By Dennis Garcia
There are direct ways and indirect ways to get to where you want to go. Charlotte’s Parker Stinnett and Hunter Baker may have taken the indirect route to become a 49er, but both are excited and ready to start a new chapter in their baseball careers.
Stinnett, an outfielder from Knoxville, Tenn., and Baker, an outfielder from Huntersville, N.C., and Hough High School, will be heading to Asheboro this summer to help the Copperheads’ quest for a Coastal Plain League championship.
“To find some of the more successful players the Copperheads have on their roster year in and year out, you don’t have to look much further than Charlotte,” Copperheads head coach and General Manager Keith Ritsche said. “Coach Bo (Robinson) and their staff always do a great job in helping provide us with talented young players who contribute almost immediately as starters as freshmen and sophomores. By the time they get to us in the summer, they are already CPL All-Star-caliber impact players, many of who do become All-Stars for the Copperheads and later are drafted by MLB. This year, we will be greeted by the additions of junior college transfers in Stinnett and Baker. With both having played for a few of the top JUCO programs in the country, I have no doubt that these two guys will help the Copperheads lineup be one of the best in the CPL.”
For Stinnett, who spent two years with Walters State, one of the premiere Junior College teams in the nation, getting to Charlotte was never really in the plans. But when the 49ers became interested in him during his second season at Walters State, he happily returned the favor.
The 6-foot-2, 172-pounder said he began getting calls from East Tennessee State University, Kennesaw State, USC Upstate, Northern Alabama and some other Division I programs, but never heard from Charlotte. That is, until a few days before Walters State was scheduled to travel to Charlotte for an exhibition game.
“Coach came up to me, I think the Thursday before we played Charlotte in a scrimmage game, and said they wanted me to stay after for a visit,” Stin nett said. “They had seen me play at Lipscomb one time, but they never contacted me. I think I hit the go-ahead run in that game and I stayed, took a tour of the university and fell in love with it.”
Stinnett said Walters State showed plenty of interest in him throughout his high school career, but the coaching staff was at his Powell High School to scout another player at first, pitcher Peyton Alford, who went to Walters State before signing with Virginia Tech.
“They were there to see Peyton and saw me and stayed on me throughout,” Stinnett said. “There were the ones who stayed in contact with me and wanted me and they were loyal to me.”
During his freshman year at Walters State, he played in 33 games, hitting .257 with 16 runs scored, nine RBIs and five stolen bases.
“My freshman year, I didn’t play a lot, we had a very talented team and I was a part of it and enjoyed every moment of it,” Stinnett said. “My sophomore year, I got bigger and faster and I had to make the transition to outfield. I had been a middle infielder growing up and I had just a few months under my belt before we started. Then they wanted me to hit leadoff and I got to the point where I was a first-pitch swinging guy. I just wanted to get on base and have the guys behind me score me.”
Putting Stinnett at leadoff worked very well last season. Before Covid caused the cancellation of the campaign, Stinnett hit .397 (25-for-63) with 24 runs scored, five doubles, one home run, 22 RBIs and seven stolen bases.
Now, Stinnett is ready to help the 49ers.
“There’s always ups and down,” Stinnett said. “I like to think success means nothing without failure because once you get to where you want to be, you have to remember where you were and how to get through the tough times.”
Like Stinett, Baker’s trip to Charlotte had some stop offs. After graduating from Hough High School, he went to N.C. State for a year, transferring to Florence-Darlington Junior College for the 2019 season. He spent two years there, hitting .329 in 53 games as a freshman with 45 runs scored, nine doubles, three triples, four home runs and 40 RBIs. He also stole 18 bases.
The 6-2, 200-pounder was named to the preseason JUCO All-Southeast Region Team prior to last year, where he hit .222 with 11 runs scored, two doubles, two home runs, 11 RBIs and three stolen bases in 20 games before the season was halted by the Coronavirus.
“I was thinking about Division II school after State, but the coaches convinced me to go to junior college and it was a big adjustment for me there,” Baker said. “You come from one of the top programs in the country and things are different as far as facilities and things. But I was blessed to have gone. Everything was on your own. It was just hard-nosed baseball. Going to JUCO and getting that experience prepared me to go through all of this. It was tough, but it made me stronger mentally. It turned out to be a great fit. We won a lot of games.”
Baker said he talked with Charlotte Associate Head Coach Bo Robinson many times during his years at Florence-Darlington and decided on attending Charlotte.
Like Stinnett, Baker said he toured the campus and saw the weight room and facilities when Florence-Darlington played a fall scrimmage game with the 49ers.
“It was close to home and my family could come watch games,” Baker said. “That was one of the reasons.”
Baker played two summers in the Southern Collegiate Baseball League, one year with the Lake Norman Copperheads and one with the Carolina Vipers.
“They have plenty of proven success in the junior college ranks and from what I hear, have a great work ethic and leadership capabilities,” Ritsche said about his future outfielders. “Parker and Hunter both possess great size, speed and the ability to handle the bat to all parts of the field, and will help
add some consistency on defense.”
Future Copperheads teammates Stinnett and Baker have played against one another before as Walters State and Florence-Darlington split two games
last year before the season was halted.
They will soon be Copperheads teammates, but for now, they are Charlotte teammates, each arriving in an indirect way. But sometimes the indirect way is the most rewarding.