By Trey Williams
A guy once joked in the Cardinal Park press box while East Tennessee State catcher Caleb Moore was batting that the ball must look so big to him that it eclipsed the massive Tannery Knob ridge beyond the outfield.
Moore batted .455 to lead the nation in hitting as a junior in 2004. He was the Southern Conference player of the year.
Moore was also the catcher-closer for Tony Skole’s Buccaneers his final two seasons.
He would have crazy days at the plate and then save victories, and he seemed to shine the brightest against quality programs such as The Citadel, College of Charleston and Virginia Tech.
During his junior season, at times, it kind of felt like he was playing a video game.
“It really did,” Moore said. “One of my teammates would always say, ‘You know you can’t keep this up, right?’ I think it became kind of a superstition. He’d say, ‘You know you can’t do it again tomorrow.’ …
“At one point I had like a 19- or 20-game hitting streak. But inside that, I also had like a 15-game hitting streak of multi-hit games. I couldn’t explain it. I mean, my teammate Blake Church one time – I got a hit or something and I come back in the dugout and told him kind of what I saw, and he was like, ‘Man, all I know is that if you get out before me that pitcher’s really good.’”
Moore was stunned to not get drafted after his junior year. But he was undeterred.
ETSU teammate Shane Byrne, a Science Hill alumnus, admired how Moore responded to the adversity while living with him in the Bronx when they played in a wood-bat league the summer after Moore’s historic junior season.
“That season was certainly magical and put him on the map, but people forget that the next year he hit .382,” Byrne said. “So he almost hit .400 again and he hit 15 home runs his senior year. I got to see him follow up that amazing season with, in my opinion, what was more of an impressive season his senior year because he had a target all over his back.”
Byrne said Moore, now the coach at his Knox Catholic alma mater, had the ideal makeup for baseball.
“Caleb always kept a cool, calm collected attitude,” Byrne said. “We worked really, really hard that summer to get better at baseball after he didn’t get drafted. Caleb never got too high or too low, and that’s a very important piece for a baseball player. And he ended up getting drafted in the fourth round.”
Moore was drafted by the Minnesota Twins. He began his career in Elizbethton. The hitting coach was former MLB catcher Jeff Reed, now the head coach at Providence Academy. Reed’s assistant is Bernie Young, who won a state baseball title at Science Hill in ’98 and gave Moore his first high school coaching job at Happy Valley.
“We played them every year up to this year,” Moore said. “It doesn’t surprise me with the success they’re having with Jeff and Bernie Young.”
Moore played in the Midwestern League All-Star Game. He got to face Roger Clemens in a rehab assignment and grounded out to second base.
“He looked huge out there,” Moore said. “I think I had three hits off Josh Johnson, who won a Cy Young, in a rehab assignment.”
Moore had options other than ETSU out of high school.
“I just really liked what Coach Skole was trying to build there at ETSU,” Moore said. “And I liked the idea – the possibility – of getting on the field early on in my career.”
Moore had exceptional performances against College of Charleston, which had future New York Yankee speedster Brett Gardner.
“He was a tough out,” Moore said. “College of Charleston was always really good. … The first game (of ’05) I think I went 4-for-4 with four doubles (against Charleston). … The hits were just coming droves that weekend.”
The hits came like that for what was essentially a two-year tear. Moore was a Collegiate Baseball/Louisville Slugger All-American in 2004 and ’05. He led the Southern Conference in home runs as a senior. He tallied 18 career saves.
“He turned out to be one of the best college players,” Byrne said. “It doesn’t matter where you went to school, he ended up being one of the best collegiate baseball players out there.
“There’s not many better out there than Caleb Moore. He’s a great person, hard worker and had two of the most impressive college seasons of anybody out there.”