The professional baseball season is underway and several former Lee University players have been assigned to their new homes for the spring and summer months. A total of nine ex-Flames are on minor league rosters.
Pitcher Jeff Ibarra (2008-09) will begin the 2014 campaign with the Double A San Antonio Missions (San Diego Padres) in the Texas League. Outfielder Chris Grayson (2011) has moved up quickly and is on the Double A Frisco Rough Riders roster (Texas Rangers). He already has six hits in just five games.
Pitcher Kris Hall (2011-12) has been assigned to the Class A Advanced Stockton Ports (Oakland A's) of the California League. Hall has appeared in seven games and has picked up a win. Infielder Blake Barber (2012) is with the Class A Advanced Jupiter Hammerheads of the Florida State League (Miami Marlins) and is batting .286 with a home run.
Several former Lee players are in Single A ball. Catcher Jorge Saez (2012) is with the Lansing Lugnuts (Toronto Blue Jays). In four games he has posted three doubles and collected four RBI. Danny Canela (2013) is being used as a first baseman and designated hitter for the Kane County Cougars (Chicago Cubs) in the Midwest League. Myles Smith (2013) has appeared in two games for the Greenville Drive of the Single A South Atlantic League (Boston Red Sox).
Andy Hillis (2012-13) and Clint Terry (2013) property of the Milwaukee Brewers will be assigned to short season Class A teams. Their season will begin in late May or early June.
In women's soccer news, the Lee University team has helped put the Lady Flames in the national spotlight over the past eight years, including an unprecedented four consecutive NAIA National Championships (2008-11) and a young athlete from Cape Town, South Africa was an important part of two of the title runs.
Ode Fulutudilu, as most soccer fans will tell you, was thrilling to watch as she performed for coach Matt Yelton and the Lady Flames. She is blessed with God-given speed and a burning passion for soccer. Her college-soccer career ended last fall, but Ode hopes to continue to play the game for several more years.
She has been called home and will be a part of the South Africa team that will be competing in the upcoming African Women's Championships. Their placement in these events will determine if they qualify for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada next June and July.
Ode left school last week to travel to South Africa, met with the new coach, trained and played against Zimbabwe. She returned to the Lee campus and in May will graduate with a degree in Sociology.
"We have a new coach from Holland," she explained. "We have a new system and a lot of new players. We started the week with over 40 players but that number was cut to 21 before the match with Zimbabwe. I was very excited to be among the 11 starters. I was extremely nervous at first, but by the middle of the game I settled down and was able to move forward."
If she is successful in getting her visa papers in order, Ode will rejoin her team in Scotland for another match later this month. "I'm really looking forward to this experience," she added. "I'm excited about being able to play for my country."
Lee coach Matt Yelton is pleased for Ode. "All of the members of the women's soccer program share great pride in what Ode has accomplished in her time with our team. She came to Lee with a lot of natural ability, but the work and determination she has put into her game over the last four years paid off for not only our team, but obviously for Ode with this call up to the national team."
"I think Ode will tell you that I was never easy on her and that I demanded a great deal out of her. The simple reason is that I saw what she was capable of and where she could take her game," Yelton explained. "Over the last four years I have witnessed a great transformation in her and her development on the field has been absolutely fantastic."
"Of course, despite all of Ode's accomplishments on the field, the most rewarding part of her coming to be a part of our family is the testimony that she brings with her and her desire to put Christ first in all that she does," the coach pointed out. "She is a witness with her daily life. I really do believe that Ode's story should inspire others to realize that big things are capable of being achieved when one puts their mind to it."
Ode says she will remain in America and play in a summer league until July. "I want to work on my scoring and creating more opportunities," she noted. "Matt (Yelton) and Chris (Hennessy) have been working with me and I am gaining more confidence. If we qualify for the World Cup (three spots are available for Africa teams, but South Africa has never qualified) there could also be an opportunity to play professional soccer in Europe. I just want to do well and keep playing."