Sam Stewart has never been afraid to roll up his sleeves and put in hard work.
Leadership behind the plate made the Lakeview Academy senior stand out during his four-year career with its baseball program. It’s also the determination it requires to chase his dream of becoming a medical doctor, just like his parents Drs. Cathy Finch and Scot Stewart.
Stewart’s last go-around as a 2020 senior was cut short only 12 games into the season and right before the region schedule commenced March 13, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, he’s left quite the legacy as a player who rarely, if ever, left the field for the Lions. Stewart was willing to play wherever the coaches told him to go, but it was almost always as their catcher.
“Sam’s a great kid and an awesome leader,” Lions baseball coach Deuce Roark said. “He’s a give-it-all-he’s-got kind of player.
“We’re definitely going to miss having him at Lakeview Academy.”
Next year, Stewart will be able to mesh his athletic talent and ambitious academic pursuits at Mercer University.
His plan is to major in business, with a track for pre-med students, as well as play Division-I baseball for the Bears.
Stewart was a stalwart as a two-time All-Region selection as catcher.
He’s always enjoyed the responsibility that goes with calling the game behind the plate and keeping a close eye on any runners who happen to be on base.
Playing catcher comes with its fair share of bumps and bruises, but Stewart handled it all like a champ. According to Lakeview Academy’s coach, Stewart threw out more than 50 percent of runners who attempted to steal a bag.
“I enjoy getting to be in control out there and being responsible for calling a good game,” Stewart said. “It’s fun being the field general.”
Roark said Stewart was on pace to have a great year at the plate in 2020, potentially hitting more than 10 balls out of the park. His catcher was also able to move around in the infield, also playing third base and coming in on several occasions as a relief pitcher.
However, it was his work as a catcher as a junior that folks at the Gainesville private school will remember most about Stewart as a baseball player.
In 2019, he played all but one inning behind the plate, due in large part to his expected backup Will Edwards being on the bench with a torn labrum. That one frame he wasn’t behind the plate was the final inning of Game 1 in an early-season doubleheader against Cherokee Bluff. Stewart was called in to close out the game on the mound, which he did with the Lions holding on to a narrow lead.
For Roark, being versatile defensively is one of the things he values most in players. However, Stewart was so adept and comfortable behind the dish, that it was hard to ask him to play any position that didn’t require wearing shin guards, face mask and chest protector.
However, Stewart sometimes liked the break to get back to his natural spot in the infield.
The Lions’ recent graduate first took his turn behind the plate in eighth grade on a hunch from a coach who took notice that Stewart had good feet and displayed good leadership characteristics. He was also a tough kid, which is a requirement to crouch down behind the dish and catch a wide array of pitches with different speeds.
Stewart remainder uncommitted to play baseball into the fall of his senior year. Stewart first took a tour of Mercer with his father and was impressed with its academic opportunities. However, he was holding out for a school where he could play baseball, too.
Lucky for him, Mercer’s assistant coach called and talked with Stewart about its program, which cemented his interest in playing for the Bears.
Stewart will attend Mercer on academic scholarship, but is inked as a member of a nine-player baseball signing class for 2020 with the Bears.
During the months without playing baseball, Stewart has stayed fresh at home by taking cuts in his indoor hitting cage, taking swings off pitches from his younger brother and father.
Growing up in a house of doctors, Stewart said it was always a field that had his interest as a future career. However, it was a sophomore-year mission trip with members of the congregation from First Presbyterian Church to the Dominican Republic that really helped Stewart decide that medicine was the path he wanted to pursue.
Sam was able to see his father perform surgery on less-fortunate members of the community where they visited.
Stewart said one possibility he’s considering is orthopedic medicine, in order to work with athletes who are dealing with sports-related injuries.
The only significant injury for Stewart during his high school career was a broken thumb on his right hand during travel baseball season in the fall of his junior year. He was forced to miss the first half of the basketball season, due to a brace he was still wearing on his right hand.
In basketball, Stewart was a post player his final two years at Lakeview Academy. He started playing guard as a freshman and sophomore.