Caden Lemons has always loved baseball. His mother remembers watching him out their kitchen window in Columbus, Georgia, when he was 7 or 8. Caden would rise well before breakfast, taking his ball and glove outside and repeatedly throwing the ball into the air and catching it.
“If he got a new glove, he would sleep with his glove,” Missy Lemons says. “He just loved it.”
Others would warn of possible burnout if boys played baseball all the time. It might get old, they surmised. But that was never a concern for Missy and Donnie Lemons.
“He could never get enough baseball,” Missy says. “No matter how hot or how cold it was outside, he always wanted to play. He wanted to have the ball in his hand.”
Now Caden has what he’s always wanted—a license to focus on baseball all the time. The recent Vestavia Hills High School graduate was a second round pick in the recent Major League Baseball Draft, the 46th overall selection of the Milwaukee Brewers.
“That’s something you work for your entire life,” the 6-foot-6, right-handed pitcher says. “It was somewhat expected but at the same time it was an all-around great experience.”
The Lemons took in the draft on Thursday, June 12, at his family’s home with a few relatives, friends and Caden’s girlfriend, Hannah Claire Hamric. They all knew what was to come, but knowing did nothing to diminish the magic of the moment.
The Brewers telephoned during the 44th pick and worked out what they would do. Afterward, Caden hung up and waited for the most memorable experience of his life.
“Everyone in the room was screaming so loud I couldn’t even hear them talk about me, go through the info about me,” the recent Rebel says. “Everyone was real excited. It was awesome.”
Couldn’t Pass on the Opportunity
The hurler could have remained a Rebel. He had already signed a scholarship to play baseball at Ole Miss, where Hannah Claire will be a Rebelette. The official dance team at the University of Mississippi performs during football season, so her schedule would have been free to be in the stands as her fella toed the rubber.
But the Brewers dangled a carrot that he just couldn’t decline. “The Brewers just gave me a good enough position to where I couldn’t pass on the opportunity,” Caden says. “I had a great opportunity at Ole Miss, and I’ll always be thankful for that.”
He’ll be visiting there a lot and hanging out with buddies there, and his girlfriend. “The Brewers just gave me too good of an opportunity for me to pass up,” he repeats. “I thought that was the best path for me to start my baseball career.”
Caden spoke on the phone on June 25 as he awaited his flight to Milwaukee to sign his first baseball contract, worth $1.45 million. His family would take that flight with him before bidding him goodbye as he headed to his first assignment, Rookie League in Phoenix, Arizona.
As they waited, Donnie was mentally whisked back to the days when he took his then 4-year-old son into the backyard for a simple game of pitch and catch. Never did he imagine then that about 14 years later his son would be on the verge of being a baseball professional.
Even as he stood at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, reality had not yet sunk in. In fact, the scene of him playing with his son nearly a decade and a half ago seemed little more than a day ago.
“Maybe more like last week,” he says. “When they say, ‘Time flies. Don’t blink,’ they mean it. Now here he is today heading off on his own to play baseball.”
Missy credits Tony Pierce and his son, Tony Pierce Jr., with teaching Caden how to pitch when they lived in Columbus. The elder Pierce pitched for the Oakland A’s, the younger for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.
“When he was in the third and fourth grade, that’s when Caden really started doing better pitching, because of them,” she says. “He still has their baseball cards in his room.”
Whatever It Takes
The mother of two—Caden’s younger brother Max is a rising sophomore pitcher at Vestavia Hills—says visions of the Major Leagues never danced in their heads, at least not until his high school senior season. Milwaukee Brewers scout Scott Nichols confirms that’s when the Georgia native turned up on his radar.
“I really became aware of him last summer,” the Mississippi resident says. “I saw him at East Cobb (Georgia), over at that Perfect Game Tournament. Then I saw him at the East Coast Pro that they have down in Tampa. He was 86, 89 mph down there but with a really quick arm and long, lanky body.”
Scott made sure to see Caden early in the spring and he was even more impressed as the pitcher’s velocity improved to about 97. “I followed him all spring,” he says. “We got us a good one. His goal was to get drafted high enough so he could start his pro career. His idea was to get [to the pros] the quickest way possible. He felt signing out of high school was going to be the best way for him to go.”
Kris Thomas, the pitching coach at Vestavia Hills High, says Caden has long been a harder worker, benefitting from a good group of Rebel pitchers who he saw work hard. He could see results from those guys when it came to increased velocity.
“His senior year, he came in in August and was telling me, ‘I want to throw way harder than I’m doing,’” Thomas recalls. “He was 88, 89, touching 90 every now and then. We sat down in August and wrote out a little plan.”
The rising senior touched 90.8 mph at a big Florida tournament in September. “He came back and said, ‘I wanna hit 93,’” the pitching coach says. “You could see in his eyes, ‘I’m going to do whatever it takes to get there.’”
Eat, Drink and Sleep This Game
Nichols, the Brewers scout, was a former minor league ballplayer. He said having the tools—including a solid fastball—is only part of the equation for getting a player from Draft Day to the Major Leagues. An arduous journey lies ahead.
“You have to eat, drink and sleep this game,” the scout says, “and want to do everything that you can and more. If you don’t, you’re not going to make it.”
Caden Lemons seems set to fill those criteria. “Just like any other job, you’ve got to have a good work ethic to be good at what you do,” he says. “I have to work every day, and there’s really no days off with that. That kind of mindset is to get the job done every single day to get better. That’s what I’m ready to do.
“The best part of that is my job now is to go out there and compete and do the best that I can,” he continues. “That’s what I’ve always loved to do. Now it’s my job and I can’t ask for a better job than that.”
Lemons will be in Phoenix until late August when he’ll head back home until spring training starts around March. He doesn’t fear what lies ahead.
“Man, nothing scares me right now,” he says. “I’m not saying I’m on top of the world or invincible, but I’m not worried about anything. I’m just focusing on the positives right now. That’s all I really can do—just have no worries and be the best I can be when I’m out there and live up to it.”