About this article
This article was originally published in the Dec. 2015/Jan. 2016 issue of The Life-400 North, a publication of the Forsyth County News. To read the entire magazine, click here.
On October 26, Seth Beer drove home from one of his baseball games with his dad, Michael, for the last time.
The two were returning from Jupiter, Fla., where Seth had played in the 2015 WWBA World Championships with the EvoShield Canes, one of the premier amateur travel baseball organizations in the country.
Even after everything the greatest high school baseball player to come out of Forsyth County had already faced – giving up a sure-Olympic swimming career, winning a state championship at Lambert High School in Georgia’s largest classification, making all-American lists and national all-star teams – it was the ultimate barometer for Seth’s potential professional career.
At 19 years old, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound left-handed hitting outfielder entered the event projected to be picked in the middle of the first round or early in the second round of the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft where he could garner a signing bonus of upwards of $2 million.
In Jupiter, he’d be facing some of the best high school pitching in the country and use a wood bat like the pros.
If he performed well and improved his draft stock enough, Beer’s decision was easy: he would stay in high school, play his final season at Lambert, get picked in the top 10 of next summer’s draft and make life-changing money. If he struggled, Beer would leave high school to play at Clemson University, postponing his professional career by at least two years to prove himself to professional scouts all over again.
But a funny thing happened. Beer played well. Really well. He hit .533, and the Canes won a world championship. His draft stock should have soared. His decision should have been easy. But it wasn’t. Instead, his draft stock didn’t improve. Everything was complicated.
On the road 10 minutes away from home, Seth turned to his dad.
“Man, I have to make a big decision,” he said.
Beer’s life up until that day had been split between the pool, where he became a national record-holder in the 50- and 100-meter backstroke in the 11- and 12-year-old age group, and the baseball diamond. By the time Seth was playing competitive travel baseball at 12, he was homeschooled to help maintain a grueling schedule: up at 5:30 a.m., swim until 8 a.m., catch a nap, ride with his mom, Robin, and sister Savannah to Cobb County for baseball practice with the East Cobb Longhorns then back to the pool.
Everything pointed toward Seth being invited to participate in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials at just 15 years old.
And then Beer made the first big decision of his life: He walked away from swimming. His love of baseball had eclipsed his love of the pool while his talent on the diamond had seemingly caught up with his talent in the water.
At 13, Beer joined the Georgia Roadrunners, a new travel baseball team coached by former MLB pitcher Paul Byrd. At tryouts, Byrd threw batting practice to Beer and marveled.
“When he hit the ball, he was incredibly smooth, powerful, and it looked like what he was born to do,” Byrd said. “It was poetry.”
Byrd stopped Beer after a few rounds of batting practice.
“Son, I really think you could hit in the big leagues,” Byrd said.
“Really?” Beer said. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” Byrd replied.
Devoted to baseball, Beer set out on a course to find out what limits, if any, he had in the sport. He enrolled at King’s Ridge Christian School, a small private school in Alpharetta, in the eighth grade and the next season hit .528 with eight home runs as a freshman on the varsity team.
Seeking better competition, he enrolled in nearby Lambert High School his sophomore year. When he first met then-head baseball coach Jamie Corr in fifth period weight training, Beer walked up to him and said, “I’m here to win a state title.”
And Lambert did, with Beer hitting .589 with 21 doubles, 10 home runs and 56 runs-batted in. He was named a Louisville Slugger High School All-American, verbally committed to play baseball at Clemson and was just one of two high school underclassmen to play in the 2014 Under Armour All-America Baseball Game at Wrigley Field.
When he did it all again as a junior – hitting .560 with eight home runs and 41 RBI, playing in the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game – the question became would Beer ever play another high school inning?
Beer returned from Jupiter asking himself that same question, and he sought out insight from plenty of sources. He talked with family. He talked with Byrd. He talked with his old hitting instructor, Bran Austin. He talked with his advisor, Eric McQueen. He talked with family friend Michael Barrett, a former MLB catcher. He talked with 2015 National League MVP Bryce Harper when Harper spoke to Beer’s EvoShield team. He talked with Canes’ coach Jeff Petty who watched Beer hit .409 with a team-best 35 RBI this summer.
“I think he’s someone who could hit .300 in the big leagues and hit 25-30 home runs,” Petty said. “That’s what you’re looking at.”
With each he laid out the pros and cons of staying in high school or going to Clemson, and often the conversation came around to the money at stake.
But Beer couldn’t shake the thought of Clemson. A signing bonus in the first round would look nice, but it wouldn’t be life-changing money after 40 to 45 percent was taken out for an agent and taxes.
He’d get an extra two to three years in college to prove himself to MLB teams before entering the minor leagues. He wouldn’t disappear in the lowest levels of minor league baseball or get jaded by the cut-throat life of players fighting to make the big leagues.
Beer took a risk because he wanted to be a part of a team.
“The [pro] list just went on and on for going to college,” Beer said. “Some kids are wired differently, and I just love the team mentality and being linked to a community. It drives me to perform and do better for myself and my teammates.”
On Nov. 11, Beer sat at a table in the Lambert High School media center with his family wearing a crisp white dress shirt, orange tie and purple Clemson pull-over sweater.
He brought two Clemson hats and signed to play baseball this spring for the Tigers, stepping into this risk he felt coming on that October car ride home from Jupiter.
He looked at his dad driving sensing everything was about to change.
“This is the last time we’ll ever do this together,” Seth said.
Tears welled up in both their eyes.
“It was awesome,” Michael said. “It was fun.”