Beasley Moves From One Dream to Another : NBA Doesn't Call, So He Turns to Baseball

Times Staff Writer

Dreams die hard, especially dreams that you've had since you were 5 years old. That's about the time Chris Beasley first had visions of becoming a professional basketball star.

Through his days in youth leagues, at Costa Mesa High School, Orange Coast College and Arizona State, success fueled his hopes of making it to the National Basketball Assn. But last year, he was passed over in the NBA draft, even though he averaged 18 points per game for the Sun Devils his senior season.

For Beasley, it was one of the biggest disappointments of his life. But instead of feeling sorry for himself, he simply started in quest of another dream--making it to baseball's major leagues.

This may well be a dream fulfilled for the 23-year-old right-hander, who in only his second year of organized baseball has become one of the top pitching prospects in the Cleveland Indians' minor league system.

Beasley is with the Indians' Single-A affiliate in Waterloo, Iowa, where he has a 5-6 record with an impressive 3.20 earned-run average and an equally impressive 75 strikeouts in 103 innings.

This success hasn't surprised Beasley, who had believed all along that he had more potential as a baseball player.

"I had been told when I was at Orange Coast that I'd have a better chance of making it to the big leagues than to the NBA, but I didn't really believe that until last year," Beasley said.

"Last year, after the draft came and I wasn't picked, I started to believe what people had been telling me. Not many guys who are 6-foot 2-inches make it to the NBA, but a lot of guys 6-2 make it to the big leagues."

Beasley was on the baseball team as a freshman at Orange Coast in 1981 and saw limited action as an infielder. In 1982, he decided not to even play baseball.

At that point, he was totally dedicated to his first love, basketball. Beasley averaged 23 points per game for the Pirates in 1981-82, was named the South Coast Conference's Player of the Year and earned a scholarship to Arizona State.

Before leaving for Tempe, Beasley decided to play for the Pirate baseball team in the summer Metro League for the fun of it. He pitched for the first time there, and ended up winning six games in eight decisions and a spot on the conference all-star team.

Beasley threw only a fastball then, but it was clear to scouts that he had great potential on the mound.

"I decided to pitch only because I didn't have to worry about fielding grounders or about hitting," Beasley said. "I found out I had a pretty good arm and could get people out."

During his junior year at Arizona State, Beasley teamed with Byron Scott, now with the Lakers, to give the Sun Devils a solid backcourt. But even when he was averaging 18 points per game with his textbook-perfect jump shot last year, Beasley was working on his pitching in his spare time.

Arizona State junior varsity coach Eddie Bane spent hours with Beasley, helping to improve his motion and delivery. In June of last year, Bane, who is also an Indian scout, was impressed enough to encourage Cleveland to draft Beasley on the ninth round of the free agent draft. Beasley, certain he had no future in basketball, signed with the Indians and was assigned to Batavia in the New York-Penn League.

Even though Beasley had less experience playing baseball than any other player in the league, he was able to compile a 6-5 record with a 4.01 ERA and 70 strikeouts.

"This year, what I've done hasn't surprised me, but last year at Batavia, I was surprised at how well I did, to tell you the truth," Beasley said. "Here I was, a one-pitch pitcher, with almost no experience, and I did pretty well."

Beasley didn't rest after the regular season ended. He left Batavia in September and went south to play in the Florida Instructional League. His goal: to master new pitches.

Beasley left Florida with three new pitches. In addition to his fastball, he could throw a curve, a changeup and even a knuckleball.

Waterloo Manager Steve Swisher, the former major league catcher, said all he knew about Beasley when the 1985 season started was that he was a good athlete. Soon, Swisher learned Beasley was a good pitcher, too.

"Chris has come along faster than anyone expected," Swisher said. "He has good command of all his pitches and spots his fastball very well.

"What's even better is that he has developed a good approach to pitching. He has a good sense of what it takes to beat a batter, and that's something some pitchers never learn. He's been pitching for only a couple of years and has it already, and that's why I think he'll make it to the big leagues."

Beasley, of course, plans to make the Cleveland roster, but he has set no timetable for achieving that goal.

"I've still got a lot to learn," he said. "I'd be satisfied if I jump one level each year. I know that even if you're successful at one level, you may not be at another because the competition definitely gets better as you go up the ladder."

The only thing Beasley isn't pleased with these days is living in Waterloo. It has a population of 80,000, but it just isn't Costa Mesa.

"I really miss the beach," he said. "There's nothing you really can do for fun here. It's pretty dull.

"But in a way, that's good, because it allows you to concentrate on playing baseball, and that's why you're here, anyway."

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