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Mudville: July 19, 2024 9:10 am PDT

Brandon Beachy

"I would have signed up for the career I had 100 times out of 100.”

In an era where amateur athletes and those making money off of them and their families in the name of “exposure,” here’s a reminder that sometimes it’s more about what you do with your opportunities rather than how many chances you get.

Through college, Brandon Beachy might not have had as many opportunities as players on a power five conference team, but he still managed to turn that sliver of hope into a Major League Baseball career and he joins us to share that tale on this week’s Spitballin’.

Before he was putting up ungodly strikeout numbers through a short minor league run up to the Braves, Beachy was a position player at NAIA Indiana Wesleyan. As a part-time pitcher, he threw about 80 pretty good innings in his collegiate career.

The 2008 Major League Baseball draft came and went and Beachy’s name wasn’t called. He admittedly didn’t expect it to be called. However, Beachy loved the game and continued his career in the Independent Virginia Valley League.

That’s where he caught the eye of the widely respected scout, Gene Kerns.

It wasn’t that Beachy put up eye-popping numbers though. Kerns saw Beachy pitch one inning and recommended the Braves sign him. It took a little convincing, and watching exactly one more inning the next day, but Beachy signed with the Braves as an undrafted free agent and reported to rookie ball.

Two years later, he was in the Majors.

It is quite a leap for an undrafted free agent to go from Independent Ball to a pennant race in the Major Leagues in just two seasons, so join us to learn how he did it as we go Spitballin’ with Brandon Beachy.

Thanks for joining us, Mr. Beachy! We have a lot to talk about, so let’s jump right in. Before we get started on your professional career, let’s go back to your childhood. What was baseball like for you growing up as a kid?

It started with watching my dad play slow pitch softball. He would play in church leagues or city leagues. I’m the oldest of seven and the first four are boys, so me and my brothers would go to those games and play catch or play pickle on the side. Then we’d go home and play in the morning until the bus picked us up and when we came home, we’d play until dinner time. That’s what we did when the weather allowed. We’d play basketball during the other months of the year. Honestly, basketball was my first love. But as we got older, I wasn’t given the athleticism required to excel in that sport, so baseball became my sport the older we got.

You played college ball at Indiana Wesleyan before signing with the Braves as an undrafted free agent. While you were at Indiana Wesleyan, were you expecting to be drafted? What did you think your future in baseball held while you were there?

I wasn’t expecting to be drafted at all. I didn’t deserve it. I went to an NAIA school as a position player. I started relief pitching there only because there was a need and I had a good arm. I became a closer sophomore and junior year then they would give me a start here or there and I’d give up ten runs in four innings, so I had terrible numbers. My mindset was never on being drafted. When I was there we had a guy get drafted by the Mets in the 14th round and I think that was the first guy drafted from there since the 1970s. I didn’t go to Indiana Wesleyan expecting to play professional baseball afterwards.

Was there a time when that opinion changed for you?

I was pitching in a summer league, the Virginia Valley League, and I was the closer. Braves scout Gene Kerns came up to me after a game and said he liked what he saw and would like to sign me on the spot if he could. His boss told him, “no,” after seeing me pitch just one inning, so he asked if I could throw another inning the next day. He went to work on his boss and I threw another inning the next night and that was it. I drove to Danville, Virginia [for Rookie Ball] the following morning.

 It shows how much dumb luck or happenstance effected my career and probably many others.

Wow, that’s pretty amazing! Not that traditional path by any means. When you got to Danville, what were your thoughts? Did you see this as step one as a possible Major League career or was that idea still far away?

I was so ignorant to the professional baseball world. I didn’t even have base knowledge to have expectations. I talk about my first day there. The contract hadn’t gone through yet, so I couldn’t dress. They had me sitting with the guys charting in the stands. Julio Teheran started that game and was 16 years old at the time. He was sitting 96-98. Then Craig Kimbrel came in and did his thing. I called my dad after the game and said, “This is great, but I don’t belong here!” I later found out that not everybody was those guys and I do belong. I saw it as an opportunity of a lifetime though. I figured I could tell my kids one day that I was able to play minor league ball. I got my last year of my school paid for, so I was playing with house money. My mindset was that if it lasted a week or ten years, it wasn’t something I could turn down. I never thought I would make it to the big leagues at that point.

Your rise through the Braves system was crazy, especially for an undrafted free agent. That Danville Rookie League season was 2008 and by 2010 you were getting major league starts. What can you tell us about how fast you progressed through the system?

I think a lot of that had to do with me being undrafted. There was no plan for me and no investment. The players they signed to good money, they chart out how they’re going to progress through the system sometimes up through five years. There was no chart for me, so when things happened, I was able to slide right in. In 2009 they posted the rosters in spring training and my name wasn’t on the roster for A Ball in Rome. I was supposed to go to extended spring training. Even just getting on a full-season club was a lot of luck. I was supposed to be out there shagging balls. There was a guy who was sent to Low A and he wasn’t happy about that. He went in and asked for his release and they granted it to him. The coordinator came up to me a couple hours later and asked if I wanted to go to Rome to take his place. I said, “Of course I would!” It shows how much dumb luck or happenstance effected my career and probably many others.

Brian McCann #16 talks to Brandon Beachy #37 of the Atlanta Braves during a mound visit against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on September 7, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by L Redkoles/Getty Images)

I can definitely understand that, but it takes talent and you had to take advantage of those opportunities too. I think that’s a great lesson. You never know where an opportunity comes from, but when it does arrive, you have to be prepared and take advantage.

I was scratching and clawing and doing pretty well there, but I had one really bad game when you looked at the box score. It took me from like a 2.00 ERA to a 7.00. I spent every day for the next month or so waiting for a phone call telling me I was going back to Orlando. But the next phone call that came was to send me up to AA. It was because there was like an 18 inning game in AAA the night before, so they moved up a bunch of guys from AA and they needed to replace those guys. They moved me to AA to fill in for a week, then they sent me to High A and then Low A. Injuries happen throughout the course of the year and it’s always who they are going to move up without messing up their development plan. I usually did well enough that the next year they sent me to AA as someone they looked at as a decent player. That was where I started to figure out how to pitch. That was only my second full year as a pitcher.

What was it like getting called up in September of 2010 for your first taste of the big leagues?

I didn’t really expect it. I led the entire minor leagues across all levels in ERA (1.73) and my agents were in my ear that I should be called up. But they sent me to instructs to stay ready. They basically told me when the AAA season ended that I was the Braves sixth starter at that point. I was down in instructs and got a call that Jair Jurrjens tweaked his knee and they needed me up with the Braves in Philadelphia. I got there and went to dinner with Craig Kimbrel that night. He told me that JJ’s knee was feeling pretty good and he didn’t think I was gonna be needed. I called my parents and told them they didn’t need to bother coming, but they didn’t listen. I went to the field the next day and Bobby Cox told me they were going to test JJ’s knee out. He came back and handed me a baseball and said, “Well, you get them tonight.”

Even though you were up for just a few weeks, the Braves had you on the postseason roster that year. You didn’t see any action, but what was it like being around the team during that postseason?

It was awesome. I wish things would have turned out differently. We let a couple of games get away from us. I was supposed to start Game 4 if we had won Game 3, but we didn’t. It was really cool to be a part of that. Those guys were so great to me. It was a huge experience moving forward for me.

Brandon Beachy #37 of the Atlanta Braves pitches in the second inning of a game against the New York Mets at Turner Field on September 18, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

I’m sure it was. That was Bobby Cox’s last season and those playoffs were his last time in a Braves uniform. What was it like playing for him and being a part of that type of history?

He is a special guy. My first interaction with him came in the Fall Instructional League after 2009. I was at a game and Bobby was in town for a week. One of the pitching coaches was trying to get a teammate of mine to go give him some water in the hot sun. The guy said he was too nervous to do it, so I went and brought him a cup of water. He thanked me by name and that kind of took me aback. He even had some nice encouraging words for me. It blew me away that he even knew who I was and that he had watched me the day before and remembered something about it. He has a special way where he remembers everyone’s names and makes them feel really important. When he handed me the ball for my first start, I don’t remember the words he said, but he made me believe that I was gonna go out and give us a chance to compete. It made me believe in myself and put me at ease. He had that quality. I have special memories of us clinching a playoff spot and guys were raising him up and celebrating on the field. It’s really special for me to say I played for Bobby Cox.

After pitching well in three games and making the postseason roster, what was your goal going into the 2011 season?

I don’t think anybody counted on me to have a spot in the rotation, but they gave me an opportunity. I was going up against my good friend Mike Minor, who had been a first round pick. I didn’t think about that at all and neither did he; we just did our thing. I gave up two runs in my first outing of the spring and I don’t think I gave up another run the rest of the way, so they gave me that spot. I developed good relationships with the catchers pretty quickly. Those guys did the same thing Bobby Cox did. They said the right things to put me at ease to allow me to focus on being successful. I just wanted to get there and solidify myself. I was hyper-focused on the minutia, the daily routine, so those thoughts of wondering if I belong didn’t take over. Like Tim Hudson is in the locker next to me, what am I doing here? But I couldn’t allow myself to think that .

You had a phenomenal season that year. You had three starts with double digit strikeouts and averaged over 10 strikeouts per nine innings. Were there any games that stood out to you that season?

There were a few and it wasn’t just because of the strikeouts. I had a couple of games against the Blue Jays that were memorable. There was a game in Seattle that stands out to me because I struck out Ichiro twice. That’s pretty special to me. After I struck him out with a changeup the first time, I could see his wheels turning. It took me back to a conversation I had with Chipper Jones the year before. Chipper was awesome to me that first year. He had blown out his knee that year and wasn’t on the road when I made my first two starts. When we got back, he asked if I had a few minutes to give me his thoughts on my outing. I was super excited to talk to him and one of his thoughts was that the best of the best will see what I do and set me up in a way that other guys don’t.

I knew that changeup would be on Ichiro’s mind. I was able to get ahead in the count. I was thinking of the advice that I shouldn’t shy away from what the guy is looking for. Give him what he wants, just give it to him in a spot where he can’t do anything with it. I gave him that changeup, got inside and turned it over. He swung and missed because he recognized it. That was fun. I enjoyed going up against guys like that.

I hate to change the subject to a more somber tone, but I wanted to ask about your elbow surgeries. In 2012 you were pitching great and had a 2.00 ERA and 0.96 WHIP through 13 starts before having your first Tommy John. Then you needed another in 2014. There are a lot of opinions on pitcher health and as a pitcher who has had two elbow surgeries, you have a unique perspective on this. What do you think about what seems to be such a rise in Tommy John surgeries for pitchers?

Is it more prevalent now than before? Maybe. I think a lot of it just weeded itself out earlier where guys were just done playing when they had the injury because the technology wasn’t there. I really don’t know. There’s a trend where guys are training for velocity at a younger and younger age. They’re training with the intent of throwing as hard as they can more often. That’s only going to exacerbate any problems. But you can’t argue against that either.

I tell people that you have to win the genetic lottery twice. You have to win it the first time to have the physical makeup to get there and then you have to win it again to have the makeup to stay healthy when you’re there. I won one lottery, but I didn’t win the second. I think there are things biomechanically that were issues of mine that nobody really talked about that would have given me a better chance. I had a surgeon tell me that a lot of times injuries come from overuse but mine might be from underuse because I didn’t start pitching until late. I had surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome too. It wasn’t detected because I never had shoulder problems. It’s hard to put your finger on it and say it’s an epidemic. I think it’s just baseball. If you throw hard and in an unnatural motion, it’s going to happen. Some guys can sustain it longer and some can’t.

Yeah, I think it’s something nobody really has the answers to, but that’s about as good a way to put it all as I have heard. What have you been doing since your playing days ended?

After I got done playing, I realized I made some money but not nearly enough to not have to do something in retirement and that’s a vast majority of players. That was tough. I wanted to be entrepreneurial and didn’t have a route and that led me to look at franchising. I found a business I liked and got into it. I got into the dirt for about a year and built a team and had a successful business. I was even Franchisee of the Year. Then I joined a group called FranChoice that helps others build franchises. It’s not just former players. That’s why I got into it, but now I help anyone who wants to get into business ownership. I’m in the fortunate position to offer a free service where they can investigate a business and franchise ownership. That energizes me more than anything these days. I hope to talk to people, educate them and set them on a path to success. Anybody can get in touch with me about it through my email at FranChoice, BBeachy@FranChoice.com.

This has been really enlightening and I thank you for sharing your story with us. My last question is just a reflective one. When you take a step back and think about your path from childhood to everything you accomplished in the major leagues, what thoughts come to your mind?

 I’m honored to have played. My experience after playing is not dissimilar to a lot of people. A majority of us don’t get to leave the game on our own terms due to injury or performance. It can create some bitter feelings, at least initially. My career was on a trajectory to be a lot longer and a lot more successful than it was before the injuries hit. That was a hard pill to swallow. I held on trying to make comeback attempts for years and years. To look back today though, I am able to step back and think back to when I was a kid. I would have signed up for the career I had 100 times out of 100.

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book was released in April of 2021.

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