With Dale Earnhardt Jr., retiring from NASCAR after this season, Kannapolis needs another hometown superstar.
Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager checks all the boxes, after growing up in the town 28 miles north of Charlotte.
In September 2015, three years removed from being the 18th overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft, Seager made his first MLB start. Less than two years later, he’s earned National League Rookie of the Year (2016) and two All-Star appearances (2016 and ’17).
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He finished third last season in National League Most Valuable Player balloting.
Seager, who played at Northwest Cabarrus High, is so accomplished at 23 that second baseman Chase Utley, a six-time All-Star, turned the infield over to him.
"At first, when I was playing second and he was playing short last year, I kind of made the decisions who was covering where (on ground balls). Now, I’m leaving it up to him," said Utley, in his 15th season in the majors.
Seager appreciates Utley’s faith in him, but it’s not as if he’s telling Utley or other teammates how to do their jobs.
“It’s always going to come back to asking him,” Seager said of Utley Thursday, after getting three hits in a 7-4 victory against the Atlanta Braves.
“You’re never going to take full control. You want to know what the other guy is feeling, know what his thoughts are. We make a decision basically together.”
Seager is relatively tall for a shortstop at 6-foot-4. There was some discussion in the media after he was drafted that he might be too big to have the movement to be a Major League shortstop.
However, he’s been solid there, with a career 97.1 fielding percentage.
“He’s maturing, he’s learning and it’s scary,” Utley said, “because he’s a special type of player.”
That specialness is most apparent in the batter’s box. Seager is a career .310 hitter, and he’s still learning nuances at baseball’s top level.
“Corey has evolved,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s understanding the cat-and-mouse of how people are pitching him.
"He’s an aggressive hitter. You see pitchers going to secondary (pitches) more. He’s understanding sitting on pitches and really conducting an at-bat - hunting for pitches, as opposed to just being a free swinger.
“Because of his mechanics, he can cover a lot of pitches in a lot of locations. But his ability now to hunt specific pitches or certain zones is going to make him an even better player.”
Seager has done fine on natural ability, but this selectivity Roberts describes can help him better harness his power. Through Saturday’s games, Seager was batting .306, with 19 home runs and 55 RBIs for a Dodgers team with the best record in MLB (78-32).
“Just trying to be in a better position to be able to swing at whatever I want to. It doesn’t necessarily always happen,” Seager said. “That’s the goal: to decide what you want to swing at.”
Seager has had a running start through all this because he’s the youngest of three baseball-playing brothers. His middle brother, Justin, played for the Charlotte 49ers and is now a minor-leaguer in the Seattle Mariners’ organization.
Oldest brother Kyle, who starred at North Carolina, plays third base for the Mariners. He was an All-Star and a Golden Glove winner in 2014. Corey calls Kyle a “little angel” for the resource he’s been since Seager was in high school.
“Kyle has been there forever. He’s gone through everything before we did,” Corey Seager said. “You know he’ll give you good information about anything, whether it was what school to pick (Corey chose South Carolina before instead turning pro), the draft, the minor leagues.
“All the different things. He’s always been able to give good advice.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129” @rick_bonnell