January 5, 2004
How I Remember Josh Beckett
By Ryan Levy
Texas A&M & Baseball In No Particular Order
I speak to you as one of a very few. I am one of 30 high school kids who got a hit off of Josh Beckett during his senior year. After seeing Josh achieve success at a much higher level than District 21-5A in the state of Texas, I thought people might be interested in hearing what I remember about Josh from his high school days.
I graduated from Westfield High School, in Spring, TX in the year 2000; one year after Josh graduated Spring High School. Spring is just north of Houston, and technically my house was in Houston but if I spat to the north, it would land in Spring. We are the only two schools in the school district, thus we were bitter rivals. I played baseball on our varsity team my junior and senior years and personally played against Josh twice during my junior season.
Before I get to the games I saw Josh play and the games that I played against him, let me give you a quick background on the area of Texas we're from. Texas is known as a football hotbed, and we definitely are, but we are also one of the strongest baseball states in the nation. I played against lots of guys growing up that are still playing and a lot of guys who wish they were still playing (me included). Here's a rundown of guys around my age from my area of Texas and when they graduated high school that you may be familiar with:
There are more guys who are still in college playing football or baseball, but I think you see that there was a significant talent level in the Houston area during that time frame (the only three of those guys I didn't play a game with were Dunn, George, and Crawford). You can see that Josh wasn't just playing against Billy Bob from down the street, he was playing against very talented players (myself excluded).
Ok, so now back to Beckett. Like I said earlier, I played two games against Josh (one he pitched in and one he played in the field) but I watched him pitch in four other games while he was in high school (plus one game for the Marlins - when he made his debut back here in Houston in '02). I'll go through the games in chronological order for you and throw all the statistics I could find atcha.
The first time I saw Josh pitch was during his sophomore season on Friday May 16th, 1997. Spring High was matched up against Dobie High in the quarterfinals of the State Playoffs. The main reason I went to the game was because Dobie's head coach (David Pierce, now an assistant coach at Rice) was my batting coach when I was younger and I wanted to watch his team. Seeing Beckett wasn't too bad of a bonus.
The game was held at Cougar Field on the University of Houston campus. Spring was 21-9 going into the game and Dobie was 21-6-1, with Nathan Mitchell (10-1) on the mound. Josh struck out 13 guys but he also gave up five hits and six walks. Something that Josh has improved since his high school days is his emotional stability on the mound. That is what got him in this game amidst his six walks.
Mitchell pitched an excellent game to counter Josh's performance, giving up only four hits in route to his complete game 5-1 victory, advancing Dobie in the playoffs and sending Spring High home for the summer. Josh finished the season with a 9-3 record, striking out 150 batters while maintaining a 1.18 ERA. He threw three no-hitters, which is amazing. He also hit .414 with 32 RBIs, which isn't too bad either.
The first time I remember Westfield playing against Spring was a home game for us during my sophomore year (Josh's junior season) when Spring was ranked #1 in the nation. I was still on J.V., so we played our game before the varsity teams did, but I was there for the varsity game. What I remember the most was the people. I couldn't believe how many people were coming to our complex. There was such a buzz floating around the stands, it was really quite amazing. There were scouts, school administrators, parents, and other casual fans that were there just to see Josh pitch. The place was packed, and the concessions stand was very happy about that. If all these new visitors were rooting for Westfield, then they were in for a treat!
I remember sitting in the bleachers down the third base line before the game watching Spring go through warm-ups out in right field. I thought to myself, "Wow, these guys are the #1 team in the nation." I'll admit, I was a bit star-struck so it's a good thing I wasn't playing in the game.
I also remember that we handed Spring their first district loss of the season, and if I'm not mistaken, it was on a steal of home plate by our center fielder in the seventh inning (in high school the games are all seven innings, which is also accounted for in calculating ERAs), giving us the 2-1 victory. I really don't remember any more details of the game and I couldn't find anything about it in the Houston Chronicle's archives either, which really surprises me.
The next time we faced Beckett that year was Tuesday April 15th, at their place. It was pretty intense because district play was winding down (only five game left) and Spring was one game ahead of us, and two games ahead of Kingwood High.
There were a lot of students at this game and we were heckling the heck out of Josh. There was one guy who had a sign that read: "Hey Beckett, your ERA is higher than your GPA". It was funny because Josh had an ERA of something like 0.39 at that time. That student was asked to leave, but he was pretty popular in the halls after that stunt.
I remember that our lead-off hitter fouled the first pitch of the game right back off his own face. It looked pretty serious, but he was a stubborn fella and he got back into the box and hit a single over the second baseman's head. That was about all the excitement that the Westfield Mustangs could dig up. Our starter got roughed up badly, walking five of the first six batters he faced, and was lifted after the first inning losing 6-0.
My current roommate's brother, Jeff, came into the game in the second inning and Beckett tee-ed off on him dropping the ball into the trees tops well beyond the left-center scoreboard, putting them up 14-0. It was the second longest HR I saw while I was in high school and we still like to give Jeff a hard time about it. Beckett came out of the game after three innings after giving up no runs, two hits and a walk while striking out seven. When it was all said and done, Spring ended up avenging their loss from earlier in the season, 14-4.
On May 23rd, I traveled down to Cougar Field once again to watch a re-match of the previous season's State quarter finals with Spring (23-5-1) facing off again against Dobie (18-9). This time I went to see Beckett pitch.
Once again, Dobie countered with Nathan Mitchell (7-2), and once again Mitchell's Dobie got the best of Spring High, 2-1. Josh struck out 11 batters and gave up two runs in the fifth inning which prompted his exit. Mitchell stole the show again, besting his performance from the previous year by giving up only two hits while striking out 10 batters. Spring only managed to get two balls out of the infield, and both of their hits were infield singles.
Josh finished his junior season with a 13-2 record with both losses having scores of 2-1. He struck out 178 batters in 89 innings and allowed only 12 runs and 31 hits while posting an ERA of 0.39. He also hit .486 with nine HRs and 29 RBIs. Early in the season he struck out 18 batters in a 7-1 victory over the defending State Champs, Round Rock High. He finished his career with three different 18K games, and I remind you again that only seven innings are played in high school baseball (meaning there are only 21 outs if you're the visiting team and only 18 outs if you're the home team with a lead).
Now we're at the point in time where I can step in and give my own personal in-the-dugout experiences and perspectives. It's Beckett's senior year and he's on top of the world. He's already been dubbed the best high school player in the nation, and the only real debate going on was whether he would be picked #1 by Tampa Bay or #2 by Florida in the June Amateur Draft.
The first time we played Spring that season was on April 6, 1999 at Spring High School. We were 14-6 and Spring was 16-3. Going into the game, Beckett was 6-0 on the season with a 0.19 ERA and had allowed nine hits, four runs (one earned on a Vincent Sinisi solo HR during non-district play in Feburary), 14 walks, and he had struck out 81 in 37.1 IP.
We were going to counter with David Frame, who prior to Tommy John surgery the summer before could get it up in the mid-90s. Well, there's a story here. The day before the game it rained, so we practiced in the gym and when practice was over coach asked us to wait in the locker-room over at the baseball complex. Well, only a couple of guys heard him say this and apparently didn't tell Frame. When coach finally got to the locker-room Frame had already left to go home. Needless to say, coach was not happy.
I remember what happened next very vividly. He said, "Halsey, can you go tomorrow?" Brad responded with two words: "Yes sir." And coach walked out of the locker-room not telling us whatever it was that he originally wanted to meet with us about.
We were all very excited at game time the next night because coach did a great job preparing us and filling our heads with the thought that we could, in fact, beat this kid. I don't think there was ever a game, other than my first varsity game, that I can remember having so much energy and adrenaline pumping through me.
We had been taking batting practice all week with the pitcher standing about 15 feet away from us to help simulate the speed of Beckett's fastball. It was pretty crazy. I couldn't get over the number of people who were in the stands. When we played them the year before, there were a lot of people there but nothing like this night. There wasn't room in the bleachers for about 1/3 of the crowd, which included something like 50 scouts.
My secondary goal for the evening, behind winning, was to not become a strikeout victim. I thought it would be rarer to earn the right to say I didn't strike out against Beckett than it would be to say that I was one of hundreds who did.
I remember reading in the local paper that Josh said he looked at the guy on-deck and could sense fear and used that intimidation to his advantage. Well, I didn't want to be Josh's next chump, so I didn't have any problem staring right back at him. With all the adrenaline pumping through me I could have run through a brick wall.
The night is somewhat of a blur to me now, but I do remember bits and chunks of it. I remember my first at-bat. I hit a surprisingly sharp ball to the shortstop that turned into a 6-4 fielder's choice. I also remember Spring getting out to a two-run lead in the first inning. Then I remember that our left-handed first baseman, Matt Pali (who is now in the minor leagues with the Angels), hit a shot over the left field fence to bring us back within one run.
I remember that we had scouted Josh and his team so well that during my second at-bat their catcher, pre-season All-American Stephen Ghutzman (now in the minor leagues with the Rockies), was crying and yelling at the umpire saying that we were cheating. The umpire told him to just sit back down behind the plate. I fouled off a couple pitches and Ghutzman started crying even more. On the next pitch, I turned on it and got it into the air and took off running. The ball was hit to mid-shallow left-center field and Spring's CF dove for the ball and it rolled past him, and I didn't slow down until I hit second base with a stand up double.
Coach had prepped me the previous day that if I got to second base I was to take a very big secondary lead (your lead after the pitcher starts his delivery to the plate). He had noticed that Ghutzman really liked to throw behind runners at second base.
The first time Josh went to his stretch, he threw back to second base with a pick-off move, which scared the snot out of me. I thought maybe he somehow knew our plan. The next pitch, I did exactly what coach had told me, and Ghutzman did exactly what we hoped he would. As soon as he released the ball, I took off towards third base and was safe on a high relay throw by the second baseman. Coach was pumped, and I was just grinning.
Unfortunately, I was not able to score, nor were any more of my teammates. Halsey gave up three more runs in the fourth and we lost the game 5-1.
At some point during the game our third baseman, who set and broke the school record for HBP in each of his three years on varsity, took a fastball from Beckett off of his elbow and he just trotted down to first base without even flinching. It was pretty cool.
In my third at-bat, I thought I was just the king of the world, but I missed my pitch and ended up hitting a weak ground ball to second base. I can still see that pitch, and man-oh-man I wish I had a second chance with it. I don't remember what the pitch was that I hit for the double, probably because my eyes were closed.
I want to make sure that no one thinks that I was any sort of stud. I was a marginal speedy outfielder who could bunt and run, but I just happened to have a good game in the biggest game of my life. To prove this, I'll confess to you that I lost my starting spot my senior year to an underclassman.
As for our starter, Brad Halsey, I think that was the game that put him on the scout's map. Besides the five runs, he pitched a very solid game. He is a lefty with a nasty move to first base. In high school, I hated facing him in B.P. because his slider just cut right at my knees (as a right-handed batter). He was drafted very late by the Yankees after he graduated, but he chose to go the junior college route before making the squad at Texas University the year they won the College World Series, and getting drafted by New York again in 2002. I just read in Baseball America about two months ago that Brad is currently the top pitching prospect in the Yankee's organization.
When it was all said and done, Beckett had the win, and a regular season-low seven Ks to go with a regular season-high six hits.
Before we got onto the bus to go home after the game, I popped the cap off of the fence post and took it home with me as a reminder of the greatest game of my life. It is still sitting on my desk. One day, I'd like to meet Josh and get him to sign it.
The next day, our coach came into the locker-room and told us that he had just received a phone call from someone pretty special. It turns out that Tampa Bay Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar and coach Larry Rothchild had flown in to Houston on an off day to see Josh pitch. They were two of the scouts in the stands that night. LaMar had called our coach to tell us that he had never seen a team compete with the heart that we did. It was a pretty amazing compliment, and it didn't really sink in to me who gave it to us until a few years later.
A couple of weeks later, Josh matched up against the now famous, B.J. Symons for his eighth win to clinch a part of the district championship. He struck out 14, gave up one hit and hit a home run himself. His perfect game was broken up in the sixth inning by Paul Janish (Rice's catcher last season). I didn't get to see this game, but I saw the write up in the paper and I thought it was pretty interesting seeing where those three guys are now.
As I mentioned earlier, we played against a Beckett-led district champion Spring High Lions (22-5) again but he did not pitch. We won that game 13-3 to improve to 20-9 on the season and clinch a district playoff game to advance to the state playoffs (we lost that game). I don't remember much about that game against Spring other than I executed a suicide squeeze bunt early in the game.
Spring (and Josh) lost in the State semi-finals to the same Round Rock team that Josh had dominated the season prior. The game went into extra innings and I'll quote the Houston Chronicle for the events that occurred in the 9th inning:
"After striking out Justin Lehmann to start the inning, Steven Johnson bounced back to the mound and Beckett, instead of throwing to first for the easy out, tried unsuccessfully to outrun Johnson to the bag. Beckett struck out Sawicki for the inning's second out but Guajardo, who had struck out in his three previous at-bats, made him pay for his mental error with a rocket over the scoreboard in left to put Round Rock ahead 3-1."
That's a really bad way to end such an amazing high school career. This past World Series was pretty bazaar in that Beckett also chose to chase down Jorge Posada on his bouncer back to the mound. Fortunately, he got to Jorge in time to get the final out of the series.
Josh finished his senior season 10-1 with a 0.46 ERA in 75.1 IP, allowing only 10 runs (5 ER), 30 hits, 28 walks, and an amazing 155 strikeouts. At the plate he hit .506 with 11 HRs, 39 RBIs, 28 BBs and just 8 Ks.
He ended his career on the mound with a 32-6 record and 484 Ks. Simply amazing.
You all know the story since then, now you know how it all began.
Ryan Levy is a student at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. He writes the Texas A&M & Baseball In No Particular Order blog about, coincidentally enough, Texas A&M and Baseball.