Baseball: Poteat enjoying new role
By Mike London
SALISBURY — It’s not easy for Lee Poteat to be content coaching first base and instructing outfielders for Rowan County’s NC3 baseball team because he’s only 22 and he’s still a hyperactive player.
Poteat wants to jump into the batter’s box and sock one out of Newman Park. He wants to chase down balls in right-center. He wants to throw runners out at the plate from the right-field corner at Newman Park, but he’s going to have to wait a little while longer.
The only moving he gets to do right now is waving a player toward second base or motioning an outfielder to take a few steps in, back, right or left.
Poteat graduated from Catawba in May with a degree in sports management, with minors in business administration and athletic coaching.
He was on his way to his finest Catawba season as a senior. He was batting .344 for a 19-3 team that had won 19 out of 20 after an 0-2 start. Poteat already had nine steals and with the help of 13 patient walks, he owned a .481 on-base percentage. He’d also gunned down four runners from the outfield.
COVID-19 crushed a potentially historic Catawba season that may have been headed to multiple championships, but it’s not all gloom and doom. The senior class was granted the opportunity to do it all over again by the NCAA.
Poteat said nearly all of Catawba’s baseball seniors plan to return to school to work on graduate degrees, with the notable exception of slugging third baseman Jackson Raper. Raper will be a graduate student in accounting and a member of the baseball team at Illinois.
Raper leaves colossal cleats to fill, but there’s no doubt the Indians are going to be powerful again next season.
“We’ll have a very experienced team because as soon as the NCAA said seniors would be granted another year of eligibility, we all started talking about coming back,” Poteat said. “It wasn’t really such a hard decision to make. It’s so much fun, playing baseball for Catawba, playing with guys who have been friends and teammates for years. Every game we played this year, even if we were down five runs early, we had a feeling that we couldn’t lose.”
Looking back at the 2016 Rowan County American Legion team that finished second in the World Series in Shelby, Poteat, Hunter Shepherd, Bryan Ketchie, Caleb Link and Sawyer Strickland were members of that team and were still Catawba teammates in 2020.
Poteat also has played plenty of games with Catawba shortstop Jeremy Simpson, who is older, but missed a college season wih injury. Poteat and Simpson were teammates on the 2015 state-champion Rowan Legion team and at West Rowan.
Poteat competed in sports around the clock at West — football, wrestling and track and field, as well as baseball. That may have set him back a little as far as refining his baseball skills, but being that disciplined, physical, active and well-rounded helped his overall development as an athlete. Poteat can really throw and he can really run. He’s mentally tough and he knows how to win.
“I don’t know if some of our NC3 players really understand yet how competitive Lee is,” said Jim Gantt, who coaches the Rowan NC3 team, as well as Catawba. “It’s hard to beat someone, who just won’t give up, and that’s Lee. Hopefully, his competitiveness will rub off on them. A lot of young athletes have a tendency to give in when things get tough, and that keeps them from reaching their full potential. But Lee is one of those guys who always has that ability to keep driving forward.”
NC3 players can be encouraged by Poteat’s presence, even if they’re struggling. Poteat wasn’t a success overnight.
His ability never really translated into good stats in high school. Even after his junior season at West, he was a role player for Rowan Legion in the summer of 2015. He got to play left field whenever the starting left fielder Riley Myers took his turn in the pitching rotation.
Then Poteat hit just .233 as a high school senior. He was known more running into walls than for hitting baseballs over them.
When it all came together for Poteat was the summer of 2016, after he graduated fom West. His luck improved. His grounders found holes. His line drives no longer flew right at people. Then his line drives started banging off walls.
He batted .426 with 52 RBIs, 61 runs and 36 steals in 54 games and was the top hitter for that Rowan Legion team that nearly won the World Series. He was the Area III Player of the Year and all-tournament in the World Series. He made a head-spinning rise from reserve to player of the year in a year’s time.
He played his freshman college season at St. Andrews. He was homesick and returned to Rowan County from Laurinburg almost every weekend during the winter months, but once baseball started, he did fine. He batted .396 for the Knights with 37 RBIs and 14 steals in 53 games.
He was still eligible for American Legion in the summer of 2017 and batted .395 with 41 RBIs and 22 steals as one of the leaders for a 33-5 Rowan squad that reached the state tournament.
Catawba always was the dream school for Poteat. It was where he’d wanted to be all along. He transferred there for his sophomore season.
Catawba plays in the South Atlantic Conference. It’s a Division II league that’s a step up from NAIA St. Andrews.
Poteat had to make adjustments to higher velocity, sharper breaking balls and less predictable pitch selection.
His sophomore and junior seasons for the Indians were similar. While he definitely helped the Indians, he wasn’t amazing, hitting .273 and .298.
But then, in 2020, it had all started clicking again — just as it had for him in the summers of 2016 and 2017.
Poteat served as an assistant coach for Gantt with the Legion team in the summer of 2019. That was his first taste of coaching. He’s come back for a second one.
“I’ve learned so much baseball in the last few years from Coach Gantt, and I’m still learning,” Poteat said. “We’re having some long games, but as long as we come out on top, that’s OK.”
He’ll learn some more next year, when he’s part of Catawba’s master of sport management program. It’s a two-year program scheduled to be completed in 21 months. Students, many of them athletes, prepare for careers in professional and collegiate sports or in the business side of sport. It’s not all “sports.” Skills in accounting, marketing, leadership and finance also get a boost.
Poteat doesn’t envision himself becoming a traditional high school teacher/coach. He sees himself as someone who will be able to put management and coaching skills to use in the business world.
This summer will help him get where he want to go.
“Lee is doing a great job with developing our outfielders,” Gantt said. “In baseball, there are a lot of little things a player can only learn through experience. Those are things Lee has learned. He’s passing them on as a young coach.”
Poteat passes on wisdom to athletes such as Jordan Goodine, who signed with Catawba’s football program but who also plans to play baseball.
“We’ve got about 10 guys on this team who can play outfield, so I stay busy at practice,”Poteat said. “It’s true that I don’t like to lose. Fortunately, we’ve got a lot of guys who feel the same way.”