Driven by his faith and fueled by his team winning, Phillip Carroll has become a spark plug in his final campaign for Hickory Post 48.
He is hoping to lead his team back to the North Carolina American Legion State Tournament — the same place it was at just two seasons ago.
Carroll’s approach this season has been to serve as a catalyst.
"We play a lot of games," he said. "Coming out every day is grueling. If I can step up and light a fire under somebody, that is what I’m going to do. We can get up and have fun. That’s what this game is about — having fun. Sometimes we can be dead in some aspects in the game. I just want to be the guy that comes out, fires everybody up and ready to go play to get that ‘W.’"
Carroll missed most of last season with knee and back injures after a collision at first base in Hickory’s second game of the season against Rutherford County.
He didn’t return until the team’s 2012 Area IV playoff appearance, but came back in a big way — batting .524 with 11 hits, four doubles, one triple, one home run, five drawn walks, six RBIs and 10 runs scored.
Carroll, a former St. Stephens High School standout, took a lot away from his down time during last season.
“Not taking the game for granted,” he said. “Coming out each and every day and playing as hard as you possibly can. Give 110 percent every play, every pitch and every plate appearance. You only get three or four swings every game. Just swing as hard as you can when you get that pitch. Just trying your best and leave it all on the field.”
Carrying that momentum into his freshman season at Mars Hill College, Carroll started 41 games for the Lions with 41 hits, seven doubles, one triple one home run and 20 RBIs.
“We missed him all last year, but he went straight into college at Mars Hill playing for my brother Aaron, got in there, played every game, had a phenomenal season there and didn’t show signs of having either injury this year,” said Hickory Post 48 head coach Fore Rembert. “I’m tickled to death because any time you injure a back or knee, there is always usually a reoccurring problem with it, but he isn’t having any issues.”
Carroll picked up where he left off this American Legion season. As of Thursday, he leads the team in doubles (10) and home runs (three) while holding a .376 average. He has also driven in 23 RBIs, which is second-most for Post 48 behind teammate Colton Chapman.
Rembert believes Carroll has five special abilities that make him unique, including his base running, fielding, throwing, hitting for average and hitting with power.
“He possesses all five tools,” Rembert said. “He is a true five-tool kid. He has developed that through his hard work and dedication. A lot of his success comes from his faith.”
It’s more than just the diamond for Carroll, who is majoring in Religion with a concentration in Youth Ministry at Mars Hill.
Carroll also plans to attend Seminary after graduating.
“My abilities come from my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” Carroll said of his faith. “Before every at bat, I send up a prayer not necessarily to help get a hit or anything, but just to have Him be with me. I want to go into youth ministry and help out. I want to instill in the younger generation what I believe is true. Hopefully, my play on this ball field inspires a younger kid, a fellow teammate or parent. That’s kind of how I am and how I live my life.”
Rembert believes Carroll’s religion also helps other Post 48 players out.
“Phillip’s faith drives him,” Rembert said. “He is able to couple that with his faith in his teammates and the guys he is around. He makes everyone around him better and feeds off of him. That’s why you seem him getting fired up and pumped up. He is that kind of a kid. Anybody that comes and watches us play sees that emotion. That’s Phillip.”
Three Hickory players, including Carroll, pitcher Ben Watson and designated hitter Matt Johnson, were members of Post 48’s state championship appearance in 2011.
“We’ve got three kids from that team two years ago, which is rare in Legion because of the ages,” Rembert said. “Those kids were playing when they were juniors and now they are back. They know what it feels like to go to states. They are telling the other guys, and the other guys get excited about it. It’s a great thing.”
Carroll is hoping his team can make another run to the state tournament in his final campaign of American Legion baseball.
“We’ve set ourselves up for a winning program ever since I’ve been here,” Carroll said. “Two years ago, we went all the way to states. That has stuck with is. That’s what we try to do every year. We’re trying to get back there.”
As for the void Carroll will leave next season in center field, Rembert believes it will be hard to replace him.
“Phillip is a competitor,” Rembert said. “He hates losing more than he likes to win. That defines success in life. Someone that hates to fail more than they like to succeed. He has that passion to be a champion. That’s why Phillip is so important to our program. I can’t imagine what next year will be like without Phillip Carroll on this team. I don’t even like to think about it. He is that kid I’ve been with for three years. He is everything you want in your program.”