June 24th, 2016
For the past 15 years in the middle of June, Ray Wright is frequently reminded of the spectacular play he made in Omaha, Neb. during the 2000 College World Series. He gets text messages, calls, an increase in activity on his Twitter account and sometimes baseball enthusiasts just wanting to talk to him about The Catch.
June 17, 2000; LSU squared off against Stanford in the final game of the College World Series. Both star-studded teams – a combined 15 players were drafted to Major League Baseball that summer – battled back-and-forth throughout the game, ultimately resulting in a 6-5 victory for the LSU Tigers. No stranger to the CWS, LSU captured its fifth title in nine years.
But if you ask anyone who witnessed the game, Wright’s three-run home run-saving catch was the difference. In a game filled with big plays, Wright’s stands out as one that will be remembered for a long time.
“That catch was probably one of the biggest moments in my life.” Wright said. “Not just because it was a game-altering out that saved three runs, but because I worked so hard at being an outfielder. The Catch validated my hard work.”
Learning a new position
After playing the infield his entire life, Wright was thrown into playing right field. The position was new to him and something he would have to learn from the beginning.
“The coaches said, ‘Hey, you can either compete for an infield starting job with this guy who will likely be playing in the big leagues next year, or you can learn right field and be a starter.’ It was a no-brainer for me.” Wright said.
“I worked my tail off all season learning to play the position. Extra fly balls, extra coaching, long practice times, footwork, you name it. It actually set the groundwork for the learning process and hard work into becoming a pit crew guy several years later.”
‘The Catch’ forever immortalized
Several years after his baseball career ended, he was given an opportunity of a lifetime; become a tire carrier and strength coach at Richard Childress Racing in its pit crew department. No stranger to being in unique and new situations, Wright had to start from square one and learn about NASCAR.
“I didn’t even know how many guys were on a pit crew,” he said. “I didn’t know how to hold a tire correctly. It was all new to me. But, I remembered back to my college baseball days and how I had to start from scratch there. I had to learn how to track a fly ball, hit a cutoff man, play outfield defense.”
Wright’s game-changing catch was captured by a photographer, forever immortalizing the moment. Today, the photo is framed, hanging in his office with the Bible verse Isaiah 40:31 plastered below. He looks at it almost every day when he comes to the race shop. While some LSU Tiger fans may look at the photo and think of a play that led them to a College World Series, Wright looks at it differently.
“The photo is an everyday reminder of hard work,” he said. “It was hard work to get to where I needed to be in order to play outfield. It took a lot of hard work to succeed at being a tire carrier, a coach, learning NASCAR. I don’t ever want to forget that. That’s what ‘The Catch’ means to me.”