Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Former North Meck star makes impact with Charlotte 49ers baseball

Sean Pope is used to being a major factor on nearly every play in a baseball game. For the last four years, Pope starred on the mound in, in the field and at the plate for North Mecklenburg High School and the Dirtbags’ (all-star baseball team) in more than 100 games in a typical (year-round) season.

This season, Pope has done a lot more watching than playing in his freshman season as he transitions from being an a standout high school player to a rookie pitcher on the Charlotte 49ers’ baseball team. Pope has made appearances in only three of the 49ers’ 35 games, all three as the starting pitcher, including twice against USC Upstate and last week against N.C. Central.

“A lot has changed for me, but I’ve actually liked it,” Pope said. “I’ve never gotten to sit and watch the game like this. I’ve had time to pick up a lot of little things, learn the system and learn how to play (baseball) the right way.”

While Pope has learned mostly watching from the sidelines, the freshman has made the most of his opportunities, going 2-0 in his three starts, including a win last Wednesday night in his team’s 13-1 victory over Central.

Pope, who has six strikeouts in 11 innings of work this season, is a part of one of the better 49ers’ teams in last decade, as Charlotte is 27-8 overall, including 10-2 in the Atlantic, good for first place in the conference. Charlotte has won six games in a row, including a school-record 17 in a row at home.

“I am really happy to be part of a winning team, and so far, it’s been a great year,” Pope said. “I’ve just got to be ready to do my part, and we need to keep this thing rolling.”

Pope hasn’t been alone is efforts to learn the college game, as Charlotte-area freshmen Shane Basen (Marvin Ridge), Wes Hatley (South Stanley), Jim Lyerly (Piedmont), Corey Roberts (Olympic) and Corbin Shive (East Rowan) have all come together as first-year players. Former North Meck teammate Shane Brown (sophomore), senior Zack Dunn (Hickory Grove), junior sophomore Tyler Pilkington (Weddington), redshirt freshman Justin Roland (East Rowan), Corey Shaylor (Independence) and junior Andrew Smith (Butler) and are also familiar faces to Pope as he eases in the next level.

“Getting great local players has always been one of our major focuses since I’ve been at Charlotte,” Charlotte manager Loren Hibbs said, who has been the manager for 18 seasons now. “We think Sean (Pope) has a chance to be a great player for us. Right now, we are just trying to develop him the right way.”

For now, Pope is content to do his part, no matter how big or small, with the hope that bigger and better things are to come in the near future and beyond.

“Right now, I am happy contributing what I can to a winning team,” Pope said. “We are focused on trying to win the conference, getting into the postseason, and take our chances from there.”

-- Special Correspondent Jay Edwards