Want an indication of just how hot Scott Beerer has been this season?
Through Wednesday's games, the Tri-City Dust Devils outfielder was leading the league with 24 hits -- despite the fact that he didn't have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title. Thanks to collecting multiple safeties in nine of the first 11 contests he appeared in, Beerer has accumulated a staggering .558 average. He batted .583 against righties, .630 on the road, and possessed an OPS of 1.378. In short, the man has been about as hot as one can get at any level of professional baseball.
Given these numbers, one would naturally assume that Beerer is a highly touted prospect. Someone who was drafted early, and whom the parent organization (the Rockies, in this case) has high hopes for as a Major League contributor.
In another life, Beerer was exactly this. But the individual currently tearing up the Northwest League is another animal entirely -- a 27-year-old converted pitcher who hasn't played professionally since 2006.
That's right ... 27. In the Northwest League, 22 is considered to be an advanced age. To be 27 and competing within that circuit is highly anomalous, perhaps even more so than Jamie Moyer suiting up in the bigs at 46, or Robert Byrd legislating in the Senate at 89. It's the sort of thing that doesn't happen without a strong will and just-as-strong extenuating circumstances.
What follows is Scott Beerer's story thus far.
A Necessary Compromise
Like most players who eventually make the professional ranks, Beerer excelled as both a pitcher and position player in his youth. He did double duty throughout a stellar college career at Texas A&M University, but when it came time for the 2003 First-Year Player Draft he knew that his future was as a pitcher.
"I loved being a position player in college, and that's what I am at heart," said Beerer. "But I knew at that time that my best chance to succeed at the next level was as a pitcher ... I was 20 pounds lighter then, and as a smaller kid coming out of college the scouts didn't seem to see my potential as a hitter."
Scouts certainly saw his potential as a pitcher, as they were enamored by his impressive velocity as well as the mental make-up that allowed him to excel as a closer in college. The Colorado Rockies chose him in the second round, with the 47th overall pick.
"In a perfect world, I would have chosen to go in the second round as a hitter, but I had to consider money and my prospects of making it to the majors," said Beerer.
It was a bittersweet moment, as the joy of being drafted to play baseball was tempered somewhat by the realization that he would no longer be able to participate in the part of the game that he most enjoyed. But baseball, above else, is a business. So all Beerer could do was dedicate himself to improving on the mound.
He reported to the Rookie-level Casper Rockies, where he was removed from his comfort level to an even greater degree. After making a few appearances out of the bullpen, he was transitioned to the starting rotation. During one of those starts, disaster struck.
"I remember the pitch specifically," recalled Beerer. "I felt a pull, and there was a ripping sound."
That "rip" was a torn labrum, and season-ending surgery was the result. Beerer spent nearly all of 2004 rehabbing from the injury, making a handful of appearances toward the end of the season with the very same Dust Devils club he is suiting up for now.
Beerer was healthy throughout 2005, and recorded 23 saves and a 3.69 ERA over 45 appearances with Class A Asheville. Nonetheless, the season was far from an unqualified success.
"Things just weren't the same [after the injury]," he said. "I didn't develop my slider, and lost velocity on the fastball. I just knew I wasn't where I should have been. I've always been a great competitor, and I think that's what got me by."
2006 was spent with Class A Advanced Modesto, and Beerer went 3-1 with a 3.81 ERA and 19 saves over 28 appearances while battling intermittent injuries. He then played with the Double-A squad during 2007 Spring Training, but was assigned to Modesto one day before camp ended. At this point, things came to a head.
"I kept thinking about the bigger picture. Namely, do I have what it takes to get to the Major Leagues?" said Beerer. "I loved getting out there and competing, but [the lack of progress] was really getting to me."
So Beerer scheduled a meeting with Rockies farm director Marc Gustavson and laid it all out on the table.
"I told him I wasn't ready to go back to Modesto for a second year, and that I wanted to pursue my dream of making it to the Majors as a hitter," he said. "I was told that my release [from the Rockies organization] wasn't a possibility, so I walked. It was a roll of the dice, but I was ready for it."
No Man's Land
The fact that the Rockies refused to release Beerer put him in limbo, as he wasn't able pursue a hitting career with another organization. So he joined the "real world," training to be an EMT in his native California while working nights as a bartender and bouncer. But, of course, he didn't give up his dream.
"I started working out with Orange Coast, my old junior college team," said Beerer. [Coach] John Altobelli was very kind and supportive."
Beerer also received a major assist from former Baltimore Orioles star Brady Anderson, whom he had met through a mutual friend.
"I'm sure in the back of his head he was thinking 'This guy has no shot', but he told me 'Well, let's work out, let's see what you've got'... The things he taught me were more mental than physical. He instilled confidence in me, and made me believe that I had the talent to be in the Major Leagues."
After spending the 2007 and 2008 campaigns out of the game, Beerer contacted an understandably reluctant Gustavson about getting back in the game. Gustavson eventually dispatched scout Mark Snow to watch Beerer at Orange Coast, and the result was favorable. Beerer, after two years away from the game, was invited to 2009 Spring Training. The dream was finally coming true.
"I didn't expect [the Rockies] to give me the time of day," said Beerer. "But they knew my work ethic and my character, and I had always gotten along well with the front office....I'm just glad they liked what they saw."
"I'm Just Going to Have Fun"
In order to ease back into life as a hitter, Beerer logged several months at the Rockies' extended Spring Training in Tucson, Ariz. Characterized by brutal weather and monotonous routine, extended Spring Training is rarely referred to in favorable terms. But it was just what Beerer needed.
"I knew I could hit, but I hadn't seen a 93-mph fastball in six years. So I struggled a bit," explained Beerer. "Sometimes I wondered if I would ever get out of Spring Training, but thankfully they saw my potential and kept me around...I started to feel good, but I had no idea what would happen when the lights turned on."
Beerer was assigned to Tri-City at the conclusion of the extended spring session. The "lights turned on" June 21 at Boise, and Beerer went 3-for-4 with a double and three runs scored. The next night, he went 4-for-5 with two doubles and four RBIs, and several days later he was named the Northwest League's "Player of the Week." Since then, the only thing that's been able to slow him down is a hip flexor injury, which sidelined him for nearly a week as the calendar turned from June to July.
"I feel 100 percent back on track, feeling locked in and very confident," said Beerer, who hit his first professional homer on July 4th, the day he turned 27. "It's definitely been a surreal experience."
And Beerer has no qualms about being the team's designated "old man".
"I feel like I'm learning from these kids; it had been so long since I had an at-bat, that in a lot of ways they're teaching me," he said. "In a sense I feel like I'm 20 years old, because I'm having fun again and that is something I had lost."
And because Beerer has now experienced life outside of baseball, he is able to take all the hardships of Minor League life in stride. Long bus rides, low pay, and a grueling schedule are of no concern.
"I'm enjoying every bit of it," he said. "Trust me, things were a lot worse on the outside. Getting up at 8 a.m. wasn't exactly my cup of tea."
Due to Beerer's advanced age, there has already been speculation that he will receive a quick promotion.
"I can learn just as much from my at-bats down here as I can in Double-A," he said. "As long as I stay focused and confident, good things will happen." (Editor's Note: Scott Beerer was promoted to Class A Advanced Modesto on the afternoon of Friday, July 10)
Keeping that attitude the whole way, Beerer's plan is simply to take things one day at a time, and to enjoy every minute of his rejuvenated and highly improbable baseball career.
"Guys like Josh Hamilton and Rick Ankiel, in a sense they're my heroes," he said. "Comeback stories are always great to see."