He makes his way to the plate, widens his stance and locks eyes with the pitcher. The bat is held securely between his fingers as he extends his arms from behind his head and takes a monstrous swing. The crowd holds their breath as the ball soars over the heads of the outfielders and eventually makes its way over the fence and out of sight.
Bleachers rattle while fans erupt, the Madison Mallards baseball team sprints out of the dugout. Justice Bigbie is greeted by his teammates with a Gatorade shower at home plate after being the walk-off home run hero.
This scene is not an unfamiliar one for the Mallards. For the second time this season, Bigbie hit a walk-off home run to add another victory to Madisons’ record. This moment comes at no surprise to Mallards head coach Donnie Scott, who is coaching Bigbie for the second summer.
“When he plays that aggressively I expect him to get results.” Scott said. “He swung the bat well last year, but has become more aggressive this year on both defense and offense, he’s attacking the ball.”
Bigbie arrived at the Duck Pond for the first time during the 2018 summer, after completing his freshman campaign at Western Carolina University.
However, his journey to playing college baseball is not what most would call typical.
Western Carolina is the only school that offered Bigbie a chance to play baseball after high school, but with a catch. He was responsible for earning his shot. Fall of 2017, he paved his way onto the Western Carolina 35 man roster as a walk-on for the Catamounts.
“We did not even have a scholarship for Justice, he had to make it as a walk-on,” Western Carolina head coach Bobby Moranda said. “He came in knowing he was not guaranteed anything, and he made it.”
After finishing his first season as a Catamount, Bigbie proved himself worthy of recognition. He garnered Southern Conference All-Freshman teamhonors and was named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball, the first for Western Carolina’s baseball program since 2014.
Once he turned heads as a freshman, Morando knew he was worthy of taking his game to the next level during the summer and made sure that Bigbie would have the chance.
“Half way through his freshman season I knew he could play in the Northwoods League and I called Vern[Stenman-BTSE President],” Moranda said. “I told him Bigbie is the real deal.”
In his first season as a Mallard, Bigbie participated in 35 games. Through his 120 at bats, he earned 34 hits, 23 RBI and held a .276 batting average.
In the endless hours of baseball played, Bigbie believes the Northwoods League helped him compete in baseball on a different level.
“ It is the same game but summer ball is very different experience than school, ” Bigbie said. “ I play with and against a lot of guys I have never seen before and the pitching is at a higher level.”
His stats from last summer were impressive for a freshman and he returned to school with more confidence, ready to work.
The coaching staff at Western Carolina was eager for Bigbie to showcase the skills he developed over his three months in Madison.
“When he returned to school our coaching staff held high expectations for him,” Moran said. “He came back with more experience and maturity after playing at the Northwoods-League-level of competition.”
Bigbie’s resume grew during his sophomore season, as he became one of the key players for the Catamounts. Bigbie was named the 2019 Southern Conference Baseball Player of the Year by both the league’s head coaches and the voting members of the Southern Conference Sports Media Association (SCSMA). He was also named to the First-Team All-Southern Conference team at third base.
His list of achievements has only expanded during his second season in Madison. Already this summer, Bigbie has topped the charts in home runs, leading the league with 12 and RBIs, leading the league with 57. He earned the second longest hitting streak in the Northwoods League with 29 and was crowned MVP of the Northwoods League 2019 All-Star Game.
Bigbie’s success did not come to him by luck. The admiration from his coaches and teammates for his achievements is rooted from witnessing his hard work ethic.
“His attention to detail, work ethic and love to compete is unmatchable,” Moranda said. “He shows up early to get extra reps in the cage, he takes the extra ground ball, he will outwork anyone.”
Though his prosperity on the field is noticed and discussed, it is his humble attitude that is also valued by Bigbie’s teammates and coaches.
The term ‘leaders eat last’ is often a phrase used to describe him, as Bigbie is known for being the last one in the locker room straightening up a mess or giving his teammates advice when asked.
“I want to be that guy my teammates can come to about anything, not just baseball,” Bigbie said. “When I was younger I wanted to be able to approach the older guys, so I want the younger guys to know they can talk to me.”
Donnie Scott claims the combination of his unpretentious behavior and solid work ethic causes him to stand out among other athletes.
Similar to professional baseball, the Northwoods league has games almost every day, and players are given very few days off. Bigbie has managed to stay composed throughout his busy summers in Madison.
“He is what I would call the ultimate professional because he is consistent with everything in his life emotionally and physically.” Scott said. “ There are a lot of guys that play this game that are all over the place, when you struggle you have to learn to find consistency and he already has it.”
Once the Mallards season is complete, Bigbie will return to Western Carolina for his junior season. After his junior year is over, Bigbie will be eligible for the Major League Baseball draft, since he will have completed three seasons of college baseball.
His junior campaign at Western Carolina potentially could be his last, and this may be his last summer wearing a Mallards jersey as well.
“I understand this could be his last year in our program, he’s definitely opened a lot of eyes” Moranda said. “He has earned everything he has and it has been really cool to witness, he truly is a great American story.”