Athlete Spotlight: Kyle Lewis
April 28, 2016
The walkup music hits. Kyle Lewis steps into the batter’s box as he readies himself for the first pitch.
It’s the bottom of the ninth inning against ETSU. The game is tied 9-9. Lewis makes contact with ball. It soars through the air and over the wall.
The Bears win in walk off fashion. The 6-foot-4 centerfield said that it was one of his favorite moments from his time so far at Mercer.
“I had a walk-off home run last year. That was pretty exciting,” Lewis said. “I just like to relax, continue to believe in myself and get a good pitch. Then I put my best swing on it.”
Lewis has certainly put his best swing on a lot of pitches. The junior leads the Bears in home runs with 15, as well as a batting average at .414. Lewis has dominated the college game and major league scouts have taken notice. He is currently tabbed by multiple websites, including ESPN and MLB.com, as a top 10 draft pick in their mock drafts ahead of the June 9 Major League Baseball Draft.
While Lewis’ full attention is on baseball now, it has not always been that way. He didn’t turn his focus to playing college baseball until his senior of high school.
“I played a lot of basketball. I didn’t really pursue baseball. But after I played summer ball that year, I kinda started pursuing it.” Lewis said.
In his high school summer league, Lewis put on a show. He became the star player on the travel ball team, and his performance convinced him to give up basketball and play baseball full time.
“I just played well. I shocked even myself in how well I did. Then people started calling and showing interest in me,” Lewis said. “I picked up on that, and I just tried to run with it.”
Lewis popped up on Mercer’s radar around that time. Lewis played one of his summer ball tournaments at Mercer. During that time, Mercer coaches expressed some interest Lewis said.
“They called and said if they had anymore scholarship money they would give it to me,” Lewis said.
Two weeks later, Lewis received another phone call, with good news on the other end.
“A couple weeks later they called and said they had gotten some scholarship money,” Lewis said.
After getting that call, Lewis set up a visit to come down and tour the facilities. He said he “fell in love with it.”
Other schools had reached out in an attempt to land him including Mercer’s Southern Conference rival Furman, who looked like the front runner in the Lewis sweepstakes.
“I was gonna go to either Furman, Georgia State, Kennesaw State or Savannah State,” Lewis said. “I was looking at those four, and Furman was probably the biggest one I was looking at going to. Then Mercer called and I fell in love . . . so [I] kinda cancelled the rest of it.”
When Lewis arrived at Mercer, he switched positions from first base to center field. He had never played outfield before. This made his transition from high school baseball to college more difficult, but Lewis handled it with ease.
“That was a transitional period for me, but I think I was able to pick up on it pretty quickly,” Lewis said. “We had a lot of seniors that year, so it was a big plus for me being able to learn from the older guys and follow what they do.”
Lewis was named to the Atlantic Sun all-freshman team, hitting .281 and two home runs.
Lewis played in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League in the summer following his freshman year. There he began to make a name for himself. Upon his return to Mercer, his bat caught fire. He hit .367 to lead the SoCon in batting average and finished seventh in the nation in home runs with 17.
He was invited to the Cape Cod League where he was named an all-star. Then he got an invite to the TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby. While Lewis did not win the derby, he enjoyed the chance to compete.
“The home run derby was amazing. Something like that I’ve never really experienced before.” Lewis said.
The home run derby created a different atmosphere for Lewis. In a normal game, he is surrounded by his teammates, but with the derby, he was on his own.
“The home run derby, it’s just you. So it was a little different feeling, but it was probably one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my life,” Lewis said.
One of the things the derby also exposed Lewis to was the fanfare and the celebrity-like status that college baseball players have on that stage.
“Everybody was so nice and so welcoming. The fans had pictures of you, and you didn’t even know that people from Nebraska had heard of you,” Lewis said. “It was just a gratifying experience.”
Lewis’ celebrity status has risen with his draft stock. He still said he has not made up his mind on if he will come back for his senior season.
“Me and my family look at it from a situation of if the situation is not right or it would serve me better to do another year in college, then I am more than willing to do that,” Lewis said “We don’t rule it out by any means. Other people may try to rule it out for you, but we definitely don’t rule it out.”
Many people expect him to forego his last year of eligibility, including his head coach Craig Gibson.
“I would love for Kyle Lewis to come back next year, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Gibson said on the Inside the Den Podcast on April 5.
Once his playing days at Mercer are done, he wants to leave something behind at the university, like being a “model Mercerian,” among many other things.
“The legacy that I would want to leave behind would be for someone to look back on and say ‘that was a great teammate, that was a hard worker, that was a guy who came to the field everyday and worked his but off for his guy,’” Lewis said. “I want them to say I finished above a 3.0 GPA, so I am not up here just trying to be an athlete and not worrying about the scholar part of things.”
While Lewis said that being talked about as a top 10 draft choice is “the most exciting thing I have experienced to this point in my life,” he has larger goals set for himself.
“I want to be the type of player that people can look up to. I want to be one of those role model type people for younger people coming up,” Lewis said. “If you do that and you accomplish that, it is all you can really ask for out of life.”
Despite the fact that he is almost certainly a lock to be in the top half of the MLB draft, he said the pressure is not something that weighs on him.
“There are definitely expectations out there, but pressure is what you put on yourself.” Lewis said. “Somebody else can’t put pressure on you.”