By Gabriel Stovall
FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. — Jake Lee is a man of details.
He somehow remembers exactly when he expressed his initial interest in the game of baseball.
“I picked up my first baseball and made my dad sign me up for rec league when I was two,” Lee said, then followed his statement up by making it know that May 8 is his 18th birthday.
The Whitewater High senior and future Georgia Tech pitcher can tell you precisely when he began to see himself as a baseball lifer.
“I was playing with the Fayette Sidewinders, managed by Brian Landers,” Lee recalled. “We had a three year run as champions — from when I was seven years old until I was 10. (Whitewater teammate) Tyler Burdette played on one of those teams. It was like we had a bit of a rec ball dynasty.”
Want to know how fast the kid can throw? It’s been a while, but his last radar reading is etched firmly in his brain.
“I could not tell you now, because we don’t gun here at Whitewater,” he said. “But when I Was 15 I topped out at 88 miles per hour. But probably a couple miles more when I’m at my best or when I’m in relief.”
Lee’s been at his best quite a bit during his four years in the Wildcats program. That’s why Georgia Tech, Notre Dame and Kennesaw State, among others, were coming after him for his services. He ended up choosing the Yellowjackets just midway into his junior season.
He remembers that too — down to the date and specific scenario.
“I think I know the exact day I did it,” he said. “It was December 14, 2013. I remember I just got home from school and I had been talking to coaches for a while about committing. I had a couple more offers. The Notre Dame offer was really cool. That was a great experience. Kennesaw was going to talk to me, but by the time I got the Tech call from one of their coaches, I’d made up my mind. I was sitting in my driveway after finishing my workout. I was excited.
“When I got up there (to visit) it really did just feel like home. Coaches made me feel extremely welcome, and my mom’s been working there like all my life, so everything was very familiar.”
Lee’s been an exciting player to watch for Whitewater over the last three years especially. He’s been coach Rusty Bennett’s ace this year, helping the Wildcats to a 21-4 overall record (14-1 in Region 5-AAAA) and another chance to push toward what’s proven to be an elusive state title for the school’s baseball program.
Last season was particularly painful, after Whitewater gave up leads in all three games of the Class AAAA championship series against Houston County. That’s a memory Lee said he’d like to erase.
“I don’t even really know what happened to us against those guys,” Lee said. “It was just an ugly series by both teams. I don’t think either team scored less than six runs throughout. We just lost our focus and they got us. It was tough. We had to sit there and clean up our own field after the loss. It was brutal, but hats off to Houston County. They hit the cover off the ball.”
The redemption tour kicks off in earnest Friday when Lee will start in the first game of a first round state tournament series doubleheader against Chamblee. And Lee has already plotted out the path.
“Ten games,” he said. “That’s what we need to get where we want to go.”
He knows that after Chamblee there’s a chance that Whitewater will see a tough Pike team. And then a possible rematch with Troup down the road if it can get past Buford which also has a few Div. I bound hurlers on its roster.
But trying to name the opponents in those 10 potential games would just be useless speculation at this point, Lee said. His job is to help keep his squad focused on the one thing they can control.
“We’re focused on our side,” he said. “We have to take care of our tasks at home.”
Such focused leadership is an area where Whitewater coach Rusty Bennett says Lee has excelled.
“He’s a competitor,” Bennett said. “And he does it more by example. You’ve got kids that are different kind of leaders. Some are rah rah guys who try to jump on their team, but he leads by the way he competes. When he’s on the mound it just trickles down to the rest of the team that takes the field.
“They’ve got a lot of confidence in Jake.”
So does Bennett. The second-year Whitewater coach said he’s anxious to see the heights Lee reaches once he becomes a Yellowjacket.
“I think he’s got a lot of upside for sure,” Bennett said. “I don’t think he’s reached his full potential yet. He’s gonna get (to Georgia Tech) and get stronger. He’ll be doing things up there on an every day basis with some of the top coaches in the country, so I think you’ll seem him reach that full potential there.”
And Lee is ready. He said he’s anxious for the opportunity to figure out what life on his own as a college student feels like. And he wants to test his abilities among some of the best collegiate players in the nation. It’s the next step in chasing his dreams.
“Absolutely, my ultimate goal is to play pro ball,” he said.
But if that doesn’t work out?
“I have a really strong backup plan,” he continued. “Once I get to the point where I’m done playing and somebody tells me that I have to quit, I want to be an agent or advisor for those guys coming up. I really think there are some guys in the business that do it the wrong way, and I want to do it the right way. I want to be one of those guys to give them the right advice.”
He feels like he’s already learned enough in four years of high school to tell up and coming freshmen something constructive. In fact, he had it to do all over again, senior Jake Lee would have some key instructions to pass along to freshman Jake Lee, whom he called “pathetic” at 145 pounds at the time.
“If I could talk to myself now as a freshman in August, I’d say workout as much as you can, and eat as much as you can,” he said. “Specifically lots of grilled chicken alfredo.”