SHEFFIELD — Mitchell Lovell always dreamed of donning the purple and gold and manning the outfield for the North Alabama Lions in front of his friends and family. And on Thursday, Lovell’s dream came true.
The Sheffield outfielder signed a national letter of intent to play baseball for the Lions, and he couldn’t be happier.
“This is the best feeling of my life,” Lovell said. “It’s all I dreamed about as a kid. It’s so rewarding to stay home and get to play in front of my friends and family. There are so many positive things about UNA, and the main thing is that I get to stay close to my family.”
Sheffield baseball coach Chuck Smith said Lovell signing with UNA is another example of the good job Lions coach Mike Keehn is doing recruiting locally.
“There is a lot of good local talent here, and Coach Keehn knows that,” Smith said. “They do a great job of coming after the local kids. It gives us a chance to watch them and it gives the younger high school players a chance to see them play in college and say “Hey, just a few years ago he was playing here, and look where he is now. I can do that too.’”
Lovell hit .333 with 15 doubles, 28 RBIs and 16 stolen bases for Sheffield last season in helping the Bulldogs to a 33-19 record and the second round of the Class 3A playoffs.
“He’s definitely one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever come across,” Smith said. “He’s the first one to practice and the last one to leave. I’ve got to turn the lights off on him in the batting cage or he won’t go home.”
And all that hard work has led to major improvement in Lovell’s game since his freshman year, Smith said.
“His discipline at the plate has gotten a whole lot better,” Smith said. “His pitch selection made the biggest difference for him last season. He’s gotten so much better as an all-around player. His leadership qualities have also come out. At first he was shy, but now he’s a vocal leader. He likes to talk.”
In addition to his standout work on the baseball diamond, Lovell is also a star in the classroom. He is in the top three in the Sheffield senior class and has a good chance of being the school valedictorian, Smith said.
“We talk about how hard he works at baseball, but he’s the same way in the classroom,” Smith said. “He is truly a special person.”
Lovell is no stranger to the UNA coaching staff, having played for some of them on summer baseball teams, which he said will help him get acclimated to the program quickly.
“I feel that I really fit into their system,” Lovell said. “Coach Keehn is awesome. He’s definitely going to push me to be a better player. And I feel like that if I put in the hard work, I’ve got a chance to go even further in my career after college.”
But wherever he goes in his baseball career, Lovell will always look back on his time at Sheffield as the place where he first learned what it takes to be a great baseball player.
“I’ve got to give credit to the people who have had my back throughout the community,” Lovell said.
“I couldn’t be here without them. There’s lots of small roles that people do that have helped me out a lot.”