Lakeview Academy’s Andrew Estes has a range for snagging ground balls up the middle that his coach Deuce Roark has seen before.
The recent Lions graduate can dive with precision at ropes headed for the outfield and has the good hands required to glove the ball, before hoping to his feet and throwing a strike to first base for an out.
“In my 27 years of coaching, he’s one of the four or five players that I’d pay to see play,” said Roark, who got his start as an assistant during Gainesville’s run of state championship teams in the 1990s. “Andrew’s special on the baseball field.”
For Roark, his four-year shotstop’s talent at nabbing hard-hit ground balls reminds him on a less high-profile scale of St. Louis Cardinals legend Ozzie Smith.
He’s got a good story to tell about the comparison.
Back in 1988, then a student at the University of Tampa, Roark was visiting his friend and fellow Gainesville High graduate Cris Carpenter, who was then a pitcher in spring training for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Roark was able to look on in amazement as Smith was gobbling up grounders with such ease. Estes had that same ‘wow’ factor playing for the private school in Gainesville.
“Andrew has remarkable hands,” Roark added.
Estes displayed the same tenacity and fearless approach to one of the toughest defensive positions on the diamond.
“I love laying out for grounders,” said Estes. “I’m always confident that I’ll be able to make the play.”
Estes was also extremely valuable to the plate, hitting north of .400 when his senior season was halted March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic. He finished his career with more than 100 hits.
Estes felt the COVID-19 fallout more than most.
Originally committed to play next year at Furman University, the school announced May 18 that the baseball program was being abolished, a curveball nobody saw coming. However, he was able to pivot quickly, just like he does with grounders, and found a new home in the fall at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C.
Estes, who has a very magnetic personality, didn’t get into a bad head space once his original choice was no longer an option. He took a very logical approach, outlining the pros and cons or every school on his list and see if it lined up with his academic aspirations.
Right now, Estes plans on either majoring in environmental science or engineering.
“I gave it a day or two to think about the schools before I made my decision,” said Estes, who is also an avid angler.
Estes’ favorite play came during his abbreviated senior season, in an early matchup against Tallulah Falls in Habersham County. On a hard-hit ball up the middle that was destined for the outfield, Estes left his feet and snagged the ball before bouncing back to his feet and throwing the ball right on the money to first for the out.
“I had a good angle on the ball,” said Estes. “I left my feet and was like, ‘SportsCenter, here we go!’”
Even with his remarkable talent in the middle of the infield, Estes was called on to pitch once a week as the No. 1 arm in the Lions’ rotation.
The right-hander has a fastball that tops out in the low 80s, but has excellent location on his pitches, Roark said.
One week before the 2020 ended, Estes had the best outing on the mound of his career. throwing a two-hit, complete-game shutout with 11 strikeouts against St. Francis at Lake Pointe Park in Cartersville.
Estes said he knew it was going to be a good day on the bump.
The strike zone that day, he said, felt it was magnified. Estes kept peppering the strike zone all day with pitches that couldn’t be hit.
In college, Estes intends on strictly playing shortstop, which is his first love on the diamond. His daily regiment hasn’t changed, making sharpening his defensive skills a priority. He starts the day with taking about 100 grounders, which takes at least half an hour.
Then he gets in his cuts hitting the ball.
His baseball career really took off, in terms of recruiting and exposure to top-level talent, following his sophomore year at Lakeview Academy. It was a busy calendar year. He suited up for about 25 games during the high school season, then a schedule double that during the summer for the Perfect Game club he played with based out of Alpharetta.
It’s a full-time commitment.
However, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Estes is a people person and the baseball field is where he feels right at home.
“There’s no place I’d rather be than out there with my friends,” Estes said.
Despite his jovial and light-hearted personality, Estes had to get serious about his future when Furman pulled the rug out from under his feet by dismantling its baseball program.
Before the announcement of Furman dropping baseball, Estes was instructed about a mandatory Zoom call for players and incoming freshmen with its athletics director, Jason Donnelly.
That was his first inclination that something bad was brewing. Then the virtual meeting started and a few dozen school administrators jumped on the call.
Still, Estes had heard no whispers leading up to the announcement that Furman would stop fielding a baseball program.
Once the Lakeview Academy graduate found out that he would have to find a new college baseball home, he made sure not to get discouraged.
He took some time to decompress by ripping fish lips on Lake Lanier.
Then he got down to business, figuring out his Plan B.
“I knew I had to keep my head up because there was nothing I could do to change the situation,” Estes said.