Who has the best lights in town? Vote now for your favorite in our holiday lights contest.
Salem’s second baseman is becoming almost as good on the diamond as he is in a bowling alley.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Mookie Betts (center) is greeted by Stefan Welch (left) and Matt Gedman after hitting a home run.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Mookie Betts was hitting a Carolina League-best.391 in August, with five homers, 26 RBIs and nine steals in 24 games.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
He’s named after a basketball player. His recent baseball exploits have been as impressive as anyone’s in the Carolina League. He just opened his golf career with a promising round at Hanging Rock.
Name a sport, and Mookie Betts has probably succeeded in it. But no matter how much the Salem Red Sox second baseman surges on the diamond, it’ll be hard to match the moment he recently experienced at a bowling alley in Tennessee.
“I was nervous,” Betts said, thinking back to the time last offseason when he stood on the approach and attempted to roll his 12th strike in a row. “I’ve been there a couple of times — a couple 299s, a couple 298s.”
But never a 300 — until that day.
“It was great,” Betts said. “Just to get back there and finally do it was a sigh of relief. I feel like I’ve done everything — I’ve bowled an 800 [series], I’ve bowled a 300, I’ve won some tournaments. There’s not many more things I can do besides bowl a 900 [series], and I’m not going to take the time to do that.”
If he wanted to, though? You get the feeling he could make a run at it.
“He’s an athlete in everything,” said Salem teammate and roommate Blake Swihart. “He can do anything and everything.”
Opposing Carolina League pitchers would have to agree. Through his first 24 games in August, Betts was hitting a league-best .391 for the month with five homers, 26 RBIs and nine steals in 11 attempts.
All this despite being the 10th-youngest player in the circuit— a fact manager Billy McMillon and hitting coach Nelson Paulino stressed to the 20-year-old when he struggled at the plate his first few weeks after a July 9 promotion from Greenville.
“They told me don’t get mad, it’ll take time, it’s a process,” said Betts, who played outstanding defense but batted only .239 in his first 20 Carolina League games. “The only thing I can do is go out there and play every day and not worry about what’s going on. That’s pretty much what I’ve been trying to do — not worry about it, just keep playing, keep playing — and now eventually it’s starting to click.”
The clicking culminated with a monster night last Friday. Betts went 5 for 6 with two homers, two doubles, seven RBIs and four runs in an 18-5 victory over Myrtle Beach.
His hot hitting is a big reason the Sox have leapfrogged the Pelicans in the Carolina League’s Southern Division. They enter tonight’s home doubleheader against Frederick on the cusp of their first postseason bid in four years.
“I want to see what it’s like,” Betts said of the playoffs. “I want to see if we can fill up the stands here or go somewhere and fill up the stands and play in front of a lot of people. I feel like that would be a fun atmosphere in those games. Not that all games don’t mean something, but those games, the anxiety and everything will be a lot more.”
Betts has responded well to pressure since he was a kid, winning scholarship money in regional bowling tournaments. His mother, Diana Benedict, was the driving force behind his passion; she bowled in leagues every day of the week.
His family would stage large tournaments near their Tennessee home.
“I pretty much grew up in the bowling alley,” Betts said. “I had no choice but to learn how to do it. My mom’s been to Vegas to bowl in tournaments. You name it, we’ve probably been there to bowl.”
The (Nashville) Tennessean named Betts its Bowler of the Year in 2010. That same year, he averaged 14 points and seven assists as a point guard, making good on the nickname his parents borrowed from former NBA guard Mookie Blaylock (Betts’ given name is Markus).
The Red Sox drafted him in the fifth round a year later and signed him away from a Tennessee commitment with a $750,000 bonus.
With his career path established, bowling has faded into a hobby, but it remains an important part of his relaxation strategy. Last offseason, he bowled in leagues on Fridays and Sundays and served as a substitute in a Thursday-night league.
He struggles to find time for the sport during the season, though, and might have found a new activity to devour his free time.
“First drive of the evening, right down the middle of the fairway,” said Swihart, who accompanied Betts on his maiden golf outing recently. “Typical athlete. He can do it.”
Could an ace be far behind?
Weather JournalStorm track isn't very snowy for us