It didn’t take long for Evan Beal to grab the attention of one South Carolina baseball beat reporter. Shortly after Beal retired the last batter in just his second start of the season, nicknames started to travel throughout the press box at Taylor Stadium in Columbia, Mo., as the Gamecocks wrapped up the first of a three-game series.
Evan Almighty emerged as the favorite.
“One of the writers for Gamecock Central used it as the headline in his article about my outing,” Beal, 19, said with a laugh when talking about his movie-inspired nickname. “I have to give him credit for making it up. I think it’s a funny name, but it’s also humbling.”
The nickname fit well as Beal powered South Carolina to a 4-1 victory over Missouri on March 15 behind 10 strikeouts and one walk in six innings of work. Not bad for someone who was moved from the bullpen and thrust into a starting role just a week earlier, after his predecessor went down with an injury.
South Carolinians and college baseball fans have begun to get a glimpse of what made Beal one of Northern Virginia’s most decorated high school baseball players two years ago.
While Beal, who graduated from South County Secondary in 2011, has settled into his role as a starter in the Gamecocks’ pitching rotation this season, he could have easily taken a different path.
Regarded as one of Virginia’s top pitching prospects in 2011, the 6-foot-4, right-handed pitcher helped guide South County (28-1) to a national ranking and an appearance in the state tournament championship game. South County didn’t capture the state crown, but Beal’s 2.41 earned run average and 89 strikeouts on the year were enough to pique the interest of one Major League Baseball organization.
The Kansas City Royals drafted him in the eighth round of the 2011 MLB draft.
As he mulled the decision to accept Kansas City’s offer or postpone his professional baseball career and head south to Columbia, S.C., Beal sought the counsel of his high school coach Mark Luther, his brother Jesse – a pitcher in the Baltimore Orioles organization – and his father. And while he valued their opinions, the high school senior ultimately chose with his heart.
“The decision was Evan’s decision. We let him go through the process, the courting of Kansas City, and he made the choice to go to South Carolina,” said Frank Beal, Evan’s father. “He passed up a very large signing bonus and I think he absolutely made the right choice.”
Beal, a sophomore, said he has no regrets and remains confident in his decision to attend South Carolina.
“I felt that either choice was a good one, but at that point in time with my development, and where I was physically, I felt as if I was a little light and weak,” said Beal, who is eligible to enter the MLB draft after his junior season. “The best choice for me at that time was to come to school and get on a good workout regimen and learn a little more about the game before I tested my skills in the professional ranks. At this point, I’m definitely happy with what I’ve done.”
Mark Luther retired from his position as South County’s varsity baseball coach in 2012 after seven seasons, but remains in contact with his former player. Luther traveled to South Carolina last week during the Fairfax County Public Schools’ spring break and had the chance to speak with Beal following one of his games. Luther believes Beal’s decision was the correct one.
“From my standpoint as his coach, and knowing the type of person Evan is, I thought it was a great idea [for him] to go to a program like South Carolina where he can make an impact and at the same time, have people who have his back and who are looking out for him because it’s in their best interest for [him] to do well,” said Luther, 51, who now works in South County’s activities office. “If he went to a Major League organization, even though you’re a teammate, you’re still vying for that next opportunity to get to the next level. I don’t think that would have been the best situation for Evan.”
But Beal’s not thinking about the past.
The only thing currently on his mind is helping South Carolina reach the College World Series championship series. He saw significant playing time in the tournament last season and ended his freshman campaign with a 3.81 earned run average to go along with 55 strikeouts in 52 innings pitched.
“It’s a real big blessing to be able to do this every day,” he said. “Anything could happen. I could get hurt tomorrow and jeopardize my career, but I feel like I’m really lucky and fortunate to be playing here and to do something that I love. It’s a big blessing and I don’t take it for granted.”