By Rubin E. Grant
Colton Ledbetter probably will always wonder what might have been.
Spain Park’s 6-foot senior center fielder was in the midst of a career baseball season, batting .414 with four home runs, 15 RBIs, 18 runs scored and 17 stolen bases in 16 games when the season came to a screeching halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With 12 seniors, including eight of their nine starting position players and three of their top four pitchers, the Jaguars had won nine consecutive games after a 4-4 start.
“It was very disappointing when the season ended so abruptly,” Ledbetter said. “It was really shocking, too. All the hard work we did during the offseason was, well it wasn’t for nothing, but we didn’t get a chance to finish the season. It was saddening I didn’t get to play my entire senior season with my friends I played with all my life.”
Spain Park coach Will Smith thought he had a team capable of winning the Class 7A state championship.
“We were starting to jell as a team,” Smith said. “The roles were defined and I could see the formation of an exceptional group.”
At the forefront of it was Ledbetter, who some considered the top player in the Birmingham metropolitan area. He was named All-State as a junior after hitting .388 with seven homers, 11 doubles and 33 RBIs in 34 games.
“He’s a very, very talented kid,” Smith said. “We knew in the eighth grade he would be a good player. He sort of exceeded what we thought he would be. He started as a sophomore and came on strong between his sophomore and junior seasons. That’s when folks started to notice him.
“What separates him from other players is his athleticism. He can run and hit, and he has quick actions about him in the field and at the plate.”
Ledbetter has been playing baseball since he was 4 years old and in T-ball. He instantly developed a passion for the game.
“It was my first love as a sport,” he said. “I like the way you can make adjustments during the game in the batter’s box or in the field, and the strategies.”
The lefty-swinging Ledbetter is a line-drive hitter, using the entire field. He has gained a solid reputation with the bat.
“I like to think I can do a little of everything, but what I’m known for is hitting,” he said. “I practice hitting all the time. It’s what I enjoy the most.”
Ledbetter is headed to Samford to play college baseball under Bulldogs’ coach Casey Dunn. Dunn was one of the primary reasons Ledbetter chose Samford.
“Samford was my first offer,” Ledbetter said. “I toured the place — I am not that big on big colleges — so I thought it was a great fit for me. Coach Dunn is great coach and I wanted to learn from him. Well, actually all of the coaches.”
COVID Makes Future Hazy
Next spring, Ledbetter still will be dealing with the effects of the pandemic. Because the NCAA canceled all of its spring sports, it granted another year of eligibility to players who were seniors in 2020.
Ledbetter had moved from right field to center field for the Jaguars this season and was expecting to play center field when he joined Samford for the 2021 season. But now he’s not so sure.
“I hope I get to play center, but more than likely it will be one of the corner outfield spots,” he said. “They have a couple of senior outfielders coming back because they were granted another year of eligibility because of all this coronavirus stuff. It’s still up in the air whether I play center or not.”
Regardless of where Ledbetter plays as a freshman, Smith believes he will make an immediate impact with the Bulldogs.
“His athleticism will allow him to play early on,” Smith said.