The 25-year-old American infielder Chris Beck spent the last three seasons playing in the German Baseball-Bundesliga, dominating opposing pitching by batting .457/.552/.686 in 70 games. After two years with the Solingen Alligators he joined the Heidenheim Heidekoepfe in 2010, where he reached the finals at the European Champions Cup in Barcelona and the Baseball-Bundesliga. He is leaving the Heidekoepfe. Mister-Baseball talked to him about his experiences and his future plans.
Mister-Baseball: Tell us a little bit about your baseball career. How did you end up in Germany?
Chris Beck: I knew from a young age I wanted to play professional baseball. When I was two years old my dad bought me a Velcro baseball glove and ball set. Every day when he got home from work we would play catch in the living room. When I was four years old my mom signed me up for tee ball. I’m told that I was so angry with the coach for putting me in right field that I threw the first ball he hit to me over the backstop fence. That’s when I started playing shortstop.
Growing up, I was always smaller than the other kids. The first time I played shortstop for the high school varsity, I couldn’t have been more than 115 pounds. I still managed to put up some good stats over the next few years, but my size and lack of flat out speed made college recruiters skeptical. In fact, all of my offers were for me to be a starting pitcher rather than a position player. I hated the idea of only playing once a week, so I jumped on the only offer that presented an opportunity to play shortstop.
Entering the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, the ball bucket was expected to contribute to the upcoming season more than I was. Once again I was one of the smallest guys on the team and had a lot to prove. I got my chance after the senior starter jumped off the third story balcony on a dare, (may or may not have been an alcohol influenced). The coaching staff had no choice but to put me in and hope for best. That season I was among the freshmen leaders in virtually all offensive and defensive categories. I thought I was well on my way.
Unfortunately, the rest of my career at UNCP was filled with injuries and frustration. Sophomore year I broke my throwing hand 8 weeks before the season and spent the whole year trying to battle back. I broke my thumb that summer in the Valley League after being hit by a pitch and played the entire Championship series in a splint. My junior season started out great, but was interrupted prematurely mid season surgery on an infection. Doctors’ orders were to sit out the rest of the season in order to heal. After missing 13 games I got stir crazy and hopped back into the lineup. The infection came back that summer. I got through my final season at UNCP with a lot of help from pain killers. By the time I graduated I had completely forgotten how much fun baseball could be when you are healthy.
After another surgery and some much needed time away from the game, I got an email from the Solingen Alligators. The subject read “opportunity to play baseball in Germany”. I figured it was junk mail because I had never heard of German baseball. I opened it out of curiosity and saw that it was a serious offer to play again. After a few phone calls and some paper work I became a Solingen Alligator.
MRBB: Did you ever have a chance to play professionally?
CB: I always flew under the radar as far as affiliated baseball. I did excite a few scouts at a pro day once in college. During the defensive portion of the workout I threw a wet ball into the dugout they were sitting in and hit a guy from the Tampa Bay Rays.
MRBB: If you had to fill out a scouting report on yourself, what would it say?
CB: That’s a tough one. Well I think I’m a tough guy to pitch to. I have a strong knowledge of my strike zone and a good approach at the plate. I like to make pitchers work and get into hitters counts. I drive the ball with some pop to all fields and can squirt one over the fence now and then. I’m no fun for opposing pitchers on the base paths. I am a strong base runner with above average speed and good instincts. At shortstop I have good hands and quick footwork. I have a plus arm, but wasn’t able to show it much until the second half of the 2011 season due to tendinitis.
MRBB: You now have played for Solingen in the north and for Heidenheim in the south. What are the differences you see between these two divisions, if there are any?
CB: It’s my opinion that the south possesses far more depth than the north. It begins when you look at offenses. The North and South are pretty even when you compare each division’s average 1 through 5 hitter. The bottom half is where you find far more disparity. The average 7 through 9 batters is far weaker in the north than the south. In regards to pitching, there wasn’t much of a difference between the northern and southern starters. The south just has more pitchers to go to in relief.
MRBB: In 2010 you had a somewhat bittersweet season with the Heidekoepfe. You reached the finals at the European Champions Cup Final Four and in the German Baseball-Bundesliga, but had to settle for second place in both competitions in the end. Are you still satisfied with your performance?
CB: Ahhh it would have been nice to have won at least one of those. When expectations are taken into consideration, second place in the European Championships seems like a great success. If you watched the game, however, and saw how close a German team was to winning it all, it would be hard not to be disappointed. There wasn’t much time for any of us to dwell though because we had to finish the German final against Regensburg. We fought back from a 0-2 deficit and lost it in five. So in two weeks we lost two championships. Not easy to take for anyone. So, of course I’m not satisfied with either result, but I don’t have any regrets. It was one heck of a ride that I shared with a great group of guys that none of us will ever forget.
MRBB: Coming from the US with playing every day to only playing on the weekends in Europe, how did you adjust to the different format?
CB: It’s physically less demanding when you only have two games a week. The toughest thing to deal with is all the free time. You can only watch so much television you don’t understand before you have to make an adjustment.
MRBB: Why are you leaving the Heidekoepfe and what are your plans for 2011?
CB: The Heidekoepfe are a great group of guys that love the game. It was a privilege taking the field with them and I’m a better person and player after this season. I’m grateful for the opportunities afforded to me by the organization in 2010 and I’ll never forget the experience. That being said, it has always been my intention to go wherever I could grow and learn as a player. My decision to sign with the Heidekoepfe was largely based on this intention. After learning that Mike Hartley wouldn’t be returning to Heidenheim for the 2011 campaign I no longer felt that it was in my best interest to return either.
I intend on to exploring my options regarding the 2011 season over the next few months. My production in the European Cup has sparked some interest from other teams in Europe as well as some Independent baseball teams in America.
MRBB: How did you like your three years in the Bundesliga? Did anything stand out for you?
CB: I loved playing baseball in the Bundesliga. Over the course of the last three seasons I have developed some truly priceless friendships that I’m extremely grateful for. Time well spent.
MRBB: What will you do when you’re finished playing Baseball?
CB: I always plan on being a part of the game in some form or fashion. It’s been a part of my life for so long and has played such a large role in shaping who I am, that I can’t imagine moving on to something completely unrelated. Maybe I’ll manage my own team one day.
Mister-Baseball thanks Chris Beck for taking time to answer our questions.
Photos: (c) Heidenheim Heidekoepfe (top right and middle left), Gregor Eisenhuth, www.eisenhuth-photographie.de (bottom right)