Major League Baseball’s scouting report for Harvard pitcher Ben Crockett ’02 applauds his “loose, live, strong arm,” comparing his lean frame to legend Orel Hershiser. The report celebrates his “downer curve with late bite” and his solid fielding skills. It concludes with something of a curveball, at least in the world of bottom-line professional sports, describing Crockett, the Crimson’s 6-foot-3-inch slinger, as an “Outstanding person.” Seems the senior economics major has made an impression with more than just his 92 mph fastball.
A year ago, the Topsfield native was selected by the Boston Red Sox – his home team Red Sox – in the 10th round of the Major League draft. Describing his getting picked as “a bit of a dream,” Crockett got a rude awakening when negotiations with the Sox eventually unwound, and the team ended up withdrawing its offer. Yet for the right-handed pitcher, the Red Sox’s so-called “organizational decision,” though disappointing, turned out to be more of an opportunity than a defeat.
“The way things worked out,” says Crockett “it was the best opportunity to return to Harvard, finish up my degree, and re-enter the draft this year.” Things more than just worked out for the senior captain, who, in this season alone, set the Harvard record for strikeouts in a season with 117, while busting a 34-year Harvard record for strikeouts in a game with a 17-K performance against Brown on April 27. This, on top of notching the second Ivy League Championship of his career. Crockett and company also earned an automatic bid to the 2002 NCAA Tournament in Houston, where, in the elimination game this past Saturday (June 1), Crockett denied the University of Washington for three solid innings, recording 9 K’s, before the Huskies erupted with four game-winning runs. And though the 4-2 loss promptly ended Harvard’s postseason, the lean senior wrapped up his own season – and college career – with 263 total career strikeouts, surpassing previous record-holder Paul Del-Rossi ’64 by a hefty 34 fans.
Crockett discovered baseball when he and his family, who expressed zero interest in sports, moved to Topsfield. “Suddenly,” he explains, “kids were playing baseball, so I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll try that out.'” And right off the bat, the 5-foot-11-inch sixth-grade-slinger excelled. “I was always a lot taller, which makes you able to throw a little bit harder. So I was always successful, so that made it more fun, I guess, as a kid.”
At Masconomet High School, the success, and fun, continued. Crockett led the Chieftains to three Cape Ann League championships, while setting the school’s record for victories. This, in addition to his being named the 1998 All-Scholastic Player of the Year by both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. Before long, colleges came calling.
As he sifted through the numerous offers from schools, baseball took a backseat to quality of education. “It was pretty much an issue of me trying to find the best education that I could,” he says. Once Harvard expressed interest, the process of picking a school became far easier. “Obviously, academically Harvard was the top choice, and baseball-wise too, it was just as competitive as B.C. or Providence College or Villanova.”
And though attending Harvard wasn’t necessarily one of Crockett’s childhood dreams, he admits readily, it was the most alluring choice, both on and off the field. “Location-wise, you couldn’t beat Harvard,” says the Massachusetts native.
Once in a Crimson uniform, Crockett wasted little time proving his mettle, earning Co-Rookie of the Year along with Princeton’s Chris Young, while leading Harvard to the first of his two Ivy Championships.
At the conclusion of a fruitful freshman year, a then-20-year-old Crockett had little idea of what would come next. “I didn’t really know what I was going to do [for the summer],” he says. That is, until the Mat-Su Miners of the Alaska Baseball League – one of the premier wooden-bat collegiate summer leagues in the country – needed a pitcher. Even though the majority of summer league teams fill their roster months in advance of June’s opening pitch, Crockett secured a spot when one of the team’s pitchers sustained an injury. “I was lucky enough it fill it up,” Crockett says.
Between cleaning up the bleachers and mowing the grass in the daytime – requisite duties for all ballplayers in the scenic town of Palmer, Alaska, one hour north of Anchorage – Crockett sharpened his skills in the evening games. For the provincial Crockett, his summer on the mound in the Matanuska River Valley was “an incredible experience.”
The next summer, following his sophomore year, Crockett stayed much closer to home, pitching for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod Baseball League. With the Gatemen, he was named both an All Star and Pitcher of the Year, no small feat considering that he was up against some of the best athletes in the nation.
Like the Alaskan league, the teams on the Cape had an exhausting regimen. In addition to playing six to seven games a night, players were required to work or volunteer when not on the field. Crockett worked in economic development at the Wareham Town Hall, giving him a chance to apply his economics knowledge when he wasn’t applying his heat.
It was after his junior season that Crockett was drafted by the Sox, making for a tumultuous summer of back-and-forth negotiations. “In negotiations,” he says of the harrowing process, “you’re trying to get something that’s fair – enough to sacrifice your senior year experience for.”
Almost a year to the day after the economics major decided to capitalize on his Red Sox disappointment by finishing up his Harvard education, another two-day major league draft was held. The “product” clearly had not depreciated. This past Tuesday (June 4) Ben Crockett was selected by the Colorado Rockies as the 81st overall pick in the third round of the draft.