About this time five years ago, Scott Beerer, a second-round pick who once could throw a fastball in the mid-90s, walked out of Colorado Rockies minor league spring training camp prepared for life after baseball.
He was tired of pitching, tired of living and dying with every throw, tired of trying to pump hope into a dead arm.
Now the converted Orioles outfielder sits in his first big league spring training camp in Sarasota, rejuvenated by a second chance he didn't believe he would ever have. He's four months shy of his 30th birthday. Age isn't the only obstacle he's fighting — he's also selling the idea that he can reinvent himself as a hitter.
The Orioles signed Beerer to a minor league free-agent deal with a spring training invitation in November, giving him his first taste of the big leagues. A big reason is former Orioles outfielder and new team special assistant Brady Anderson, who has been by Beerer's side the past three years in helping him transition from pitcher to position player.
"It's been a rough road, being as old as I am at 29." Beerer said. "It's been a long time chasing a dream. I've been just trekking along trying to get to this point. It's been a very humbling road, but I feel so blessed and happy that I'm here.
"I was done. It wasn't until the first time I hit with Brady that I realized I could come back. He made me believe in myself. He made me think this could be done."
As a pitcher, Beerer had great promise. He was signed by the Rockies to a $725,000 signing bonus in 2003 out of Texas A&M. But that same year in Rookie ball, he tore his labrum. Surgery repaired his shoulder, but it wouldn't give him back his velocity — and 6-foot, right-handed relievers who throw in the mid-80s are far too common in the minors. He went from prospect to afterthought. Three years later, he was still toiling in Single-A.
Beerer asked the Rockies whether he could become an outfielder. Colorado didn't bite. So Beerer left. He went to EMT school, passed all his tests for the Los Angeles County and city fire departments and began volunteering at hospitals in L.A. to accumulate hours.
To make ends meet, he was a bartender and bouncer in Hermosa Beach.
"Going from a life of baseball to all of a sudden, I'm in school, I'm in bars at night, not sleeping much, it was a tough time, a big transitional period for me," Beerer said. "I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do after baseball."
In the back of his mind, Beerer still hungered for another chance to play baseball. He just needed someone to believe he could do it.
"I just said, 'You know what? I still have that desire to play. I don't want to wake up when I'm 40 and say, 'I wish I had tried to hit.'" Beerer said.
He found his fit in Anderson, whom he met through a mutual friend. Anderson wasn't sold initially.
"I said, 'OK, so I guess it's going to be Babe Ruth, Rick Ankiel and Scott Beerer?'" Anderson said. "I'm like, 'Are you sure you want to do this?'"
So at 26, with two seasons out of the game, Beerer began his comeback with Anderson at his side. He hadn't picked up a bat in six years.
The first time the two worked out, Anderson watched Beerer hit off a tee. He could tell Beerer has strength, and Anderson made a quick tweak to his swing. Suddenly, Beerer was hitting balls 250 feet farther in the air, over the fence.
"Within a half hour, we had to stop hitting because I didn't have any balls left," Anderson said. "He was just launching it, swing after swing after swing. We just went from there."
The two then incorporated boxing, Olympic powerlifting and handstands into their regimens, the same routine Anderson does with other Orioles players.
After seeing Beerer's dedication, the Rockies — the organization that still owned Beerer's rights — gave him another chance heading into the 2009 season, but he would have to work his way back up from the bottom. He started in instructional league, then debuted in Low-A ball, batting .558 in 43 at-bats before going being promoted to High-A.
Last season, he was a Texas League All-Star playing at Double-A Tulsa, which earned him a promotion to the Rockies' Triple-A team in Colorado Springs, for which he hit .372 in 148 at-bats. Anderson campaigned for the Orioles to give Beerer a shot this offseason.
Since returning as a position player, Beerer is a .309 career hitter across three minor league classifications. Now, he's searching for the opportunity to prove himself at the big league level.
"He has the skills to play," Anderson said. "He's fast, strong. He can do things hitting that not a ton of guys can do. He has the potential to play in the big leagues and play well in the big leagues. He got a late start, but his actual hitting age is very young. He's not beat up physically.
"But the odds stacked up against him are still pretty monumental."
Beerer has had a good spring. He's 6-for-17 (a .353 average) in Grapefruit League games with two runs and two stolen bases. And count Orioles manager Buck Showalter among those who have been impressed with Beerer this spring.
"It's like professional golfers," Showalter said. "There are so many of them who pick it up late in the game. They really stay away from the bad habits. He's got a pretty good basis. There's not a whole lot there that makes you go, 'That's not going to be good.' He's got bat speed, great approach, defensively he gives a lot. With his lack of experience, you wouldn't know he had been a pitcher that long."
But Beerer knows he faces a tough climb to make the club this spring. The Orioles' outfield is entrenched from left to right with Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. And Baltimore signed Endy Chavez and traded for Jai Miller, a pair of outfielders who can play all three positions.
Triple-A Norfolk is a more likely landing spot for Beerer when the Orioles head north, but when he thinks about where he was before, that's just another stop in a remarkable journey. He has already proved many wrong.
"Obviously, my goal is to make the big leagues," Beerer said, "but if it doesn't work, what a ride it's been so far. I'm not looking for any accolades from anybody else. As a personal goal, the hard work has paid off, and that's satisfying for me ... all the hours I put in trying to do what everyone told me I couldn't do. There have been doubters all along the way, but you keep persevering.
"I'll be able to look back one day and say, 'Man I gave it all I had.'"
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