BOONE — Tanner Craft played varsity baseball at Watauga for three years. He has been a two-year starter at shortstop with the Pioneers and generally bats in one of the top three spots in the Watauga order.
Before Craft moved to Boone, he lived in Charlotte. Craft said he liked living in a big city, and got his chance to return to the Queen City when he signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Queens College.
“I’ve grown up in a city for most of my life except the last couple of years I’ve been here,” Craft said. “I guess I wanted to get back to a city for my college experience.”
Queens plays in the South Atlantic League and is coached by former American League Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell. He pitched for the Chicago White Sox, the New York Yankees and the California Angles in his Major League career.
Craft joins a program that enters its second varsity season in 2020. The Royals finished 14-30 last year.
Craft said the chance to return to Charlotte was a big reason why he signed with the Royals.
“I’ve been talking to them since my junior year,” Craft said. “I had a pretty good amount of offers and it was just the college where I want to go. I liked their coaches a lot. They just got a brand new field and their facilities are really nice. I wanted to go to a city and I wanted to go to a place where I could play pretty early.”
Craft, Watauga’s starting shortstop the past two seasons, returns to the Pioneers’ lineup for his senior season. Watauga finished 10-15 overall, 9-5 in the Northwestern Conference.
Craft has seen three coaches while at Watauga. Former Watauga standout pitcher Ethan Greene, who was an assistant with the Pioneers last season, takes over for Seth Freeman as the program’s head coach this season.
“I think coach Greene will do a great job,” Craft said. “I’ve known coach Greene since I was a sophomore, so it’s not like we have to learn somebody totally new.”
Craft is not a physically imposing player, but he also stole a school record 27 bases last season. Baseball has always been his favorite sport, and though he likes basketball and football, he feels baseball suits his skillset.”
“I’ve never been the biggest (athlete),” Craft said. “I’ve always liked playing basketball and football, but I’ve just played baseball since I was young. I just grew up playing it and I stuck with it as I grew older.”
Craft is known as a shortstop, but also learned how to pitch last season. He said he will likely do some pitching this season, but won’t be asked to pitch for Queens.
McDowell said Craft didn’t have to do anything specific this spring or summer. Craft, who played on a travel team in the summer of 2019, will have to report to Queens before classes start to get ready for the spring season of 2021.
“He just told me to pretty much enjoy my last summer with friends and that was pretty much it,” Craft said.