Tournaments | Story | 7/9/2012

From swimming pools to pool-play

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Back in 2009, if someone would have asked then-12 year old Seth Beer where he expected to be in late June, 2012, he almost certainly would have answered Omaha, Neb.

Omaha, perhaps best known as the site of the NCAA Division I College World Series every June, this year also hosted the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials, and in 2009 it seemed likely that even at the young age of 15, Beer would have been invited to attend those trials.

Instead, the 15-year-old Beer spent the last week of June in Marietta, Ga., playing with the Georgia Roadrunners Blue 15u squad at the Perfect Game WWBA 2015 Grads or 15u National Championship. Beer is back with the Roadrunners Blue 15u this week, playing at the PG 15u BCS Finals.

Beer, already a 6-foot-3, 175-pound outfielder and right-handed pitcher, left behind what looked like would be a stellar athletic career in the pool to turn his undivided attention to baseball.

"I made the decision at 13 that I was just going to go with baseball," Beer said Monday afternoon from the Player Development 5-Plex before the Roadrunners Blue played  their third pool play game at the 15u BCS Finals.

"It was a tough decision; I love swimming and watching the (2012) Olympic Trials kind of hurt a little bit, but I'm happy because a bunch of my teammates that I used to swim with are now hopefully going to be going to the Olympic team, and I'm very excited to get to see them go."

It was really a life-changing decision Beer (2015, Suwanee, Ga.) made in his first year of being a teenager. In 2009, when he was 12 years old, Beer swam the 50-meter backstroke in 28.49 seconds and the 100-meter backstroke in 1 minute, 01.35 seconds, both national records in the 11 and 12 year old age group that stand today. At the time he was swimming for a club called Swim Atlanta.

After those performances, Beer was categorized as an "Olympic hopeful" which meant that if he continued to improve he might have a shot at making the U.S. team for the upcoming 2012 London Games.

"But at that point, baseball became my first love and I decided just to roll with that," he said. "My mom and I kind of call it another life that I had. I had two lives and one died when I had to pick. We just thought I'd have a better chance of getting a (college) scholarship playing baseball than I would have with swimming. It was a big decision but I think for my education, this would be a lot better decision for me."

One of the first people Beer called before finalizing his decision was former major league right-hander Paul Byrd, his coach with the Georgia Roadrunners Blue 15u. Byrd has been with the Georgia Roadrunners organization since ending a 14-year big league career in 2009.

Byrd derives a great deal of satisfaction coaching the Georgia Roadrunners Blue 15u squad, in which his son, Grayson Byrd (2014, Alpharetta, Ga.), is a member.

"We have a small team, don't carry a lot of players so everyone plays, and we hustle on off the field and play the game the way it should be played," Byrd said. "We just have a lot of competitors and we've had a good year."

When Beer, who has played in five Perfect Game tournaments with the Georgia Roadrunners since 2011 and will play in a sixth at the 2012 PG WWBA 2014 Grads or 16u National Championship July 22-29 in Marietta, first called Byrd to tell him of his decision, Byrd didn't pretend to ride the fence.

"If he grew, which he has, he was not just an Olympic hopeful but an Olympic favorite," Byrd said Monday. "He called me one night and he said, 'Coach, I can't do both,' and then he said, 'I think I'm going to go with baseball.' And (his family) was upset because he had spent so much time in the pool ... and he was going to be that Olympic athlete. And then he said, 'When I look in the mirror, I used to think I saw a swimmer.  Now I look in the mirror and I think I'm a baseball player.'"

Beer then asked Byrd if he was really as talented at baseball as Byrd had been telling him for more than year. Byrd didn't hesitate to respond as truthfully as he could.

"I told him he has the ability to play in the big leagues, and he does," Byrd said. "He has Bryce Harper-type power; he is going to be a (sophomore) in high school and is hitting balls out of major league parks. He throws 85 (mph) on the radar gun, he's a great right-fielder with decent speed, and he's got a cannon and can really throw the ball from right field.

"He has the tools to be a high first round draft pick and hit (productively) in the major leagues."

Beer hasn't disappointed in his Perfect Game appearances this summer. At the WWBA 15u National Championship, he was 11-for-28 (.393) with a double, triple, eight RBI and eight runs scored. In his first three games here this week, Beer went 3-for-6 with a double, a home run Byrd estimated traveled about 420 feet, five RBI, five runs, a .571 on-base percentage and 1.167 slugging percentage.

The Roadrunners Blue 15u won their first three games here by a combined score of 37-3 in just 13 innings of play.

"I'm really looking forward to this; it's great competition and our team is very competitive," Beer said. "I guess you can kind of take it back to when I used to swim because I was always swimming against the fastest guys in the nation, and this kind of takes me back to that feeling - playing baseball here against the best teams in the nation.

"I've really enjoyed (the PG tournaments). I like the fire and intensity that they have here."

Beer played in the East Cobb Baseball organization for a year, but that was back when he was still swimming competitively. He would attend his swim practice from 5:30-8 a.m. go home for a quick nap, go to baseball practice and then return to the pool. At the height of his competitive swimming career when he was 12, it wasn't uncommon for him to spend as many as six hours a day in the water.

Beer said the competitive fire he felt as a swimmer easily translates to the baseball diamond. But what he likes most about baseball is the team aspect it offers.

"The team environment is a lot different, because swimming, it's all based on yourself," he said. "Besides that, the competitiveness is the same because I just love going out there and trying to be better than everybody else. But from the team standpoint, I like (baseball) a lot more."

Beer also pitched two innings on Sunday, and didn't allow a hit or a run while striking out five and walking three. He doesn't consider himself a pitcher at the next level.

"I like playing outfield and hitting. It's always  been my thing," he said. "Going out there with a Tyke bat when I was like 4 years old and going out there and swinging has always been my thing. And it never changed."

Byrd, a fourth-round draft pick by the Cleveland Indians in 1991 out of LSU, played 14 big-league seasons with the Indians, Mets, Braves, Phillies, Royals, Angels and Red Sox. He won 109 games in his career - more than 15 in a season three times - and was an All-Star with the Phillies in 1999. His most productive season came in 2002 with the Royals when he finished 17-11 with a 3.90 ERA and an American League-high seven complete games.

Byrd feels all that professional experience provides him the knowledge to evaluate young hitters, and he is effusive in his praise for Beer.

"I played 19 years professionally - 14 in the big leagues - so when I throw to a guy, I can tell you if he can hit," he said with a laugh. "So when I'm throwing BP and throw him a curveball away and he smokes it the other way and then I throw him a fastball in and he pulls it, he's got something."

Byrd wasn't quite finished.

"(Beer) has a beautiful, beautiful left-handed swing ... that smooth, left-handed swing that you just cannot teach," he said. "He's quiet at the plate and he goes through the baseball quick, and once guys start throwing hard, that's really important. He has all the necessary tools to not just make it to the big leagues but to be an impact player."

The key thing now for Byrd is to get Beer and his teammates noticed by college recruiters at events like the PG 15u BCS Finals. Byrd, like his players, is learning as he goes.

"It's been a lot of fun," he said. "Travel ball is a whole new world for me, and I tell the guys they might as well be playing in the big leagues because they play just about as many games. Perfect Game is great because it gives guys exposure. Last week (at the WWBA 15u) we were scouted by Auburn, LSU, Georgia and Ole Miss. We enjoy the Perfect Game tournaments; they're a lot of fun."

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