By DOUG DONNELLY
For a catcher, throwing the ball to second base is an important part of the game. Last season, Josh Beck appeared in 36 games for the Jackson College baseball team despite having no feeling in at least one of his fingers and having virtually no arm strength.
“It was horrible,” said the Whiteford graduate and 2016 Monroe County Region Baseball Player of the Year. “I literally couldn’t get the ball to second base.”
Beck persevered, however and finished the season. This year, he’s back at Jackson College and recently verbally committed to continue his baseball career next season for the University of Akron, a Mid-American Conference school that will revive its baseball program next season. He will play catcher for the Zips, who hired former Cincinnati Reds third-baseman Chris Sabo as its coach.
“It’s the absolute craziest thing I could imagine,” said Beck. “I went from being a pretty good player in high school to not even playing the next year. I went straight to the bottom. Everything went downhill.”
After having a dominant high school career at Whiteford, Beck signed with Jackson College, a powerhouse of sorts in junior college baseball circles. He didn’t get a chance to play that first season, however, due to having Tommy John surgery. He spent nearly six months in rehab when doctors discovered nerve damage. That meant a second surgery and, presumably, more rehab. His surgery was in December 2017.
“They had to move my nerve,” he said. “I couldn’t feel my pinky or the finger next to my pinky. After five months of rehab, I still couldn’t feel my finger. I thought I was going to be done playing baseball.”
Two days after his second surgery, however, Beck had enough. He cut off his cast and began using his hand. Three months later, he started the season as Jackson’s everyday catcher.
“I kind of pushed it really hard,” he said. “After I took my cast off, I was thinking there was no way I was ever playing baseball again
“It was hard at first, especially with the weather in Michigan. When it was really cold, I had no feeling in my pinky. I made like 12 errors on the season and most of them were throwing down to first base after a called third strike because I couldn’t throw the ball.”
Despite the injury, Beck appeared in 36 games, batted .309 with one home run and 17 RBIs in what became his freshman season with the Jets, who went 32-15 overall.
Beck’s fortunes have changed this season. He’s batting .348 and has thrown out seven runners trying to steal a base and hasn’t made an error behind the plate. Things changed even more when he talked to a friend of his who is on the University of Akron roster for next season.
“I talked to him about Akron and he told his coaches about me and they came and watched me play and now I’m going there,” Beck said. “It’s a big risk because they are a new program, but everything is brand new. The facilities are great. The field is totally new and right in the middle of campus. It’s exciting to be part of it.”
Akron had eliminated baseball a couple of years ago but is bringing the program back for 2020. In Sabo, Beck will be playing for a Major League Baseball veteran of nine seasons.
“If you know baseball, you know Chris Sabo,” Beck said.
As a senior at Whiteford, Beck hit .500 with three home runs and 33 RBI and was named first Team All-State while earning player of the year honors.
Beck said his parents, Brad and Mari Beck from Ottawa Lake, and his girlfriend helped him stay “up” when he reached the height of his frustration with the injuries.
“They helped me so much,” he said. “They just kept supporting me. What really helped me get through it was just my love for the game.”
Beck will become the third Whiteford boys athlete in Division 1 college sports. Lucas Tesznar is playing college football at Eastern Michigan University and Thomas Eitniear is playing baseball at the University of Toledo. All three schools are in the Mid-American Conference.
[Photos courtesy of Jackson College]