On June 6, 2018, Andrew Warner thought he had his future figured out.
Warner was getting married in two days, and after the wedding he and his wife would move to Springfield, Missouri, where he would begin his career as a police officer.
Becoming a minor league baseball player and starting at right field for the State College Spikes, the Class A short-season affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, was not on his radar at the time.
Warner did have a prolific college baseball career, but he did so in the NAIA, a college sports association, below all three NCAA divisions. When it came time for the MLB draft, all 30 teams passed up on him after his junior year, when he was an NAIA first-team All-American.
He believed his time would never come.
“I didn’t think it was really going to happen, being from an NAIA school, and it doesn’t matter how good I did,” Warner said.
However, in the 40th and final round of the MLB draft his senior year, Warner got a call from the St. Louis Cardinals. We was the 1,203rd pick of the 2018 draft.
Like many 40th-round draft picks, the Spikes fan-favorite had a long road to professional baseball.
A native of Lee Summit, Missouri, outside Kansas City, Warner grew up in a baseball family. His father was his coach until his freshman year of high school.
As a standout baseball player, Warner started his college career at nearby Johnson County Community College in Kansas.
While the product on the field for Warner was good, he was running into problems off the field.
“As far as school goes I didn’t do too hot,” Warner said. “I was being dumb and didn’t focus on what was actually important — my studies. I lost that opportunity and I went to another junior college in my hometown and got serious about school work.”
After his sophomore year, he transferred to Columbia College, an NAIA school that was just starting its baseball program. Tasked with starting a program from scratch, coach Darren Munns saw Warner as one of his top targets.
“I was bringing in a full roster, and just in my recruiting I saw him play in the fall and immediately took a liking to him because he’s a hell of a player,” Munns said.
Warner made an immediate impact at Columbia College. He caught, played first base and pitched for the Cougars, becoming an NAIA first team All-American.
“On the field, he was tremendous. It doesn’t take long to see that he has great talent,” Munns said. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years and he’s as good as any hitter I’ve ever coached.”
His successful junior year was not enough for him to get drafted, but this did not stop him from working hard to perform at his best.
“A lot of guys would take a step backward and not work as hard their senior year because they were disappointed, but he was just as good if not better,” Munns said
His hard work paid off when he was drafted — with only 12 picks left.
After getting drafted, Warner, like most draft picks, started in the Gulf Coast League, the lowest division in minor league baseball.
Despite playing against top prospects and players who were drafted far ahead of him, Warner had a batting average of .341 with the Gulf Coast Cardinals, taking the League MVP with him.
“Whenever I would get frustrated, I would look at myself and think, ‘have fun while you can,’ “ Warner said. “Because a lot of the guys I played with don’t get the opportunity.”
Now at State College, Warner continues to climb with the Cardinals.
Warner still keeps in touch with Munns, and even though Munns saw the value Warner had as a player, he held Warner’s ability as a teammate in equally high regard.
“I think the greatest thing about Andrew is that he treats everybody the same,” Munns said. “It’s easy to lead when you’re that talented and obviously the best player on the team, but he treated a guy that was a role player who didn’t play very much at all just like he treated other starters in our lineup.”
Even as he’s climbing the ranks in the minor league, Warner still gets his baseball advice from a source close to home — his dad.
Warner said his father still helps him with his hitting, recently telling him to close his stance. And that advice paid off.
Shortly after taking that advice, Warner shot a 415-foot home run to straight left field on Monday night, at 109 miles per hour against Batavia at Medlar Field. That was the hardest hit ball by any Spikes player this year.
“It told me I was on the right path with the adjustments I’ve been making,” Warner said about the home run. “So hopefully I can keep doing the right thing, keep making progress.”