Chase Lee: From Club Team to Closer
If you have watched Chase Lee pitch this season, odds are he shut the game down in late innings and led Alabama to a win. Lee has posted a 1.12 ERA through 14 appearances, and he has been credited with six wins and no losses. However, “The Viper,” as he has been deemed by fans because of his sidearm pitching motion, does so much more than just sling strikeouts and help the team win. Lee is a leader on the Alabama baseball team, and it is because he knows where his identity is on and off the field.
“God was gracious enough to allow me to play baseball, but that’s not why I follow God,” Lee said. “Whether I fail or whether I succeed, I’m going to be the same person on and off the field.”
Entering college, baseball was an afterthought for Lee. He was born and raised in McCalla, Alabama, where he led McAdory High School to the playoffs his junior and senior seasons. He had plans to go to school at Alabama and become an aerospace engineer, and baseball was not a consideration in those plans.
“I was just an average high school shortstop who decided to come here for school,” Lee said. “I wasn’t really that good, so I just went to tryouts for fun.”
Lee spoke with head coach Brad Bohannon after his freshman year tryout, and Bohannon was very honest with him. Bohannon told him that he did not have the skills to play infield at the Division-I level, and if he wanted to play, he would have to learn how to pitch sidearm. So, being the hardworking, focused player that he is, Lee went to work learning how to pitch sidearm. He had pitched a few times in high school, but it was just from the standard over-the-top motion.
“I got on the internet to figure out what it was and started working with a high school coach,” Lee said. “I got on YouTube and tried to watch guys who do it… I’d screen record it and put it in slow motion, and I’d stand in the mirror in my dorm room and try to replicate what they were doing.”
Lee’s coach informed him of an opportunity on the club baseball team at Alabama, which he had never heard of. Lee reached out to the club baseball coach, and he earned a spot on the team through a private tryout. He played a season with the club team his freshman year in 2018, but he did not stop there, knowing that the opportunity to play for the University of Alabama was possible.
“I wanted to make the team, but that wasn’t my end goal. At the time, I just wanted to be an obedient follower of Christ on the club baseball team,” Lee said. “I worked to put myself in a position to make the team, but that wasn’t the goal. I was just taking it as it came.”
Lee continued to stay in touch with Bohannon and gauge where his talent level was. He improved immensely in his time on the club team, and he displayed that improvement by succeeding nearly every outing he had. Lee had a 7-0 record on the club team, and he posted a slim 0.21 ERA in his one season of work. Ironically, those are close to the numbers he posted through 13 appearances this season in his third year of SEC baseball.
He went on to win Most Valuable Player of the club team in 2018 and was a Rawlings National Club Baseball Association First Team All-American. Bohannon wisely began to take notice, and he kept up communication with Lee, finding out his major and more about him as a person.
Finally, Lee earned his spot on the Crimson Tide baseball team for the 2019 season. He had gotten the hang of pitching sidearm, and he was doing so at an elite level. He began his career as a righty specialist, meaning he was used mostly to get right-handed hitters out. Lee was told to get warm in the bullpen on opening day of his 2019 campaign, a moment he will never forget.
“Opening day my freshman year, that was just a culmination of so much hard work, just being able to enjoy the God who gave me an opportunity to play,” Lee said. “That was a moment where I looked back on not just how far I’d come but the God who carried me the whole way.”
Lee not only played his freshman year, but he excelled in his appearances. He pitched a total of 30.1 innings and only gave up nine earned runs. From just going to tryouts for fun to being an effective SEC pitcher, the work Chase Lee had put in was evident. Alabama finished 30-26 during Lee’s freshman campaign in 2019 and did not do any damage in the postseason.
Lee transitioned into summer baseball, and he continued to get better and learn more about himself and God. He was put in a closing role for the summer, and that is when his transition from middle relief to closer happened. He held that role well, and when he returned to campus in the fall, he was deemed the closer for the Crimson Tide.
“Being the closer might be the toughest and most important role you can have on a team,” head coach Brad Bohannon said.
Chase Lee had earned that trust in just his second season for Alabama pitching in a totally different style than he could have imagined three years prior. He earned his first save in 2020 against Northeastern, and that cemented him in the most important bullpen role for the Crimson Tide. Unfortunately, his sophomore campaign was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic right when Alabama was going to enter SEC play. The team was 16-1 and seemed ready for elite competition.
“To go from playing to not playing, everything is kind of upsetting... you want to play,” Lee said. “But I learned more about who I am and about who God is in that period of time… I would have COVID happen all over again.”
After the abrupt ending to the season, Lee had the opportunity to move on from college baseball. He could have gone to the professional level, but he chose to stay and be with his team for one more season. Lee wanted to be able to lead his team by the way he went about working and competing every day.
“He may have a bigger impact on our club behind the scenes and in the clubhouse and off the field just because of the type of person that he is,” Bohannon said.
Chase now leads a bible study on the team, and he has definitely been leading the team with his performances on the mound. When it comes to pitching, there are hardly ever better stats than Lee is putting up right now. Bohannon definitely understands how elite Chase’s level of pitching has been this season, so saying that he does more off the field for the team displays the immense influence that Chase has on his teammates and program.
“Ten years from now nobody is going to remember my stats, but they will remember who I was off the field,” Lee said. “I want people to just see me as a faithful steward of the gifts God has given me and a genuine friend to those around me.”
Chase has definitely done those things so far in his time at Alabama, and it will be exciting to see how he uses his platform for positive impact for the rest of the season and at the next level.