Derek Lee is remembered at South Lakes high school, and by those that watched him play baseball, for his ability to do one thing — swing the bat. Lee, a 1983 graduate of South Lakes High School, was the first Seahawk baseball player ever to be drafted in Major League Baseball's First Year Player Draft. And while other Seahawks have been drafted since, to this day, Lee remains the only South Lakes baseball player to make it through the minor league system and into Major League Baseball.
"As far as baseball is concerned, I know he was great hitter and a great runner," said former South Lakes Director of Student Activities Bob Graumann. "He was extremely quick. I think he had it all."
Lee, also a standout defensive back with South Lakes's 1983 Great Falls District championship team that finished the season at 6-4, followed a difficult road to his eventual stardom in MLB.
"People couldn't get a first step on him," remembered Graumann of Lee's ability as a defensive back. "Nobody got behind him. He was our left corner. Usually you put your left corner on the best side."
BUT LEE'S TRUE talent was exhibited on the baseball field. "He was very fluid," said Dave Morgan — a former South Lakes football coach and county administrator. "He was an excellent hitter and had a lot of range. He had good baseball instincts."
Lee went on to play at Manatee Community College in Florida for two years before moving on to the University of South Florida. As a 6-foot, 1-inch slugger, Lee debuted in professional baseball on June 27, 1993, after a career at USF in which he recorded the following numbers:
GP Avg. AB R H RBI 2B 3B HR SB-ATT
1987 58 .302 199 41 60 58 17 4 7 10-15
1988 58 .323 220 47 71 34 6 3 4 25-30
Total 116 .313 419 88 131 92 23 7 11 35-45
"He could hit," said his cousin Dan Nellum, who is in his sixth year as assistant coach at Navy. "He was drafted five times from high school all the way through his senior year [of college]."
Lee played 15 games with the Minnesota Twins and earned 33 at bats during the 1993 season. He scored three runs on five hits and tallied four RBI with a .152 batting average and .182 slugging percentage. Defensively, Lee saw time in the outfield for the Twins.
Lee was drafted in 1985 (Pittsburgh Pirates, 5th round), 1986 (Chicago Cubs, 5th round), 1986 (Secondary phase of draft, Philadelphia Phillies 17th pick of first round), 1987 (Detroit Tigers, 8th round) and in 1992 (Chicago White Sox, 42nd round). According to Nellum, Lee is currently scouting for Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers.
"I got to see him play in the majors," said Morgan. "He came to Baltimore and just got called up. I called him in the locker room of Camden Yards, it had been a while. He ended up getting tickets for me and my family. We got to watch him play."
Derek Lee is 73 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.