With two outs in the top of the 5th inning, bases juiced, and the Baltimore Redbirds up 1-0 in the first game of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League Championship Series, the soon-to-be League’s Most Outstanding Player calmly made his way into the batters box. While holding up his right hand signaling to the Ump he was not yet ready, Big Train’s cleanup hitter dug his cleats into the dirt and focused his attention over to third base coach, Eric Williams. Big Train fans who made the trek to Baltimore from Bethesda rose to their feet, cheering on their budding star, a senior from Sacramento State, Chris Lewis.
Chris Lewis stared down Redbirds pitcher, Dakota Forsythe, and took the first pitch: Ball one. After two hacks at the ball, resulting in two foul balls, Lewis took the fourth pitch of the at-bat for Ball two. 2-2 count, and Big Train faithful antsy to score a run against the Redbirds, Chris Lewis repositioned himself in the batters box, steady as ever, and delivered a roping line drive over the head of the Redbird’s third basemen, scoring two runs and giving Big Train a 2-1 lead that for much of the game seemed like enough to win. Not wanting to overthink the moment, Lewis recalls that he was focused on “[getting] a good pitch and [putting] his best swing on it.” Even though Big Train ended up losing the game in an extended 15-inning thriller, this at-bat was consistent with Chris Lewis’ approach at the plate all season. Lewis, time and time again, delivered RBI hits, totaling 37 for the season, while the next closest in the league had only 23 RBI!
In his second year wearing the Bethesda green, the San Francisco, California native looked more comfortable at the plate. Manager Sal Colangelo asserted the “big thing this summer [for Chris], is that he trusted his hands and didn’t try to pull everything. He hit the ball where he was pitched.” Lewis explained that as a second year Big Train player, he did feel more comfortable, and that he “had become friends with a good amount of the guys coming back.” Kelly Regan, a dedicated Big Train fan, and host-family sister of Chris Lewis, noticed that his approach to baseball stayed pretty much the same from last year, but that Chris seemed more confident as a returning player and maybe that was due to already spending a summer in Bethesda and “[being] a… mentor to the new players.” Manager Sal Colangelo described Lewis as the leader of the team, a kid who “worked hard all summer…plays the game the right way… and respects the organization, his teammates, his family and the community.”
With a .306 batting average, 48 hits, 7 home runs, and 37 runs driven in, Lewis attributes his stellar season to coming into the summer prepared to improve certain aspects of his game. In 42 more at-bats than he had in the summer of 2014, Chris Lewis was able to lessen his strikeout total from 24 to a meager 16 strikeouts in 157 at-bats in 2015, cutting his strikeout rate per at-bat in half. Lewis was also able to up his batting average by an outstanding .28 points, and more than double his Home Run and RBI total from 2014.
“This year, Chris was more patient at the plate, but also more physical.” –Sal Colangelo
Lewis did not record an RBI until the fourth game of the season, but after that he had 11 multi-RBI games including a huge two home run and four RBI outburst against the Herndon Braves in late July. Lewis was not only the most feared hitter on a talented Big Train roster that included two guys who hit over .350 during their college seasons, but also was one of the most revered hitters in the entire Cal Ripken League. Chris Lewis was second in the league with 48 hits and tied for third in the league with 10 doubles. With seven home runs, Lewis ended the season tied for the league lead with Alan Mocahbee who played his home games at Herndon High School, where the outfield fence is less than 300 feet (Povich Field’s dimensions from left to right: 330,400,330). With 14 more RBI than the next closest in the league, Lewis not only appeared in big situations, but also produced in those same moments. Sporting the highest Runs Created (a statistic that estimates the number of runs a hitter contributes to his team) in the league on the team that won the regular season, Lewis seemed the obvious pick for Most Outstanding Player for Summer 2015. Chris Lewis committed only one single error on the year, and proved to be a versatile player for Big Train, playing multiple outfield positions and manning first base for a couple of games. Manager Sal Colangelo exclaimed that Lewis would do whatever the coaching staff asked, “if we asked him to play catcher, heck, he’d jump right in there… If you had 30 Chris Lewis’, you would never lose a single game.”
While Chris Lewis was terrific on the field, and much deserving of his first team all CRCBL and Most Outstanding Player selection, he is exemplary of the kind of player that Big Train looks to attract: committed and focused on improving his craft and the desire to be a well-respected member of the community. Colangelo mentioned, “Chris is a student of the game, he watched the pitchers, he watched the pitch sequence, he came and hit early every day.” As one of 25 players on Big Train who needed to board with a host family in a Bethesda area home, Lewis was recognized as being very helpful around the house and good with kids. Kelly Regan clarified that “he would do the dishes… laundry… help cook and do yard work". Pretty good for a guy who worked at Big Train Summer Baseball Camp and played a baseball game almost every night for two months.
"Lewis played the game hard every at-bat, like Pete Rose. I am truly going to miss him.”
The grind of playing over 40 games in two months of swampy, D.C. weather in a completely different environment, living with a host-family, attending community events, and working summer camp can be a lot for anybody. For the 22-year old rising senior, playing for Big Train provided an opportunity to “play in a competitive atmosphere with… good players from around the country” while also having fun with the team and getting better. Colangelo summed up Lewis’ time with Big Train with these hard-hitting words, “Based on his work ethic and the way he plays the game, Chris is one of the greatest Big Train players of all time, up there with Brian Dozier (BT ’06), Luke Adkins (BT ’06, ’08), and Hunter Renfroe (BT ’11-12)… Lewis played the game hard every at-bat, like Pete Rose. I am truly going to miss him.”
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