This week’s interview was with Washington Nationals starting pitcher and former Arkansas Razorbacks two-way star Evan Lee. This interview was conducted on May 22nd, and less than 2 weeks later on June 1st he made his Major League debut against the New York Mets.
Ryan Ruffing: What was your favorite SEC town or park outside of Arkansas?
Evan Lee: I really enjoyed Duty Noble, Mississippi State. That’s a good yard, had some success there, and just the atmosphere. I think we played them in super bulldog weekend, there were 14,000 to 15,000 people there and it was unbelievable. We had a good series, I think we ended up losing that series, but overall atmosphere wise, the park was completely full, it was awesome.
RR: So, most people answer that question with Arkansas, why do you feel the Arkansas environment is better than any other one in the SEC?
EL: For one, there isn’t a professional team in Arkansas, so the Arkansas Razorbacks are your professional team in the state of Arkansas. With that, there’s just an attitude and an investment in the program that most fans don’t bring to the table. You’ve got Arkansas, that’s their bread and butter. They live and breathe Razorbacks sports, and with that there’s a connection to the players. They invest in the players, and they bring passion and aggressiveness. Theres a little bit of aggressiveness involved with how they are as fans and with that it’s an incredible atmosphere that you can just feel the energy. You truly believe it’s not crowd noise but they’re actually with you, so it feels like its 16,000 to 1 out there. When you really get going and start playing, it’s incredible.
RR: What was your biggest adjustment from college to pro ball?
EL: The biggest thing with me was structure, the structure is a lot different. You have to develop a routine because you’ve got every day that you’re playing, versus in college, where most of the time you get a mid-week game and then you get three games on the weekend. You’ve got a lot of down time and a lot of rest period [in college]. In pro ball, there’s more of a structure base that you have to get used to. Also, just being able to adapt to the quality of player. Everybody was a stud at their college and now they’re in professional baseball, so you have to adapt, and you have to get better at what you do and be able to execute on a higher level and with that comes a challenge, and that’s what drives you.
RR: How often in the minors do you play against somebody you also played against in college?
EL: All the time, I mean I played with David Hamilton, for the Portland Sea Dogs, in summer baseball. You get to run into guys that you’ve either played with or against and know on a good basis. It’s fun, because everybody has the same goal to get to the big leagues, so everybody is chasing the same thing and just to be able to do it together and being able to have that even though you’re playing against them makes it fun. It makes you feel like you’re back in little league again just being able to play against your buddies and I mean you can’t beat that. You’ve got a little bit of some friendly competition involved in there that just kind of elevates your game every now and then.
RR: So, have you had any teammates who you played against who maybe you had their number or, unfortunately, they had yours?
EL: See I haven’t had the chance to play against any Razorbacks that I know of off the top of my head, but I do know that there’s a bunch of guys in the SEC that I’ve played against, and I’ve had some success against them and then there are some that have success against me. It’s kind of a coin flip, but it’s fun, it’s enjoyable just being able to see some familiar faces. So, I can say ‘hey I faced this guy before I know how to attack this guy’ or ‘hey I know this guy, need to stay away from him’. It helps with strategy, and it helps with, like I said, some friendly competition.
RR: Who was your favorite player growing up or a player you modeled your game after?
EL: Growing up I was always a big Derek Jeter fan. I actually was a position player and a pitcher in college, so growing up I wanted to be like Derek Jeter. That was just something I did. The captain, everything about the Yankees and things like that. I liked him and so that was a big guy for me. Then, on the mound was Cliff Lee, he’s an Arkansas guy from Benton, Arkansa, so to just map my game after him and around him and what he does and try to mimic him still to this day, I do a lot of things very similar [to Cliff].
RR: What was it like to be a position player and pitcher in college?
EL: It was different, you had to devote time to both and didn’t get to just pitch and didn’t get to just hit. You had to make sure with NCAA hours and regulations that even though you run out of hours during the week in terms of coaching instruction you still had to get your work in on your off time. So I had to do a lot of stuff just me, myself, and I in the facility just being able to get my work in and make sure I was ready to go out there on a nightly basis and be able to cover both as a position player and a pitcher. That was the biggest challenge. Just making the conscious effort to go the extra mile to make sure you’re prepared.
RR: What positions did you play?
EL: I was a utility, I played a little infield, played outfield, DH primarily, and then I would come out of the pen and be a lefty specialist as a pitcher.
RR: So how do you feel about the universal DH?
EL: Yeah, so that threw a wrinkle in my plans. I was kind of looking forward to hitting my first season in AA, but I mean hey you never know.
RR: Sounds good, now some more relaxed questions. What’s your favorite baseball movie?
EL: The Natural, I liked everything about that. Also, Little Big League, I can remember listening to that and watching that multiple times, just liked it, a kid being the manager, so I would say those two really stick out.
RR: Both are great movies. For you what is a better feeling: Blowing a fastball by a hitter or making them look silly on an off-speed pitch?
EL: Both of them have their moments. I actually like fastball because, hitters like fastballs so if you can get a fastball by somebody, you’re doing something because that’s what they’re hunting on a consistent basis and so I would probably take a fastball.
RR: If you could take any pitch from any pitcher in MLB history what pitch would it be?
EL: Hmm, that’s a good one. I would probably go with a guy right now, the Devin Williams air bender, I like that. I have a pretty good fastball and curveball, struggle with a changeup every now and then, so just to have that in the pocket would be pretty good.
RR: Who was your funniest college teammate?
EL: Hunter Wilson by far, he’s from Spiro, Oklahoma. He’s a big country boy that just likes to joke around and that’s how he plays, with an attitude, and has some comedy to go with it so I’d say him.
RR: Nice! Have you ever been on the wrong side of a bullpen prank or pulled a bullpen prank on anyone else?
EL: No I haven’t, but there was an instance where in the dugout they blew a big bubble and put it on my hat and for two or three innings I had that going so I would say I was on the end of that but it was in the dugout not the bullpen.
RR: Alright! Dugout works too. Thank you very much for your time. This was great.
EL: Yeah! Heck Yeah!