By Jackson Masiel,
On June 5, 2012, Davis High alumnus Ben Eckels got a special call from the Arizona Diamondbacks: he had been selected in the 11th round of the MLB draft.
Although this climactic stage is perhaps the shining moment of his baseball career, it would not have been possible without the years of hard work preceding.
Eckels’ journey started with his family when he was just four years old.
“My family was always baseball-oriented. Playing ball was something we did,” Eckels said.
His family’s influence was strengthened by his great uncle, Marv Grissom, a famous pitcher for the New York and San Francisco Giants.
The impact of his family stayed with Eckels, and he continued to play the game into his teen years. By high school, he had given up all other sports to focus on baseball.
The right-handed pitcher boasted impressive statistics across the board during his DHS baseball career, not to mention the fun he had while on the team.
“It was more relaxed, and about the team winning. In the pros, it’s all about improving your individual statistics,” Eckels said.
These years weren’t without their hard work, however. Eckels practiced five days a week for baseball and hit the gym on Saturdays to get his body ready for the next level.
All of his preparation paid off on draft day. Just after graduating from high school, the Diamondbacks organization offered Eckels a $125,000 signing bonus.
“I knew I was going to get drafted, but not if the team would offer me a good enough deal to sign,” Eckels said.
This deal was sweet enough, he decided, to go straight to professional baseball.
During his time in the minor leagues, Eckels learned firsthand the rigor of playing baseball for money. The pressure to improve individually was extreme; a few statistical numbers here and there could make or break a career.
Eckels played for both the South Bend Silver Hawks and the Hillsboro Hops, two Diamondback affiliates. During his career, he faced some of baseball’s rising stars, including Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant and Yasiel Puig.
“The main difference between the best players and everybody else is consistency. At my best, I could be as good as anyone, but I just wasn’t as consistent,” Eckels said.
In the midst of the professional grind, Eckels did make some great memories. His best moment as a baseball player was the locker room celebration after the Hops won their minor league championship.
“It was just like you see on TV, spraying each other with champagne and everything,” Eckels said.
Struggling with consistency problems, Eckels was eventually released by the Hops, and after a short stint playing in the independent baseball league, he is now back home in Davis.
Although his playing days are over, he stays connected to the game he loves through coaching. He coaches a 13U travel ball team and also helps coach Dan Ariola with the DHS varsity team.
Eckels plans to stay in Davis and continue coaching into the foreseeable future.
“It’s really fun to coach the kids, especially the ones who want to learn,” Eckels said.
Coaching also lets Eckels pass on valuable knowledge he learned from the brutal world of professional sports.
“[…] Make sure you keep having fun with your sport, because as soon as it turns into a job, that’s when the stress comes in,” Eckels said, advising aspiring athletes.