The 18th year of our lives is challenging enough for any of us without a curveball thrown our way, and life threw Tyler Beede a pretty big one just 13 days into his.
It was June 6, 2011 and Beede, a senior who had just graduated from Auburn, Mass.’ boarding school Lawrence Academy, was preparing to play baseball at Vanderbilt University. But that was the night of Major League Baseball’s annual First Year Player Draft, and the Toronto Blue Jays had other ideas.
Unlike the case with the NBA and NFL drafts, high-schoolers can be drafted. Those players may also be drafted and see how much money an MLB franchise throws at them before deciding whether to report to campus.
That turns the draft into a game within a game, where MLB teams not only try to find the best talent but also the best talent most likely to sign. The Blue Jays picked 21st in the first round that year, and general manager Alex Anthopoulos, perhaps feeling he needed to take a bit of a gamble — that’s understandable when you compete in the same division with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees — did just that when he used that pick to select Beede, a 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher with a 93 mile-per-hour fastball.
Beede had made it clear before the draft that he was going to Vandy. However, teams don’t burn first-round picks on players they don’t think they’ll sign. Fourteen other high schoolers would be picked in that first round. All would turn pro. When the Jays took Beede and offered a $2.4 million signing bonus, Vandy baseball coach Tim Corbin thought he’d lost his future star.
“We obviously didn’t anticipate that he would be here when someone is drafted at that level and that amount of money. You would say that it’s going to be a done deal,” Corbin said.
But when the dust settled on midnight of the August 15 signing deadline, Beede told Toronto he was heading to Nashville, citing the relationship he’d built with Corbin and the opportunity to develop both personally and professionally as a Commodore.
“It’s unique. It certainly is. I know a lot of people are passionate about fulfilling their dream of being a professional baseball player and at the time, my dream was being a college baseball player and coming here to play for Vanderbilt,” Beede remembers two-and-a-half years later.
Vanderbilt fans were ecstatic about landing Beede. Toronto fans? Well… they weren’t quite as happy. On the Internet, they commented on how “stupid” he was for passing on the money. Some even said they hoped he’d suffer a serious injury.
“Obviously when you’re exposed on Twitter and social media and people can kind of reach you and tweet at you, it’s always easy to say whatever you want to say when you’re behind the keys of a message board,” said Beede, who saw much of what was written.
Six months later, when Beede was hit hard in his first two collegiate starts against Stanford and Florida, coming to school almost seemed like a mistake. Corbin’s faith remained unshaken. Beede’s fastball velocity soon climbed into to the mid-90s and in a March 31 start against defending national champion South Carolina, Beede (six innings, one run, seven strikeouts) was dominant.
There would be some bumps along the road, but by the end of the year Beede had established himself as a top-shelf Southeastern Conference pitcher and had no regrets.
“It’s why you come to college, why you come to Vanderbilt to play in the SEC and go through those experiences and pitch and play in those games,” he said.
He took a big step the next year. With that fastball, a terrific change-up and a nice curve, he’d became nearly un-hittable — literally. Many times, he carried a no-hitter into the middle innings of a game. For the 2013 campaign, batters hit a pitiful .187 off Beede in 101 innings, including just three homers and 14 doubles.
Simply put, there was nobody who could beat Beede except Beede — and that would become the problem.
Beede’s the rare pitcher who can just get the ball in the vicinity of where he needs it and still dominate. But Beede wanted to refine his command, to locate pitches more towards the corners of the plate. As Beede tried to nibble corners, hitters waited him out, knowing they didn’t stand much of a chance of getting a bat on the ball. It worked, and the walks started to pile up.
To that point, it still hadn’t mattered; Beede won his first 14 decisions and had an ERA under 2 most of the year. He’d become a first team All-American and led the Commodores to a 26-3 mark in Southeastern Conference play, the best conference mark ever in what may historically be college baseball’s best league. But the inability to control his pitches got into his head, and things would soon come unraveled when it most mattered.
In his NCAA Tournament opener vs. Illinois, Beede couldn’t get out of the fifth inning. The ‘Dores survived to get to the next weekend against Louisville anyway. That weekend, control struggles forced Beede to leave the game in the third inning, and Vandy lost to the Cardinals just one step short of the College World Series. After also struggling for Team USA in the summer, Beede took a two-month baseball hiatus.
“I felt like I didn’t keep my body in shape at the end of the year, and things kind of snowballed from there as far as being too thoughtless and not being able to control my thoughts, stuff along those lines. It was good to have those two months off and re-focus my attention on simplifying things on the mound and in being back with the team,” he said.
Still, Beede had great memories of 2013.
“You can never expect to go 26-3 in the SEC, and that’s more of an accomplishment that we’ll be able to look at five, 10 years down the road when no team will be able to beat the record. … It will just bring memories back to the team, back to the group of guys and the legacy team that we had. It’s something that we’re all proud of, for sure,” he says.
You don’t get to where Beede’s gotten in life without a healthy dose of self-confidence, and yet if he has a big ego, it’s well-hidden. Beede, with his easy smile, is about as approachable and likeable a star athlete as you’ll ever meet.
There’s a video of Beede circulating on the Vanderbilt campus recently, asking his unsuspecting classmates if they know who Tyler Beede is. While the baseball world knows quite well who Beede is, it becomes increasingly obvious that his classmates don’t, much less recognize that they’re speaking to him. Instead of getting a bruised ego, Beede laughed about it and uploaded it to YouTube.
“That was the point of the video, just to kind of have some fun with it, kinda see where the minds of the Vanderbilt students were at. I don’t try to take anything too seriously. That’s the way life should be lived, having fun and not really thinking too much about what others think of you,” says Beede.
But within Beede lies an edgier personality that he terms “Young Beedah,” It’s the name under which Beede has recorded eight rap tracks, an endeavor that started when someone on Beede’s hall in high school let him borrow a microphone and a beat-making machine.
“He’s kind of the voice in my head that wants to express more of a different side of himself. I consider myself sort of an introvert and a shy kid, so whenever I want to write things down or have anything to write down, I just do it in rap and poetry, so that’s my Young Beedah alter-ego,” Beede says.
“That’s the fun part of him. I think we all have that side. It just depends what day it comes out in. … I think he’s Clark Kent on the mound and he’s Superman in that music studio,” Corbin says with a grin. “It’s two different persons.”
“Beedah” has gained some notoriety of his own. A track he wrote and performed, entitled “Boston Strong,” was written as a tribute to his hometown and its great athletes. Beede released it after the Boston Marathon bombings, and the Red Sox even played it at Fenway Park.
Beede says that baseball need not worry about him quitting to be a rapper. In fact, that ability to disconnect from baseball to temporarily delve into other worlds seems to help him on the diamond. After that two-month break, Beede finished his two starts in the team’s annual Black-Gold series without walking a single hitter. In his 2014 season debut vs. Long Beach State on Feb. 14, Beede walked just one hitter while striking out seven in a Commodore victory.
If that continues, nobody will be calling Beede “stupid” any more. He may be one of the first five players drafted this June, and if that’s the case, look for a signing bonus of at least a million more than he was offered the first time around.
It won’t be the first time that’s happened at Vanderbilt. Major-Leaguers Sonny Gray (Oakland), Mike Minor (Atlanta) and David Price (Tampa Bay) are among the Vandy pitchers who passed on the money the first time around but saw it pay bigger dividends after three years in Nashville.
Corbin expects things to work out well for both Beede and the team that picks him in June.
“I think he can play baseball for a long period of time. He loves it. Really, really loves being a baseball player as much as he loves being a pitcher. He loves the clubhouse part of it. He loves the practice part of it. He loves the preparation of the game itself. He’s just a sports guy. He’s immersed in sports and loves the competition. God willing, if his health stays good, I think he can play for as long as he wants to,” he says.
But as Beede reminded me just before the season started, his focus right now isn’t on June. It’s on a goal of winning a national title, which was something that he mentioned several times to Corbin during the recruiting process. That would be a first at Vandy, but if Beede continues to pitch at this level, he and his teammates have the talent to do it.
“That’s really our focus at this point. We’re all hungry to get back to the point where we were last year and then some, to get to Omaha. That’s obviously the legacy we all want to leave on this team,” Beede says.