CHICAGO -- Stuart Lake was all too happy to receive the call, but he couldn't quite accept the compliment.After Chris Singleton was selected by the Cubs in the 19th round of the 2017 MLB Draft, the center fielder placed a call to his former coach at Charleston Southern University to
CHICAGO -- Stuart Lake was all too happy to receive the call, but he couldn't quite accept the compliment.
After Chris Singleton was selected by the Cubs in the 19th round of the 2017 MLB Draft, the center fielder placed a call to his former coach at Charleston Southern University to thank him for the opportunities he'd set him up for. Lake, who stood next to Singleton in the face of unimaginable tragedy, appreciated the words but had to correct Singleton.
"I thanked him more," Lake said. "He's been an influence on my son and me and my wife ... way more than I ever gave him."
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As it were, the strongest statement Singleton ever made came on a baseball field. Just not during a game.
Nearly two years before his Draft day, Singleton's mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, was one of nine people killed in the shooting at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C.
One day later, Singleton made his return to the baseball field. The day's game was canceled, but he gathered with his teammates to deliver a message.
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"Love is always stronger than hate," he said. "So if we just love the way my mom would, then the hate won't be anywhere close to what love is."
That day Singleton vowed to keep working and going after his dreams. He wanted to return to baseball immediately, recalled Lake.
"Baseball was a big deal for him," Lake said. "There's no doubt that the batting cage and the baseball field became his area to get away."
It also became a place of several successes.
Described as an extremely hard worker by current Charleston Southern coach Adam Ward, Singleton was able to build a reputation as an outfielder with a plus arm, plus speed and solid instincts. He struggled offensively to begin his junior season, yet it was in those moments, Ward said, that his character showed the most.
"This kind of sums him up as a player and person," Ward said. "A lot of guys have a tendency to, if you're not swinging it well, take that bat out in the field with them. But he never did that."
Singleton's offense eventually came back around, as he finished his college career slashing .286/.351/.398.
He also had a chance to show off his bat on a Major League field, when he was invited by the Yankees as part of HOPE Week in August 2015 and smashed a pair of homers during a batting practice session with the club.
"We had him evaluated, really almost as a top-10 caliber talent," said Jason McLeod, the Cubs' senior vice president of player development and scouting. "We certainly understand the backstory there, but what I want to make sure doesn't get lost is that this guy is a good baseball player."
During the tragedy, the Yankees weren't the only professional club to reach out to Singleton. Andrew McCutchen, Singleton's favorite player at the time, sent him a tweet to say he'd keep Singleton in his prayers.
After Singleton was drafted on Wednesday, McCutchen said he saw it as just the beginning of his journey.
"It's a big step for him, especially with everything he's gone through," McCutchen said. "He's going to be motivated, you know that, to make it and do it for his mom."
Sure enough, Singleton keeps reminders of his mom everywhere. Whether it's the "SCS" written on his bat or even at the top of his Twitter feed, where he's pinned a Tweet promising both his parents -- his father passed away this year -- that he'll "never stop going hard," Singleton hasn't tried to forget about his past, but rather used it to make himself better.
For that, Lake felt tremendous excitement hearing Singleton's name called on Draft day, and he knows he won't be the last to be excited by the young outfielder.
"I'm excited for Chris, but I'm excited for the Cubs that they're able to get him in their organization," Lake said. "Because he is going to work harder than anybody else they got in it on his way up through it."
Scott Chasen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago.