Suttles walked across the stage to obtain his degree from Freed-Hardeman University on May 17, just two weeks after he walked off the mound for the final time in the American Midwest Conference tournament.
“I’ve grown in so many ways by playing the game of baseball, both on and off the field,” Suttles said. “You realize your strengths and your weaknesses and I worked non-stop on trying to fix my problems, mental and physical. That helped me improve as a player.
“I made a lot of relationships [at Freed-Hardeman] that will last a lifetime. The memories on and off the field are things you take away.”
Suttles was an instrumental part of a Lion baseball team that has spent most of the past three seasons ranked in the top 25 of the NAIA national polls. He helped the 2012 squad to the regular season conference championship and a berth in the NAIA national tournament, both program firsts since 1997.
This season, the Lions came one game short of returning to the national tournament when they lost 4-2 to No. 7-ranked Missouri Baptist in the conference tournament semifinals. The Lions were in position largely in part to Suttles’ heroics one game earlier.
In an elimination game against Park University, Lion starter Greg Young could only get through 1 1/3 innings before Suttles was summoned from the bullpen with a tie ballgame. Suttles responded by throwing 6 2/3 innings of scoreless relief and giving the offense an opportunity to break the game open with four late runs. The 6 2/3 innings were a career high and allowed the senior to become the program’s all-time appearances leader.
“When I threw against Park, I felt like I was in a movie. I was on an emotional roller coaster because my arm felt great. I was locked in on the catcher’s mitt and I knew it would probably be my last time ever pitching,” Suttles said. “In between innings, I looked back on all the great games that I had been a part of, the tournaments that I had played in, jams that I got out of, and the passion that I had for pitching. Everything clicked and it was the greatest game I ever pitched.
“After the game, my teammates mobbed me as I received the game ball. I thought of my mother who always yelled Philippians 4:13. Even though she was miles away, I could still hear it. What a way to go out.”
Suttles made an immediate impact in the bullpen at Freed-Hardeman when he appeared in 25 games as a freshman. He led the team in appearances three times during his four years and in saves twice. He leaves Freed-Hardeman University ranked in the top 10 in school history in five categories — single season saves (sixth), career saves (third), career earned run average (third), single season appearances (second) and career appearances (first).
“For Drew to come in and make the type of impression that he made from the very first day of practice shows a lot about his character and his mental fortitude,” Jonathan Estes, Freed-Hardeman head coach, said. “He worked every day at his craft as if it were the last day he would ever have. The ability he had to attach purpose and intent to his daily preparation is as advanced as I have had as a coach. “The hope is that some of our younger guys were watching the way Drew went about his business each day and try to emulate the way he did it.”
Suttles’ influence extended beyond the field and into the classroom and personal lives of his teammates. Drew was an Academic All-Conference recipient on three occasions and was on the President’s List and Dean’s List his final two semesters. Prior to his senior season, he was voted a captain by his peers, an office that he took very seriously. Suttles regularly led Bible studies and took his roommates to church services, and was frequently called on by his coach to lead the singing at team devotionals.
“When a recruit comes into my office, I talk to him about how the next four years are about baseball and developing as a player and winning a bunch of games. But that isn’t all it is about,” Estes said. “It is also about developing spiritually, getting a quality education and growing as person. Drew understood that and took advantage of growth in multiple areas of his life.”
The college success should come as no surprise as Suttles went 13-1 with a 0.53 ERA over his career at Adairsville and helped the Tigers reach the state playoffs four times.
“Drew has always had a passion for the game that you don’t see every day. He was driven even as a high school player to be the best possible player he could be and was always about doing his part for the team,” Suttles’ head coach at Adairsville, Eric Bishop, said. “You knew early on in his high school career that he would excel at the next level because of his work ethic and his love for the game of baseball. He was always willing to learn whatever he could about the game and willing to do or work on anything that he thought would give him or his team a better chance of success.”
Suttles plans to stay around the game in the short term. He is working toward a strength and conditioning certification and plans to help coach baseball this summer. One thing is certain: he plans to give everything he has at whatever he puts his mind to.
“Every time I took the mound, I pitched with a purpose. I wanted to honor God, my team, my family, and the ability I was blessed to have,” Suttles said. “I pitched every game like it was my last. When I reflect back on my career, I feel complete knowing all of the years of preparation and hard work truly paid off.”
“It is all the above qualities of commitment, drive, team work and passion that will inevitably make Drew a success in whatever he pursues after baseball,” Bishop said. “We are all, at Adairsville High School and within the community, very proud of Drew Suttles.”
—The Daily Tribune News’ Jason Greenberg contributed to this report.