When the Quad-Cities River Bandits return home tonight following a six-game road trip, they’ll do so with a first-round draft pick who has already called the Quad-Cities area home.
Seth Beer, selected by the Astros with the 28th overall pick in baseball’s 2018 draft, actually lived in nearby Blue Grass when he was between 3-5 years old.
“I don’t remember much about it, I was so young, but my parents told me the other day when I told them I was coming to Quad-Cities I had actually been to the stadium before,’’ Beer said.
He also ice skated across the street from what is now Modern Woodmen Park as well, finding an early love for sports in hockey.
His parents, Mike and Robin, relocated to Suwanee, Georgia, before Beer began elementary school, but they relayed good memories of their time in the Quad-Cities by phone last week after Beer earned his first promotion in the Astros’ farm system.
“They were telling me about all of these places and here I am, back in Davenport where I spent time as a kid,’’ Beer said. “They’re pretty excited about it and so am I. It’s kind of crazy how life works sometimes.’’
Life has been working well for Beer, a two-time all-American at Clemson who splits time between playing first base and the outfield.
Even before his arrival at Clemson, Beer developed the reputation for being one of the game’s top offensive prospects.
The consistency of his play helped him earn the Dick Howser Trophy as college baseball’s top player in 2016 as a freshman.
He batted .321 with 56 home runs and 177 RBI during his three seasons at the Atlantic Coast Conference school before being selected by Houston in last month’s draft.
He’s pursuing his passion, although he could have been equally satisfied in a number of competitive ways.
He could have developed his skills in hockey or in football, which his father played at Winona State and his uncle Scott Sether lettered twice as a defensive lineman at Iowa.
Before taking his first cuts in the batter’s box for Clemson, Beer was also an elite swimmer, establishing national age-group records in the 50- and 100-meter backstroke when he was 12.
In recent years, Beer has funneled his energies into baseball and it was no surprise when he was selected in the first round of this year’s draft following his junior season in the ACC.
Houston initially assigned Beer to its short-season affiliate in the New York-Penn League, a typical career starting point for most of the Astros’ collegiate draft choices.
With Tri-City in upstate New York, Beer made a quick impression which led to a quick promotion to the River Bandits.
In 11 games with the ValleyCats, Beer hit .293 with four home runs, three doubles and seven runs batted in. He also walked six times.
“I’ve always been a guy who has power but I’m not afraid to get walked,’’ Beer said. “I’ll pick apart the strike zone and look for a pitch I know I can hit.’’
Beer was in uniform at Modern Woodmen Park for the River Bandits last home game one week ago, but did not play after arriving at the Quad-City International Airport from New York about 90 minutes before that day’s first pitch.
He did take the field for Quad-Cities the next day in Kane County, and collected a pair of hits in his first game in a River Bandits uniform.
“I didn’t think about it until after I got back to the dugout, but it’s always good to get that first hit out of the way and just be able to go to work,’’ Beer said.
Adjusting to the day-to-day grind of pro baseball – training during the day then competing each night – has been among the biggest challenges Beer finds himself dealing with as he begins his professional career.
“In college, you play four days a week and practice the other three. Here, you do both every day,’’ Beer said. “You have to be able to get your work in, then get yourself ready to go out and compete.’’
Beer is competing at several positions this summer. Just where he fits at the professional level – at first base or in the outfield – was one of the bigger questions scouts had as the draft neared and right now, the Astros are getting a look at him at both.
He split eight games evenly between the two positions at Tri-City and expects that type of a rotation to continue with the River Bandits.
“I’ll play wherever they want me to play,’’ Beer said. “To me, the biggest thing I’m going to get out of this season is experience, understanding how pro ball works and giving me a starting point for my career than I can build on.’’
Quad-Cities manager Mickey Storey is anxious to work with Beer as he continues his upward progression in the Astros farm system, working toward a goal of one day playing for the reigning World Series champions.
“He’s one of those guys I’ve heard a lot about and I’m anxious to see him play and compete,’’ Storey said. “Like all of the draft guys on our roster, he’s adjusting to pro ball and we’re glad to have him with us.’’
Beer found himself prepared for the expectations of the Astros organization in part because Russ Steinhorn, the manager of the River Bandits’ 2017 Midwest League championship team, now works as the director of player development at Clemson.
“It was great having the chance to work with Russ this past season. So many of the drills we did at Clemson are the same drills the Astros use,’’ Beer said. “That has helped me have a smooth transition to pro ball and I feel right at home.’’
And that certainly didn’t change once Beer arrived in the Quad-Cities, a place he already previously called home.