Lenoir-Rhyne's John Luke Curtis drafted by the Atlanta Braves

Cody Dalton
Sports Editor

John Luke Curtis was driving through his hometown of Lenoir on Tuesday, listening to the radio and waiting for the words that would forever change his life.

At around 4:50 p.m., Curtis glanced over at his phone and noticed he was receiving an important phone call from Atlanta Braves’ scout Billy Best.

“(Best) told me (the Braves) were going to pick me,” Curtis said. “It was definitely surreal. I was like ‘man, is this really happening?’”

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound senior left-handed pitcher for Lenoir-Rhyne University was selected in the eighth round by the Atlanta Braves — becoming the highest-ever Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft pick for the Bears.

A Hibriten High School alumnus, Curtis said being drafted by the Braves made the moment on Tuesday even more special.

“Right now, I feel like I’m in a dream,” he said. “It’s a dream come true being drafted and going to your favorite team.”

Curtis worked out for the Braves at SunTrust Park in Atlanta just 10 days prior to being drafted by the organization, pitching in front of one of his childhood idols — Chipper Jones.

“Since I was 5 years old, I’ve always had Braves hats and Braves gear,” he said. “Chipper Jones and John Smoltz were my big role models.
“(Jones) was amazing,” Curtis said of the meeting with one of his heroes. “He was a great guy.”

The first person Curtis called after being drafted on Tuesday was his mother, Hope Hall.

“I let her know first,” Curtis said of his mother. “She is a big Braves fan, as well. She was very happy and very excited for me.”

Curtis is the sixth Lenoir-Rhyne baseball player to be drafted by a Major League Baseball team, joining Matthew De La Rosa, Ivan Vieitez, Steve Davis, Michael Tidwell and Craig Corbett.

This marks the third-straight year that a Lenoir-Rhyne baseball player has been drafted — all with Tom Fleenor as head coach of the program.

“It’s a testament to the kids we are bringing into this program and how hard they are working while they are here,” Fleenor said of his program’s draft success. “It also can’t go unnoticed the job our pitching coach Evan Wise does with our staff. A lot of the credit has to go to him, as well.”

Before Tuesday, Corbett was the highest-ever MLB Draft pick in Bears program history after being selected in the 10th round by the Montreal Expos in 1981.

Now, Curtis is the new standard bearer for future LR baseball draftees.

“It’s an huge honor,” Curtis said of being the highest-ever MLB draft pick at Lenoir-Rhyne. “I’m glad I could come to school out here and let people know who we are and bring a positive outlook.”

This past season at Lenoir-Rhyne, Curtis was 2-3 on the mound in 19 appearances (four starts) with a 4.32 ERA. He allowed 51 hits, 32 runs (24 earned), 32 walks and struck out 71 batters.

Curtis ranked seventh in the country in strikeouts per nine innings (12.78). His best outing of the season came Feb. 25 on the road against Anderson (S.C.) when he struck out 13 and allowed just one hit in an 8-0 victory for the Bears.

As a junior at LR, Curtis recorded a 2.02 ERA and 50 strikeouts. He allowed just 13 runs (eight earned), 22 hits and 31 walks.

He finished his baseball career at Lenoir-Rhyne with a 7-12 record, a 4.14 ERA, 191 strikeouts and five saves.

“He is as intense as it gets,” Fleenor said of Curtis. “He’s a great teammate and a fierce competitor. He has come a long way in four years. I am very proud of that young man on many levels.”

Curtis said it was a great experience to play baseball at Lenoir-Rhyne and studying at the school.

“We were a very good program,” he said. “We had a lot of good guys and good coaches. I have to thank my coaches for this. They were always pushing me to be better and work.”

As for what’s next for the Braves draft pick, Curtis is preparing to start his life’s first profession.

“I know I have to go get a physical and then (the Braves) will tell me where I’ll be assigned to,” he said. “I’m just going to enjoy the next couple of days with my family and be ready to get started.”