Brian Bartlett carries on the family tradition at Montreat College with his own set of skills
Brian Bartlett had options when it came to continuing his athletic career after playing three sports at Owen High School. With more than 1,000 points in his Warhorse basketball career, he could’ve played basketball at Brevard College. His performance on the baseball field could've taken him to Mars Hill University.
There was also a third, much more familiar, option that included a college where his father, Ricky, and older brother, Dustin, had played baseball. On June 2, surrounded by his family, Brian officially continued to the Bartlett tradition at Montreat College.
Brian wasn’t the first Bartlett family member to set the Warhorses baseball diamond on fire. His father played when he was a student at Owen with the girl who would become Ricky's wife, Vanessa. Ricky played catcher and first base in 1982 at the then Montreat-Anderson College (the college was known as Montreat-Anderson College from 1959-1995).
Ricky Bartlett passed his love for the game down to his oldest son Dustin, currently the assistant coach for the varsity Warhorses under Anthony Lee and a first-grade teacher at Black Mountain Primary School. He's also the head coach of the junior varsity baseball team at Owen.
Dustin was a member of the 2005 Owen baseball team that played for a 2-A state championship. It was around that time that coach Lee got to know his second baseman's younger brother.
“I’ve watched Brian play baseball since he was about 9 years old in the Black Mountain Parks and Rec league,” Lee said. “I remember they always put him at first base because he was one of the only kids who could catch the ball when it was thrown over there. You could see at an early age that he was going to be something special.”
What really stood out about Brian was his baseball I.Q., according to Lee.
“You could tell he came from a baseball family,” he said. “And having an older brother being around helped him learn how to correct little mistakes he may have been making at an early age.”
Baseball is a shared love in the Bartlett house. Dustin, who graduated from Owen, found a spot on the Montreat roster like his dad. After bulking up in the weight room his sophomore year, Brian played third base for the Cavaliers, a position he held through his senior year.
“As kids, baseball was our sport,” Dustin said of the Bartlett family. “Everybody in my family has always played baseball. My dad was out in the yard working with me from a young age.”
Brian was also introduced to the game at a young age, receiving instruction from his father and older brother. His athleticism has always been undeniable.
It’s hard to believe now, but the 6-foot-1 back-to-back Athlete of the Year who also ran cross country for Owen High School wasn’t always the prototypical sports star.
“I was a little, short, chubby kid and decided I wanted to go try out for basketball," Brian said. "My dad was like ‘Why not? The worst they can do is tell you no.’”
Brian made the basketball team in the seventh grade and began what would turn out to be quite a career on the court. He played sparingly for the Warhorses as a freshman and sophomore, but emerged as one of the team’s most potent weapons his junior and senior seasons.
He led Owen in scoring as a junior, averaging 15.4 points per game. He also grabbed over 8 rebounds per contest for the 16-11 Warhorses that season, good enough for second on the team behind Mathew Brown.
As a senior, he averaged almost 17 points per game, picking up his 1,000th career point late in the season. He was named Most Valuable Player of the 2017 Blue-White All-Star Game.
And yet, he may have done his best work as a senior on the baseball team, finishing the season batting .509 in 57 at-bats. His coach, Coach Lee, has seen only one other player bat over .500 through an entire season (Steven Hensley, Dustin's teammate, batted .538 as a senior in 2005).
“It’s very difficult to do,” said Lee, who has coached baseball for 17 years. “He only struck out four times this year. Compare that to the 18 he had as a junior and that’s a miraculous turnaround.”
Brian led the Warhorses in RBIs (19) this season, hits (29), runs (21), triples (3) and home runs (2). His brother Dustin's keeping him on track helped him put up those big numbers, Brian said.
"Nobody understands me better than he does," Brian said. "He's more like a best friend. Every time there was something wrong with (my swing) this season, he knew exactly what it was and exactly how to fix it. Coach Lee always knew what was wrong but couldn't always get across to me what I needed to do to fix it."
When it came time to choose a sport and college, Brian’s choice wasn’t that hard.
“It just felt comfortable,” he said. “Everybody there (at Montreat College) was so nice when I talked to them, and everything felt right.”
The Cavaliers posted a 19-30 record during head coach Jason Beck’s first season with the team. Beck racked up more than 625 wins in 12 seasons as the coach of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. There he produced 11 Major League Baseball players.
Beck took over a Montreat program that last posted a winning season in the 2008-09 season (32-19), when Dustin was a junior.
“One thing I wanted to do when I first got here was explore the local talent,” Beck said. “I had heard people say ‘there’s that one guy over at Owen.’”
Beck organized an alumni game, where he met Dustin.
“I heard the story of the family and their connection to Montreat,” Beck said. “I knew this was a kid we needed to get. He has a great history here with his family, and I didn’t want to be the guy to ruin that.”
Beck was intrigued by Brian's athleticism.
“He was a three-sport athlete in high school, which I personally like more than guys that just play baseball,” he said. “He’s also got a very high baseball I.Q. But the different body movements involved in playing multiple sports puts (athletes) in position to be successful in baseball.”
The Cavaliers will use Brian on the mound. (As a junior for the Warhorses, he struck out 35 batters in 26.1 innings; as a senior, he struck 50 in 35 innings.) He’ll also have an opportunity to contribute in the field, according to Beck.
Picking baseball was the right choice for Brian, according to Lee, who believes that his former player has lofty potential in the sport.
“I think if he continues to work hard and improve at Montreat, he has the potential to be a Major League Baseball draft pick,” Lee said. “I definitely think that could be an option for him.”