On July 29, Austin Warren became the first player in 50 years who grew up in Cumberland County to play in a Major League Baseball game.
On Saturday, he will become the first baseball player to have his number retired by Terry Sanford High School.
"I was very surprised," Warren said. "Coach (Sam) Guy has been a huge part of my career and he's been by my side since he started coaching me at Terry Sanford. I know he's very happy for me. I'm very happy and my family is very excited as well."
Warren's No. 1 jersey will be retired during a banquet at the Hellenic Center on Oakridge Avenue.
Among the items included during a silent auction are a guitar signed by Darius Rucker and autographed footballs and helmets by Terry Sanford graduates Mark Gilbert, who plays for the NFL's Detroit Lions, and Oli Udoh, who is with the Minnesota Vikings. UNC Wilmington baseball coach Randy Hood will be guest speaker. Terry Sanford High graduates and musicians Bailey Morrison and Tyler Tew will perform.
When Warren was called in from the Los Angeles Angels bullpen to pitch against the Oakland Athletics last summer, he was the first Cumberland County high school player to play in the majors since the late Cal Koonce ended his 10-year career on Aug. 8, 1971. Koonce also was a pitcher and a member of the 1969 World Series-winning New York Mets.
Alex Cole (1990-96), Sterling Hitchcock (1992-2004), Termel Sledge (2004-07), Andre Scrubb (2020-21) and Mark Mercer (1981) were born in Fayetteville or on Fort Bragg and have played in the majors since Koonce retired, according to Baseball-Reference.com, but none played high school baseball in Cumberland County.
Warren's MLB debut came in the seventh inning with two outs and the bases loaded. He threw a slider for a called strike to Ramon Laureano, then enticed the Oakland batter to hit a grounder to first baseman Phil Gosselin, who tossed the ball to Warren covering first to end the inning.
Warren retired Oakland in order in the eighth, striking out Sean Murphy on a 2-2 slider for the third out.
Even though Los Angeles lost 4-0, Warren had done his job and set the stage for the next two months.
"I don't really remember everything," Warren said. "My adrenaline was going so much. I kind of blacked out when I was out there. I'm fortunate everything went as planned during that debut game and (Angels manager) Joe Maddon has got a lot of confidence in me now.
"I honestly didn't think I was going to be put in in that situation, but we didn't have any more guys in the pen. I'm thankful I was put in that situation because I got out of a bases loaded situation. It just looks good as a player showing your confidence in a situation like that."
Warren made 16 relief appearances for the Angels. The right-hander had a 3-0 record with a 1.77 earned run average and struck out 20 in 20.1 innings. His first MLB win came Aug. 6 when the Angels topped the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3 in 10 innings.
Warren's rise from being a shortstop in high school who didn't pitch into a trusted reliever for the Angels has been a combination of determination, perseverance and beating the odds.
Not drawing much interest from Division I college coaches during his time at Terry Sanford, Warren played two seasons at Wake Technical Community College where he was an infielder and began pitching as a sophomore. He then became a top relief pitcher for two seasons at UNC Wilmington. The Angels selected him in the sixth round of the 2018 draft.
"He didn't pass the look test to a lot of (college) coaches," Guy said. "When he played Austin was just extremely solid and good with what he did. He wasn't six feet tall and 180 pounds." Today, Warren, who is 25, is listed as 6 feet tall and 170 pounds.
It was Warren's defensive ability that made Guy keep him at shortstop instead of using him to pitch. Twice, he was named Terry Sanford's defensive MVP. "If you've got a kid that if the ball is hit in that vicinity and you know it's an out, you don't take that guy from there," Guy said.
Warren batted .417 with 27 runs scored and 20 runs batted in as a senior in 2014 when the Bulldogs won the Cape Fear Valley 3-A Conference and finished 19-7 overall, according to ncprepsports.net. In the prior two seasons, he combined for a .368 batting average as Terry Sanford went 45-10 and won a pair of Mid-South 4-A Conference crowns. He earned all-conference honors three times and all-region honors twice.
"Coach Guy always knew I had potential when I was playing at FTS," Warren said. "I just never had the size. That's probably why I was always a position player back then.
"When I saw my career coming to an end as a position player I was like I got to do something else. I picked up the ball and everything started falling into place. It got me to where I am today. I can't complain about anything."
Warren tried pitching a bit while playing American Legion baseball for Hope Mills during the summer following his freshman season at Wake Tech. During his sophomore season with the Eagles, he went 7-3 with a 2.69 ERA and struck out 83 in 67 innings. He also played infield and batted .302.
"That's when everything started clicking," Warren said. "Got a bunch of college coaches coming out seeing me face to face."
Warren opted to play for UNC Wilmington.
"We recruited Austin initially as a two-way player," said UNCW head coach Randy Hood. "We thought he'd be able to play the infield some and also pitch. He definitely had the ability to do both, but I think we all saw he had a chance to be good on the mound if he focused entirely on that, plus we had several future pro players playing middle infield already."
In Warren's senior season with the Seahawks in 2018, he was 8-0 with a 1.75 ERA and two saves in 28 relief appearances. He struck out 64 in 51.1 innings. He was named to the Colonial Athletic Association's all-tournament team.
"Throughout Austin's senior season and into the minors it was general knowledge that his slider was one of the best around," Hood said. "He got the nickname 'Slider's Inc.' His overall pitch ability and stuff just has continued to improve. He's very competitive and has wanted to prove a lot of naysayers wrong."
A few days after UNCW lost to South Carolina in the finals of the NCAA Greenville Regional, Warren was selected by the Angels in the MLB draft.
"I got a ton of scouts calling me and had a lot of scout meetings," Warren said about his senior season with the Seahawks. "Then, boom, Day 2 I was selected. I'm very excited about my career so far. Hopefully, I can keep it going for a while."
Warren worked his way through the Angels minor league system for two seasons. He missed the 2020 season when minor league baseball play was canceled because of COVID-19. He began 2021 with Triple-A Salt Lake City and went 2-3 with a save and 6.44 ERA in 22 appearances. He struck out 45 in 36.1 innings.
Upon being called up to the Angels in late July, Warren remained with the big league club for the remainder of the season. He's expected to be with Los Angeles when the 2022 season begins.
"Sometimes I don't know if I was just getting my shot to prove myself and I did it," Warren said of his two-month stint in the majors. "I'm just glad to be in the shoes I'm in."
Guy was in the stands in Anaheim with Warren's family in July when his former shortstop made his major league debut.
"When that gate in left field opened and he started jogging on the field, all I saw was a little eighth-grade Austin that was about up to my waist," Guy said. "It was a rush of emotions."
On Saturday, Terry Sanford's baseball coach will present a framed No. 1 jersey to Warren for reaching "the ultimate," Guy says, in his sport.