Drew Baker had plenty of potential as a senior at Macon East Academy, but there were few offers to play Division I-A baseball. It had always been Baker’s dream of playing in the Southeastern Conference, but his dreams were tempered by reality when he met Auburn coach Butch Thompson.
“He told me, in the most respectful way, that I wasn’t ready for SEC ball,” Baker said.
A year later, Baker has the last laugh. After watching the Chipola Junior College freshman pitcher in the state tournament, Thompson figured Baker had come a long way in a year and extended an offer to join the Auburn baseball team.
“I think he was a little shell-shocked,” Baker said. “He didn’t expect for me to start throwing that well that quick. He was looking at me as a two-year juco type of guy. It kind of took off when I got some good coaching down there. Coach (Jeff) Johnson fixed the mechanics and got me right.”
Timing is everything and Baker was at his best when Thompson came to watch. He was pitching in Lakeland, Fla., at the state tournament against Miami Dade and picked up the save in three innings of work, striking out seven and allowing just one hit in the 10 batters he faced.
“Coach Johnson is a great coach and he developed me,” Baker said. “He’s one of the best in the business and got me to where I am today. I went down to the state tournament and threw well. Coach Thompson heard about it and decided to make an offer. I decided to take the opportunity to go play for him.”
A couple of weeks later, after the Indians had advanced to the NJCAA Division I World Series, Thompson offered Baker a scholarship. Baker had spoken with Alabama coach Brad Bohannon and assistant coaches at South Carolina, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, but Thompson was the first to offer because, quite frankly, many of the others were trying to decide whether to offer Baker now or wait until 2020 when his junior college career was complete. Baker had been an Alabama fan all his life, but Thompson had been a Baker fan throughout the recruiting process.
“When it came to playing at an SEC school, which is my dream, I’m an ‘everybody’ fan,” Baker said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach Bohannon, too. He called me, but I just felt Auburn was the right fit. I like coach (Karl) Nonemaker, coach Thompson and coach (Gabe) Gross. They made me feel at home. They have a lot of confidence in me, so I felt like that was the best fit.”
He will have three years of college eligibility remaining, provided he attends college. Last week, he was drafted in the 16th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Had he been drafted a few rounds higher, he likely would be heading to professional baseball; a few rounds lower and he likely would be heading to Auburn. Right now, he’ll have to let the Dodgers sign their high-round prospects to see how much money they will offer to Baker.
“We’re still negotiating a deal, with the numbers and everything,” he said. “It’s still a choice right now, but I just decided to commit to Auburn because Butch is a great coach and he’s been with me for a while now, recruiting me.”