After his freshman year at Johnson County (Kan.) Community College in 2015, Andrew Warner thought his baseball career was finished.
Sure, he had hit .383 with 11 home runs. Sure, he was playing for a nationally-ranked junior college program. But he said he earned all Fs in the classroom, and he thought it was going to cost him.
“I never went to class,” Warner said. “I just focused on baseball because I thought I was going to go play professional baseball. I was like, ‘I don’t need school.’”
Because of his grades, Warner thought he was ineligible to play the next year and transferred to Longview Community College in Lee’s Summit, Mo., his hometown. He was devastated.
It turned out Warner still was eligible to play college baseball. A friend on Longview’s team put him in touch with the coach, and Warner walked onto the squad.
He made the most of his second chance. Just over two years since suiting up for Longview, the outfielder is playing in the Cardinals’ organization and hitting .278 for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, the team’s rookie affiliate in Jupiter, Fla.
Lexy Warner, now Andrew’s wife, also went to Longview. Andrew Warner felt a new sense of academic motivation when they were at the same school, and he hit .365 with 18 home runs.
“I push myself, but you can only push yourself so far,” he said. “Everybody’s got there ‘why’ — why they do something. I went to class every day, I worked my butt off in the gym to give Lexy and I the best life that I could.”
He caught the attention of Columbia College coach Darren Munns, who saw Warner at a community college showcase in Kansas City.
Columbia College, in Columbia, Mo., is a program in the NAIA, a smaller athletic association than the NCAA.
Munns restarted the Cougars’ baseball program in 2017 after a 35-year hiatus. Warner became one of his most talented players to make a commitment and in the Cougars’ first season since 1982, they won their conference’s regular-season title and Warner finished as a 2017 NAIA All-American, with a .478 batting average.
“I couldn’t have had a better guy to lead our program back,” Munns said.
The coach complimented Warner’s leadership, saying guys on the team gravitated toward him as soon as they got to campus. He did well academically — a sharp contrast from his days at Johnson County.
Professional scouts came to watch Warner play, and the outfielder thought he might get drafted. He said he would have left school early, but no team gave him a shot. He found himself back at Columbia for his final season of collegiate eligibility.
Warner earned All-America honors again in 2018. He hit .440 and clubbed 18 homers.
“He was Albert Pujols or Mark McGwire at our level,” Munns said. “People pitched around him and feared him. He just made everybody better in our lineup from an offensive standpoint.”
After not hearing his name called in last year’s draft, Warner assumed teams would pass again in 2018. He’s a self-described pessimist, and assumed luck was not on his side.
Warner sat on the back deck of his family’s house as the rounds at the end of the MLB draft neared. He and Lexy were set to get married two days later, and they had spent the day preparing for the wedding.
With just 12 picks left in the draft, Warner’s phone rang. The Cardinals’ area scout said they were going to take him in the 40th, final, round with the 1,203rd selection. Lexy was overjoyed. Warner refused to get his hopes up until he saw his name pop up on the MLB Draft Tracker, then let the excitement set in.
“It’s always been my dream to play professional baseball,” he said. “Now I’m getting to live in it.”
At 22, Warner is one of the oldest players on the Gulf Coast League Cardinals roster. Gary LaRocque, the Cardinals’ director of player development, said the GCL gave Warner the best chance to have consistent playing time.
Warner said it took him a few days to adjust to the speed of professional baseball. He had just one hit in his first three games. Now, he’s started to find a rhythm. He has four doubles in nine games and has a .278/.381/.389 slash line. His college coach thinks that improvement will continue.
“I’ve been doing this 25 years, and the guys I’ve seen and the guys I’ve had a privilege to coach that have moved on to play at the professional level, he’s as good as any of them,” Munns said. “We all know that it’s a heckuva road to get to the big leagues, but I think he’s going to be able to compete.”
Instead of a honeymoon, Warner and his wife followed their wedding with a move to Florida. The GCL Cardinals only play day games, and he can spend time with Lexy in the evening.
Before the Cardinals called, the pessimist in Warner considered himself unlucky. Now, with the wedding and draft in the past six weeks, he can’t think of anyone who’s been luckier.