Former Bryant Hornet and Arkansas Razorback freshman pitcher/outfielder Evan Lee is on the move these days since joining Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks baseball team last fall.
“You roll in, and you’re immediately met by guys like Luke Bonfield, Carson Shaddy, all of these guys with accomplishments that exceed yours,” he said. “You know it’s time to get to work.”
Just one year ago, Lee was setting his sights on graduating Bryant High School and facing Hornet rivals like Conway, North Little Rock and Benton en route to a state championship.
When we caught up with Lee for this interview, he was with the Hogs in Frisco, Texas, prepping for the 2017 Frisco Classic. On this day, he wasn’t thinking about old high school rivalries, but was more concerned with the likes of Arizona, Oklahoma State, and Nebraska.
“You walk out there on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, and there isn’t a single player on the field that doesn’t have an identical resume as you,” he said. “No matter the rankings or player ratings, it all comes down to the next pitch because anything can happen. The game has sped so much, and it’s almost an entirely different experience.”
During his career in Bryant, Lee wasn’t unaccustomed to attention and accolades for his talents as a ballplayer. Among his recognitions, Lee was named the top baseball player in the state by Arkansas Prep Baseball Report, was named MVP of the 2016 All-Star Game and was named Arkansas’ Player of the Year by Gatorade.
Go ahead and call it ‘talent’ all you want, but Lee will tell you much of his success came from hard work and by listening to coaches, mentors and his parents. “Coming from Bryant, work is second-nature to me,” Lee said. “My dad (Bryant High School Athletics Director Mike Lee) always told me, ‘Don’t ever take a day off because there’s always someone out there trying to outwork you. You have to be the best every day.’ So that’s what I did.”
Lee benefitted tremendously from the experience, knowledge, and approach from head coach Kirk Bock, who led the Hornets to four state titles in the past seven seasons, most recently in 2016.
For Lee, Coach Bock’s guidance was instrumental to his success in high school and in preparing him for life as a Razorback. “I think Coach Bock is the best in the country at what he does,” Lee said. “He just knows baseball more than anyone I’ve ever known, and he prepared us with the right baseball mentality.”
“If we made it through his practice, we’d know every situation and be ready for anything we might see in a game. You were never surprised because you were prepped for it every day. It was second-nature,” he added.
Now as a true freshman at the U of A, Lee has begun his first season with the Hogs. He’s served primarily as the designated hitter in the team’s first 13 games.
However, Lee doesn’t see himself as just a hitter for head coach Dave Van Horn. He also believes he can contribute on the mound. “I made that choice to play both ways at this level, and that requires work I have to that others might not,” he said. “In a regular practice routine, I’m working with the hitters, going through batting practice and outfield drills. I have to do my pitching work on my own. All of my arm care, throws I need to do, bullpens, I have to manage on my own to be ready to pitch when called upon.”
It’s a tall order for any student-athlete to balance academics with their respective sport, and Lee is no different. A sports management major, he sees endless possibilities for his future professional career once his playing days are done.
“If I looked at myself in the mirror and imagined not being involved in baseball, I wouldn’t be able to function. I’ve grown accustomed to waking up and having something to do involving baseball. It’s so much a part of my life that I couldn’t live without it.”