It didn’t take long for Billy Bean to experience the ups and downs of minor league baseball.
In his first professional at-bat with the Glens Falls (N.Y.) Tigers, the Double-A Eastern League team of the Detroit Tigers, Bean was hit, taking a pitch on the knee in a game against the Pittsfield (Mass.) Cubs June 16.
In his second at-bat, the former Santa Ana High School and Loyola Marymount University star singled. In his third at-bat, he hit a two-run homer.
Nothing to this minor league stuff, huh? Bring on Roger Clemens and Mike Witt? Hello Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell? Welcome to Tiger Stadium and the American League?
Not so fast.
That was just one good game and a memorable debut. In his first month of professional baseball, Bean has had several good games, as evidenced by his .277 batting average, two homers and 16 RBIs as the Glens Falls starting center fielder.
But there have been several 0-for-4 nights, too.
The jump from college ball to the minor leagues is full of adjustments--playing every night, using wooden bats, facing better pitchers and taking long bus rides. But the biggest challenge, as Bean discovered in his first game, is learning to take the good with the bad--maintaining mental equilibrium.
“You can’t get too up after a good game or too down after a bad game,” Bean said. “If you have a good game, it’s no big deal, because the next two nights you could go 0 for 4, and (the good game) won’t mean anything.”
Yes, baseball for Billy Bean has become a job. Welcome to the working world, kid.
Forget about those college days when everyone got psyched up for every game, and when everyone treated the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. West Regional and College World Series games as if they were life-or-death situations.
This is professional baseball.
“It’s almost like (the players) don’t take the games too seriously, because if they did, they’d go nuts,” Bean, 22, said. “You have to take it like a job, and you can’t get too emotionally drawn by each game.
“No one gets too up for the games. They’re just going about their business, doing what they have to do to get ready to play. It’s a lot more individualized.”
No one minds a team player, though. When Bean, a fourth-round draft pick in June, reported to Glens Falls, a small town (population 14,000) located about 50 miles north of Albany, the Tigers were struggling with a 25-33 record.
Bean was immediately inserted into the lineup, and the team won 12 of its next 16 games. Now the Tigers are 40-44 and in fifth place, seven games behind league-leading Pittsfield.
“He plays with reckless abandon in the outfield, and he has that good, sweet, left-handed stroke,” said Ken Lipshez, Glens Falls general manager. “He’s really raised the collective spirit of the team.”
Bean didn’t mean to do that. When he got to Glens Falls, he just wanted to keep his mouth shut, play hard, and get used to his teammates while they got used to him.
“But if they saw me working hard, that can be infectious,” he said.
Fans also took notice for another reason--that name. Billy Bean. It’s short and snappy, easy to remember. It’s a good baseball name.
It’s also the name of another professional player, Billy Beane, who spent five years in the Mets’ organization before being traded to the Twins last winter.
After a game in New Britain, Conn., last week, a spectator approached Bean and said, “You know, I’ve been following your career for years, and I still can’t believe the Mets traded you.”
Said Bean: “He couldn’t believe I wasn’t the same guy.”
Apparently, word of Bean’s achievements on the college level didn’t make it back to the New England area. As a four-year starter at Loyola Marymount, Bean, a 6-foot 1-inch, 185-pounder, set career records for hits (290), doubles (61), RBIs (204), runs (216), games played (225) and at-bats (822).
He hit .403 with 6 homers and 67 RBIs as a junior and was named to the All-American honorable mention team. As a senior, he hit .355 with 8 homers and 68 RBIs and was a second-team All-American selection. His career batting average was .353.
He was the Lions’ No. 3 hitter for three years and helped them reach the 1986 College World Series, where they won one game and lost two.
Bean, who had a 3.95 grade-point average in high school, also graduated after four years at Loyola Marymount--a rarity among college baseball players. He earned a degree in business administration and finished with a 2.9 grade-point average.
Before that, Bean was named the most valuable player on the Santa Ana High School team that won the 1982 Southern Section 3-A championship.
“Everywhere he’s been, good things have happened,” Santa Ana Coach Bill Ross said.
Bean describes this past year, though, as being the best of his life. His college team won the West Coast Athletic Conference and made it to the College World Series, he set several school records, he was named All-American and he made it to pro ball.
“Everything is happening,” Bean said.
But, reflecting on his accomplishments, Bean added: “It took a long time, but now that it’s all over, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a good memory. Now, I’m trying to make a name for myself here.”
There’s that minor league attitude again. It’s a good attitude to have. Bean can’t be content just to be in Glens Falls, playing Double-A baseball. He realizes that he has to excel there to have a crack at the major leagues.
“I personally think that, just on his sheer mental makeup, he’ll make the big leagues,” Ross said. “He has that ability to adjust to situations, and I think he has a great burning desire to do something. If the breaks come, I think he’ll make it.”
Though you could never tell by his baby face (Bean said he shaves once a week at the most), Bean is mature enough to handle the challenge of the minor leagues.
He doesn’t mind spending the summer in the Eastern League, playing every day, dealing with the humidity and the mosquitoes, and being thousands of miles away from home, if it means being one step closer to his ultimate goal.
“Baseball is my whole life, and I have to learn to deal with saying goodby to my family, relatives, friends and girlfriend,” Bean said. “This is what I’ve been striving for. Things here aren’t as glamorous as being on ESPN and getting your name in the paper every day. Here, you’re anonymous. Here, you’re going to experience the highs and the lows.”
Billy Bean already has.