Before career in law enforcement, Potts played with Bulls, major leagues
When Mike Potts’ baseball career first brought him to Durham in 1992, his teammates with the Bulls included future major leaguers Brad Woodall, Tyler Houston, Carlos Reyes and a sweet-swinging switch hitter named Chipper Jones.
Four years later, Potts became a big leaguer himself, pitching in 24 games for the Milwaukee Brewers in his lone major league season.
By 1998, Potts was out of baseball and on to the next chapter of his life.
That, too, placed him in Durham, where he joined the Durham County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy and, in 2001, became an N.C. State Trooper.
On Monday night, the 42-year-old Potts was shot four times while making a traffic stop, and he is in stable condition at Duke University Hospital recovering from his wounds.
Despite gunshot wounds to his face, shoulder, hands and fingers, Potts never lost consciousness. He returned to his car to radio in a description of the assailant. Mikel Edward Brady, 23, of White Pine Drive in Durham, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with shooting Potts.
Upon hearing about Potts’ ordeal, his former baseball teammates weren’t surprised by his toughness.
When Potts pitched for the Brewers in 1996, his catcher was Mike Matheny, who now is the St. Louis Cardinals manager. On Wednesday at Cardinals spring training camp in Jupiter, Fla., Matheny recalled an instance when Potts was on the mound and a runner took off to steal second base.
As he stepped to throw, Matheny stepped on home plate and slipped. His throw hit Potts, as Matheny said Wednesday, “square in the butt.”
Potts, a 5-foot-9 left-handed relief pitcher, impressed Matheny with the Brewers that season and when the two were teammates for Milwaukee’s Triple-A team in New Orleans.
“He was a tough one,” Matheny said. “I remember that. He was a grinder.”
Woodall, a fellow pitcher who played with Potts in Durham in 1992, remembered Potts getting the most out of his abilities.
“He wasn’t the biggest guy, but he had a lighting arm,” Woodall said Wednesday. “He had an easy lightning arm.”
In 1992, when the Durham Bulls were a Class-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves in the Carolina League, Potts was used as a starter and a relief pitcher. That team, which finished 70-70, featured eight players who eventually would reach the major leagues.
The Bulls, now the Triple-A farm team of the Tampa Bay Rays, plan to honor Potts at a game this season.
At age 21, Potts was 6-8 for the Bulls with a 4.02 ERA. He appeared in 30 games, starting 21 times.
Jones, who retired from the Atlanta Braves in 2012 and is expected to one day reach the Hall of Fame, played 70 games with the Bulls as a 20-year-old and batted. 277.
Woodall, a former University of North Carolina pitcher who pitched in five major league seasons with Atlanta, Milwaukee and the Chicago Cubs, was an effective relief pitcher as a 23-year-old.
He said Potts fit in well on what was a close-knit Bulls team.
“He was really just easy going,” Woodall said. “He was a Southern boy and was easy going, a good guy all around, a very simple guy. You can get some very complex guys in baseball. He kind of woke up and played baseball and had nice conversations with everybody.”
As for Potts becoming a law enforcement officer and showing courage under fire to help catch a fugitive on Monday night, Woodall said he isn’t surprised.
“He was always one of those guys that wanted to do something like that,” Woodall said. “That’s just the way he was.”