Age and arm," mutters John Stallings, twice for emphasis. "Age and arm." What other answer could the Kean University sports information director possibly give to the question? Why else is Frank Beck-horn, the top batsman in college baseball, unlikely to be drafted by someone? Anyone. Heck, the White Sox once picked an 18-year-old female in the 43rd round.
"Frank is one of those rare players who, no matter what the conditions or who's pitching or what the situation is, he'll get a hit," says first-year coach Neil Ioviero. This season, his senior year at the Union, N.J., school, Beckhorn batted .505, slightly higher than the .500 he hit as a junior and much better than the pathetic .443 he swung as a sophomore. All told, his career .483 mark is the best in Division III history. Beckhorn also boasts power (31 HRs, 152 RBIs in three seasons) and one of the New Jersey Athletic Conference's better first baseman's gloves (.981 fielding percentage).
So why, when Major League Baseball's draft takes place next week, won't anyone touch Frank Beckhorn? "Maybe scouts have heard about my age and think I'm too old to be a prospect," he says. "But to me, that's not really fair."
A three-time Division III All-America, the 24-year-old Beckhorn came to Kean after 2� years at Seton Hall and another six months flipping pies at nearby P.J.'s Pizzeria. He was lightly recruited out of Woodbridge High but made the Pirates roster as a freshman in 1993, collecting three hits in 10 at bats. "Everything was pretty good there," he says. "But I asked if they could give me any money, and they said no. I had no choice. I had to get a job."
He came to Kean in 1995 because it was more affordable and close to home. Baseball wasn't a factor. Then, one night at a local bar, Beckhorn ran into David Shaw, a Kean assistant coach at the time. "He kept asking me to come out for the team, and I kept saying no," Beckhorn says. "But he also kept buying me beers and shots. By the end of the night, I was like, 'O.K., I'll play.' "
He was a 21-year-old sophomore. "Maybe if I'd started sooner," he says. "Maybe if I'd stuck it out at Seton Hall...."
Maybe, but Kean has had its share of big league scouts of late, first to look at senior pitcher Jon Ciravolo, who was drafted last year in the 15th round by Atlanta, and more recently to track Joe Rivera, a senior outfielder who hit .319. Says Colorado Rockies scout Mike Garlatti, "The big thing with Frank is his age. If a guy hits .500, it doesn't matter where he's playing, he can hit. But there are 24-year-olds already in the majors."
Another reason may be Beckhorn's right shoulder, which earlier this season was operated on to repair a bone impingement. Beckhorn was unable to throw for much of the season (he was the DH in 13 games), and while his strength is almost back to normal, he sometimes experiences soreness.
Still, .483. "To me, it makes no sense," says Jeff Dean, the coach at rival Rutgers-Camden. "That guy is the purest hitter I've seen. Maybe he's a risk because he plays Division III, but when someone hits .500, he's a risk worth taking."