By Matt Schneidman
August 6, 2014
After his Cotuit debut on July 19 against Harwich in which he was charged with the loss, Sean Beckman (Southern California) was the last pitcher to walk toward the team bus from the bullpen, both hands filled with his teammates’ empty water bottles.
Beckman is well-mannered and well-spoken, and although his 5-foot, 10-inch frame and average fastball may not draw much attention, his baseball journey is one that sticks out.
From being a full-time varsity pitcher for only one year on a stacked Glendora (Calif.) High School staff to serving as a reliable middle-inning option in the best collegiate summer league in the country, Beckman has experienced the game of baseball on a vast spectrum. He was accepted as a transfer student to USC after pitching one year at Division III La Verne (Calif.) College, and after sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, played on the club level for the Trojans in his junior year.
Now a strike-throwing reliever for a Kettleers team looking to repeat as Cape Cod Baseball League champions, Beckman is one step further on the path to fulfilling his lifelong goal, competing at the Division I level at his dream school.
“It was a little bit of a pride thing too to be able to come out here,” Beckman said. “The biggest thing is just to prove that it can be done at any level.”
But at the beginning of the recruiting process, playing Division I baseball for the Trojans was just that, a dream.
At Glendora, Beckman played alongside the son of La Verne head coach Scott Winterburn. Since he came to watch his son play, Winterburn was not only able to see Beckman pitch, but also interact with him off the field.
Innings were hard to come by on that Glendora squad, though, as current Cleveland Indians minor-leaguer Adam Plutko and recent Miami Marlins draftee Jacob Smigelski were the go-to arms.
Beckman was pulled up to varsity at the end of his junior season and only earned a full-time roster spot in his final year of high school.
As Beckman went through his senior season and subsequently the college recruitment process, he was looking at several schools, none of which included La Verne.
Beckman’s dream was to attend USC, where both his parents and his sister went, but he wasn’t accepted out of high school. Instead, he decided to seek out a lower-level school where he could develop as a baseball player.
“Truthfully, I wasn’t considering La Verne,” Beckman said. “There were a few other schools I was considering, and then I decided I wanted to stay local.
“I always had a want to go to USC, so at the start I ended up choosing to go to a school that I knew that if there was ever an issue, I could’ve stayed there and been happy with myself.”
Since La Verne is a four-year Division III program rather than a typical two-year junior college school that breeds players and sends them off to better programs, Winterburn said all the players he brings in, he intends to keep for the long run.
“The most important thing for Sean was that he got to a place where he’s comfortable and a place that he could fit into that wanted him as a part of the cog,” Winterburn said. “When he got to our place, it really wasn’t about baseball. It was about life.”
In 12 appearances his freshman season, Beckman started nine games and posted a 6-3 record. He had a stellar 2.61 earned run average and held opposing hitters to a combined .237 batting average.
In only walking less than one batter every three innings, Beckman’s command was what caught Winterburn’s eye.
“The thing that you liked about him was he competed and he threw strikes,” Winterburn said. “He’s always had the ability to throw strikes with at least two of his pitches.”
After his freshman year with the Leopards, Beckman re-applied to USC. This time, he was accepted.
Since he transferred up two divisions, Beckman didn’t have the option to play baseball because of NCAA transfer rules. He knew he’d have to sit out a year, but he found a temporary summer home via a connection he’d made the summer going into his junior year of high school.
Back then, Beckman trained at a local facility called Athlete’s Performance, which just happened to be the place of employment of Cotuit manager Mike Roberts. He worked with Beckman on some throwing, and Beckman said that that transpired into a friendship and many useful connections.
Beckman played approximately one month as a temporary player for the Kettleers in 2012 before returning home to play in the Orange County League for the summer.
After sitting out his sophomore year at USC, Beckman played on the club level his junior season. Despite lower levels of competition, it was an experience that nonetheless grew Beckman as a pitcher.
“Just throwing the ball in general is always important. It doesn’t matter who you’re going against,” Beckman said. “If you’re throwing the ball where it needs to be, you’re going to get people out consistently.”
USC head coach Dan Hubbs knew of Beckman’s intentions to make his team after having success at the club level, so he encouraged him to play in a high-level summer league.
With the prior connection to Roberts, Beckman was able to find a home on the Cape for the second half of this season.
Roberts hardly utters the word “love” when talking about one of his players and during this 2014 season, he may not even consider using it for any pitcher other than Adam Whitt.
But there’s something special about Beckman that appeals to the Cotuit head man.
“This is Sean’s second time here and the thing I love about Sean is that he knows where his ability level lies,” Roberts said. “He works to get absolutely maximum out of that ability.
“I just love to see guys who get max out of their ability and I think he comes about as close as you can get.”
But Beckman’s summer almost took a turn for the worst as he was warming up for his second appearance. He came out of the bullpen to start the fifth inning against Bourne on July 23 but didn’t throw a live pitch, as he complained of pain in his right shoulder during his warmup tosses.
Cotuit trainer Craig Moody came out and along with Roberts, decided not to let Beckman continue.
Luckily, there turned out to be no structural damage, and since then, Beckman has made two appearances, both in which he’s pounded the strike zone.
And that’s what Beckman is riding, his ability to throw strikes. He won’t overpower you, but he’ll change speeds, which is even more effective in the Cape League.
“If you can continue to do what you do – and that’s kind of what I’ve tried to do is throw strikes ,” Beckman said. “…just throw strikes at the knees and continuously hit my spots and that’ll take care of itself.”
Heading into his senior year of college, Beckman still needs to make the USC team. Hubbs knows of Beckman’s abilities, but said he hasn’t been guaranteed a roster spot.
As most pitchers Beckman’s age are already playing professionally or considering turning pro, he is just looking to make the next move in his baseball journey.
Roberts said that Beckman isn’t a pro prospect yet, but that shouldn’t be a limitation.
“The thing I’ve learned is if you go prove to anybody that you’re polished and you can consistently get people out, then who knows where you may go,” Roberts said. “The future to me is for Sean to get to Southern Cal, make that baseball team and work his way into a competitive pitcher there.
“I think that’s first priority and then you kind of take a step at a time.”
And although that final step of playing for USC is some time away, this summer has been a monumental building block for Beckman’s ultimate goal.
For the undersized, yet effective right-hander, it’s not about throwing 100 miles per hour. It’s not about having high-profile schools recruit you. It’s not about having scouts flock behind home plate at Lowell Park to watch you.
It’s about proving that it can be done on any level. Proving that you deserve a chance.
A chance to fulfill your dream.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have these experiences in general,” Beckman said. “To tell you the truth, it’s been a dream come true.”