A dream Wes Brady first had in middle school came true Thursday afternoon in the quiet setting of the Polk County High School library.
With his parents, Stephen and Nancy, and various school system personnel and students watching, Brady signed a national letter-of-intent to play baseball at Lenoir-Rhyne, pledging to become the latest in a growing collection of Wolverine graduates playing baseball at the college level.
The senior third baseman drew Lenoir-Rhyne’s attention with a junior season that included a .393 batting average, nine extra-base hits and 17 RBI. Brady also committed just five errors in 47 chances for the Wolverines, who finished 14-9 and second in the Western Highlands Conference.
“Beginning in middle school, I knew I wanted to play college baseball somewhere,” Brady said. “I’ve always liked baseball, and I decided I wanted to keep playing it.”
The Bears finished 21-29 last season, but will enter their 2014 schedule with a new head coach, Tom Fleenor, who accepted the Lenoir-Rhyne job in May after six seasons at USC Sumter, where he compiled a 242-103 record.
The arrival of Fleenor helped attract Brady to Lenoir-Rhyne. So too did former Polk County standout Alec Philpott, a 2013 graduate who is redshirting this season with the football program.
“He’s been telling me to come up there ever since he committed,” Brady said. “He’s talked them up the whole time he’s been there.
“(The baseball program) is improving. They’ve got a new coach and a new staff and a lot of new freshmen. They’re really improving the program.”
Polk County head baseball coach Ty Stott expects Brady to help with the program’s growth.
“He’s a big-time power hitter,” Stott said. “With the new bats, his power probably doesn’t show as much as maybe it would have five years ago.
“He’s a big kid who can play the corner positions, hit for average and really drive the ball into the gaps. The thing that separates him is that he can hit good pitching. He feeds on good pitching. That’s going to be key. I think Wes can hit good pitching and stand up to college pitching.”
Four Wolverines are currently playing college baseball – Danny Fraga (Pembroke), Lucas Cash (Catawba Valley CC), Roberto Taft (Belmont Abbey) and Joel Booker (Iowa Western CC). Those players have helped show the way for players such as Brady, and Stott hopes it’s the start of a growing trend.
“I think Wes set his sights on kids like Danny Fraga who went out and played all four years,” Stott said. “Hopefully these kids in college will come back and put something back into the program.
“I want our kids to be like these kids. I want our kids to say, ‘I want to be like that.’ ”
The early signing means Brady will be free to concentrate on his senior season without the pressure of a college decision. For that, he is most grateful.
“It’s a relief,” he said. “It means no stress this year.”
Photo: Front row, from let, Nancy, Wes and Stephen Brady. Back row, from left, Polk County assistant baseball coach Josh McEntire, principal Mary Feagan, head baseball coach Ty Stott, athletic director Jeff Wilson and Polk County superintendent of schools Dr. Bill Miller.