Billings and Bluefield good places to start for Tigers' Boulware, AU's Beck

Small towns and small stadiums are the jumping-off point for Major League hopefuls

Clemson catcher Garrett Boulware fields a ball hit in front of home plate by Liberty batter Dylan Allen in the seventh inning of their baseball game at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson Tuesday night.

Mark Crammer Independent Mail

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson catcher Garrett Boulware fields a ball hit in front of home plate by Liberty batter Dylan Allen in the seventh inning of their baseball game at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson Tuesday night. Mark Crammer Independent Mail

Growing up in Anderson, South Carolina, Garrett Boulware likely never dreamed he’d one day break out the catcher’s mitt in Billings, Montana.

And while being raised in Hartwell, Georgia, Landon Beck probably wasn’t planning on putting on the spikes in Bluefield, West Virginia.

But for a couple of kids with the desire and ability to play professional baseball, Billings and Bluefield are good places to start.

Boulware, as a matter of fact, already has two play-for-pay outings under his belt.

On Monday, the catcher got his first taste of farm life, starting behind the plate and connecting on a two-out, RBI double in the Billings Mustangs’ 7-4 loss to Great Falls in a Pioneer League game.

And Beck, who recently capped off a successful junior season with the Anderson Trojans, is set to make his pro debut on Thursday when he and the Johnson City (Tennessee) Cardinals travel to Bluefield to take on the Bluefield Blue Jays at Bowen Field in an Appalachian League game.

Both young men have a long way to go to make The Show, of course, but small towns and small stadiums are the jumping-off point.

And baseball, more than any other American sport, has the best and most efficient pipeline to its top level.

In the cases of Boulware and Beck, the first rung of the ladder is the rookie leagues.

Drafted in the 16th round of the Major League Baseball First-year Player Draft by the Cincinnati Reds earlier this month, Boulware had all the makings a future pro from the moment he traded in the black and gold of T.L. Hanna for Clemson orange and purple.

The former Independent Mail Player of the Year (at T.L. Hanna he hit .533 with nine homers and 27 RBI as a senior) played catcher and left field in 2014, batting over .300. In three seasons as a Tiger, he drove in 82 runs and had 150 hits.

For him, upward mobility in the Reds organization means he must go from Billings (Advanced Rookie) to Dayton (Short Season A) to Bakersfield (Advanced A) to Pensacola (Double A) to Louisville (Triple A).

A right-handed pitcher — and All-South Atlantic Conference Honorable Mention selection in 2014 — Beck was taken in the 25th round by St. Louis.

He was assigned to the Appy League, which is a rookie class circuit that has been a proving ground for pro baseball farmhands since 1937.

Unlike Boulware, Beck flew under the radar — just as many Division II prospects do in an era in which major colleges dominate the spotlight. But scouts liked what they saw in the hurler, who finished the 2014 season at AU with a 5.20 earned run average and 5-6 record, working 72.2 innings.

Coming out of Hart County High School, Beck also was a highly regarded quarterback, but he decided to pursue baseball in college.

As a senior with the Bulldogs, he logged a 10-1 record with a 2.74 ERA, 103 strikeouts and nine complete games.

His goal is to earn promotion from Johnson City (Advanced Rookie) to State College (Short Season A) to Peoria (A) to Palm Beach (Advanced A) to Springfield (Double A) to Memphis (Triple A).

The competition for roster spots is tough and always will be for any player who tries to make money playing the stick-and-ball game.

While all 30 big league clubs have several minor league teams to stock, consider that the recent draft produced 1,215 draftees.

That’s a lot of hungry young ball players.

But the first step is a big one — and Boulware has made his in Billings, and Beck will make his on Thursday in Bluefield.

A lot of small towns are in their futures, but that’s OK.

That’s where big (league) dreams begin.

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