Justice Bigbie was starting to feel good about his swing after a seventh inning solo
homerun pulled the Western Carolina University baseball team to within 5-4 of Bryant
University, before the Catamounts eventually fell, 11-5.
That homer by Bigbie, a junior third baseman, was his first of the season. Little did he know at the time, it also would be his last homer of the year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Southern Conference canceled all athletics-related activities for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year.
Following that game on March 11, Bigbie and his teammates learned that WCU was extending
spring break for an additional week and that classes would shift to online learning
beginning March 23.
“We were supposed to go to Elon that weekend,” Bigbie said. “Everything was kind of happening all at once. That night, I think the NBA suspended its season. We were kind of sitting there, me and my roommate, and we were like, ‘This doesn’t look good.’ Then you saw the Ivy League cancel its basketball tournament.”
Shortly afterward, the Catamounts learned their season was canceled. Bigbie returned
to Cullowhee, gathered his clothes, and went home to Chesapeake, Virginia, where he
now participates in classes online while trying to cope with no longer being able
to play baseball for the foreseeable future.
“It all happened so fast that you didn’t really know what to do,” Bigbie said. “You could never think of this in a million years. I don’t think I’ve ever had to do this, honestly. I’ve never actually had to do this. It’s just been so weird. I’m just doing homework, but I don’t feel right. I feel like I need to go do something. It’s just odd.”
Through 16 games, Bigbie was hitting a respectable .290 with one homer and eight RBI, below the numbers he was accustomed to through his first two seasons. As a freshman, Bigbie batted .324 with five homers and 46 RBIs en route to being named a freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball.
Last year, Bigbie hit .355 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs. That was capped by being named
SoCon Player of the Year by both the media and the league’s coaches. He took that
momentum into the Northwoods League, a wooden bat summer league for college players,
where he was named the Most Valuable Player after hitting .346 with 12 homers and
70 RBIs. He also was voted the Most Outstanding Player in the league’s all-star game.
Another successful year at WCU likely would have led to Bigbie being selected in Major League Baseball’s draft this summer.
“I’ve thought about it,” Bigbie said. “I’m kind of trying to leave that up to whatever happens. I’m not really trying to focus on it, but it definitely is in the back of my mind. I mean, now I’ve got nothing to think about, but I’m not worried about it. If that happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, then it’s going to be awesome to go back and play some more for Western.”
Fortunately for Bigbie and the Catamounts, the NCAA recently declared that all spring
sport athletes would get another year of eligibility due to the cancellation of this
season. While excited about that news, WCU coach Bobby Moranda believes Bigbie could
still be drafted this summer.
It is unclear if MLB will have a draft, which normally takes place in June, and if so, how it will look considering college and high school players did not have a complete season.
“I think what they’re going to do is they’ll probably revert back to him being the player of the year in our league last year and the player of the year in the Northwoods League,” Moranda said. “A lot of people saw him play last summer and were impressed. There’s a lot of data out there now. He has some really good data on him already to where I feel like he’s still going to get drafted, even with a limited draft situation. That being said, we’d love to have him back.”
"The guy is just top of the food chain when it comes to makeup and character.”
Bigbie clearly has the makeup of a star player on the field. He hits for average.
He can hit for power. He’s versatile, having started out primarily as a rightfielder
before making the move to the team’s primary third baseman as a sophomore. And at
6-3, he has a nice blend of size and speed.
But Moranda also points out Bigbie’s star qualities off the field. Because of that rare blend, Moranda nicknamed Bigbie “Captain America,” a name he admits Bigbie doesn’t care for.
“He’s caring about his teammates. He’s caring about his coaches,” Moranda said. “He
hasn’t mentioned this much, but his mom is a cancer survivor. His attitude through
all of that, she’s had surgeries and gone to doctors while he’s been here playing
during the season, and you would never know it. The guy is just top of the food chain
when it comes to makeup and character.”
Bigbie didn’t arrive at WCU as a star athlete. In fact, Moranda never guaranteed him a spot on the team. “All I guaranteed him was an opportunity and he had to make the team,” Moranda said. By the time fall practice was over during Bigbie’s freshman year, Moranda told him he was going to be an All-American.
Moranda likens Bigbie’s rise to stardom to that of former Catamount Tyler White. White
came to WCU with the same offer – an opportunity to make the team. By the time he
left, White was an All-American and SoCon Player of the Year. He was drafted by the
Houston Astros and now is a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
While Bigbie hopes to someday follow White’s path to the big leagues, for now he’s simply looking forward to enjoying his time as a Catamount.
“I was just having fun playing with my teammates,” Bigbie said. “That’s the most fun you’re going to have is playing with your teammates.”