Between Tai McCray, my strength and conditioning coach, and coach [Randy] Tomlin being a really huge impact, and coach Mike Stafford coming to work with us. It was really just the support system I had around me. I kind of reflect on everything and sit down and think about it a little bit. I think of it like this: I put in the work and go out there and perform, but my support system is really what makes me perform. And every time I step out there on the mound, that foundation is what’s holding me up, those people from the time I was young who saw something in me and believed in me.
Q: Having a former MLB pitcher as a head coach must have helped your development, right?
A: Not everybody has that. I think especially when you’ve been around baseball as much as I have, you meet a lot of people that have played in the minor leagues and even the majors. For Coach Tomlin, him pitching in a huge playoff game for the Pirates and being a starter for a couple years after that, that’s really a unique thing. I just get accustomed to meeting guys like that. … It’s extremely unique. I’m extremely grateful for coach Tomlin and blessed to have him as a coach.
Q: Were you a natural lefty when you started playing baseball as a kid?
A: The way the story goes is that I was pretty young. My mom, she always said I wasn’t normal for my age. She got me a Wiffle ball and bat. Apparently, I started hitting the ball really well for my age. She knew I was a baseball player but she thought I was gonna be a hitter. … I was naturally left-handed. I picked up ball and that was it. Even at 9 or 10, everyone wants a left-hander. ... I took the mound the first time in Madison Heights Youth, and the rest is history.
Q: When did you know that you had the talent for a career beyond high school?
A: I remember the exact moment. So I was a sophomore and it was the weekend of January 15-17. My birthday is January 22, and my mom got me a spot in a camp at South Carolina. It was just a fun thing that she did for me. I went down there. It was serious and well put on, but at the time Jerry Meyers was the pitching coach at South Carolina, and I remember he’s a really big name in college baseball for pitching coaches. His resume is just extremely impressive. … I remember the second day we were about finished up. I was in a group and we were doing spot work, just throwing to a catcher. Jerry was saying some stuff to us and watching us. He pulled me aside and asked me for my contact information and to keep him updated on when I’d be pitching. That’s when we knew that I could play at the next level.
Q: What was your most memorable moment from your senior season?
A: Honestly, this might sound a little different. But I remember we were still trying to find our identity as a team coming off last season. And everyone wants to see what LCA baseball is gonna do. I remember we were playing at Freedom High in Northern Virginia in early March and it was cold. We got down early; it was like 6-0 early in the first inning. We just kept scrapping away. There were probably five, six lead changes throughout that game. We went into extras, I believe into the eighth. We ended up winning. We scratched a run across and beat them 13-12 or something like that.
Q: You had a no-hitter this year. How did that feel?
A: I think it was against Heritage. That was a good game. I threw well, but I think my personal highlight is beating William Byrd. That’s the first time ever in high school that I had thrown a complete game. That was a pitchers’ duel, and they beat us last year, and that hurt really bad. So to be able to beat them and keep my team in the game, and [Luke] Ramsey hitting that solo homer in the sixth was huge.
Q: You also hit just below .400 with five home runs. Were you expecting to have such a solid year at the plate?
A: Yeah, so, I mean, I love hitting. That’s gonna be one of the biggest things I miss. I feel like I’m a very athletic pitcher. Pitchers get a bad rap for not being hitters. I get in time in the cage after my workout and even before it. Was I expecting it? I think I was definitely hoping to have a good year in the box.
Ben Cates covers high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5527.