One phone call changed all of Chris Carden’s plans. Carden, a Fayette County High School alum, finished his senior season at Truett McConnell piled high with individual accolades and riding the wave of the best season in program history, but, when his name wasn’t called during the MLB Draft, he thought that was the end of his baseball career.
He gave it a go at a tryout with the Braves, but was resigned to finding a new path. Wednesday he was working with his uncle repairing gas pumps when he got a phone call sending him in a new direction. It was Milt Hill, scout for the Tampa Bay Rays.
“He called and asked me if I wanted to play pro ball still,” said Carden.
The answer was an easy one. The call came in Wednesday afternoon, that night Carden was signing his contract, and he was on a plane Thursday evening to chase his dream.
“It’s a dream come true. After the draft, I was telling everybody at church that it hadn’t hit me yet that I was done with baseball,” he said. “I never thought it was going to happen.”
Back before college season, he had filled out a questionnaire from the Rays and never heard anything else. It was a long wait, but it was worth the endless patience when the call finally came. Carden is on his way to join the Rays’ Gulf Coast League team in Port Charlotte, Florida. A two-way star in high school and college, the Rays want him to focus on pitching.
It’s just the latest highlight in an an unforgettable year for Carden. It started back in August when he proposed to his now fiancee, Ashton, atop Stone Mountain. He followed that up with big season for the Bears baseball team.
“It’s definitely been a fun year,” he said. “It’s been shocking. It’s been a great time.”
Back before the season, he said, “I want to make it to the NAIA World Series. If that isn’t possible, I want to be able to say that I worked hard, I pushed my teammates to be the best they could be, and I left this program in a better place than where it was when I got here.”
With Carden leading the charge, the Bears what none of their teams had ever done before, qualifying for the NAIA National Tournament for the first time and winning a game in the first round.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to end my college career any other way,” he said. “We took the team farther than they had been in school history.”
He played in all 61 games, hitting .367 with 16 doubles, 9 home runs, and 55 RBI. On the mound, he posted a 9-2 record with a 3.91 ERA while striking out 106 and walking just 27 in 101 innings. In late March, he became the first player in Appalachian Athletic Conference history to win both Player and Pitcher of the Week in the same week. At the end of the season, he was named First Team Designated Hitter as well as a Second Team Pitcher for the league’s All-Conference Awards. He was a standout in the classroom as well, earning NAIA Scholar-Athlete honors.
The call from the Rays was one Carden didn’t know was coming, but he gladly accepted. With the roll he’s on, there’s no telling what lies ahead.