There is a slogan at Camden High School which students recite at various activities and ceremonies which says, “Once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog.”
That mantra has been taken to heart by many members of the student body and alumni. Maybe no group has taken those six words as seriously as have members of the school’s baseball pitching staff.
The list of former CHS pitchers becoming members of The Citadel baseball squad grew to three last week when rising senior Devin Beckley gave his verbal commitment to join former Camden pitchers Grey Hoke, a redshirt sophomore left-hander, and former teammate Will Abbott, an incoming freshman, in Charleston. Before those two, former CHS standout Griff Beckman and current Camden Military Academy head baseball coach went on to pitch for The Citadel.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Beckley was a AAA All-State selection this past spring. He is the son of Camden High head baseball coach Denny Beckley whose brother David is an assistant baseball coach at The Citadel. David Beckley, however, was not the point man in Devin Beckley’s recruitment. That chore was handled by the Bulldogs’ pitching coach and former Major League pitcher Britt Reames.
For Beckley, who posted a 7-1 record with 70 strikeouts while pitching to a 1.47 earned run average for Camden in 2016, the connections to The Citadel baseball program are obvious. But when it came time to make a decision as to where he wanted to attend college and play baseball, he tried his best to take his family ties out of the equation.
“He’s a position coach so, he didn’t want to get too involved in it,” Devin Beckley said of his uncle’s role in his recruiting process. “He was still excited and was in on it but Coach Reames was the one who offered me.”
The fact that David Beckley did not play a central role in Devin Beckley’s recruitment allowed Reames, a Citadel graduate and a member of the school’s athletic hall of fame, to sell the school and the baseball program to Devin Beckley. It may have also led Denny Beckley to sit back and watch how the process unfolded as a parent as opposed to someone who was totally invested into his son’s final decision.
“Obviously,” Denny Beckley said, “we have some biased opinions. When we (David and himself) talk, we’re very similar in our evaluation of kids.
“Coach Reames and my brother have a great working relationship and played together at The Citadel. Britt does the evaluation of the pitchers so that left out some of the bias that my brother might have toward his nephew.”
Reames got his first look at Devin Beckley at a baseball showcase last fall. Shortly after that, Reames called the CHS junior and offered him the chance to pitch at The Citadel. Interestingly, even with his connections to The Citadel baseball program, Devin Beckley never attended a camp run by the Southern Conference member institution.
When asked why now and if there was any temptation to see if other schools would send an offer his way, Devin Beckley said he had a pretty good idea as to where he wanted to be both academically and athletically.
“I pretty much said that whoever offered me first would probably be the place that I would go. I pretty much had it in my mind that the Citadel was where I wanted to be,” he said.
If there were any lingering doubts as to whether he wanted to attend the military school, Devin Beckley said those were erased after having been in the stands at Williams-Brice Stadium last Nov. 21 when The Citadel upset South Carolina on the football field, 23-22.
“I think the first time that I thought about The Citadel being the place where I wanted to go was when I went to their game against Carolina in football,” he said. “It was cool seeing how everybody was really excited to see them win that game.”
Beckley is also Camden’s starting quarterback and is coming off a junior campaign in which he threw for 1,547 yards and 12 touchdowns. He rushed for 153 more yards and scored twice for Jimmy Neal’s Bulldogs.
During Camden’s recently concluded spring football practice, several schools, including some Division I programs, took a long look at the Bulldogs’ senior quarterback and were making staff evaluations on how he would fit into their schemes. But Beckley said that recently, he decided that the only sport he wanted to play at the next level was baseball.
“For awhile, I was seeing what (football) camps I could go to but then, they just fizzled out and I said that I would just stick to baseball,” he said in choosing between the two sports.
With his sights set on baseball only in college, Beckley made his verbal pledge to The Citadel which is getting a right-hander who has what his father/coach said is a high ceiling.
“The biggest thing that Devin has always been able to do is to have great poise,” Denny Beckley said. “It seems like most of the time when he is struggling, most of those times, he will make big pitches when he has to before it gets too far out of hand.
“He’s pitched in some really big ballgames and in some big environments and for the most part, he has been pretty successful. His Achilles heel is his lack of consistency and his mechanics are part of that problem. He doesn’t have bad mechanics he just has inconsistent mechanics; simple things like taking the ball out of his gloves at different times or, his landing point with his front foot. Sometimes, he will land in one spot and other times, he will land in other spots.
“We’re very aware of these issues and have been working on them for years. It’s just a thing where he gets a little jumpy and he hurries it up sometimes and the timing gets thrown off.”
Devin Beckley displayed that poise on the mound in 2015 when, as a sophomore, he hit the first Chapin batter he faced in a game and shook it off en route to throwing a no-hitter. He threw another “no-no” in 2016. Last spring at Camden, he did walk 30 batters while hitting a dozen others.
Even the author of those no-hitters laughed when saying they were not the prettiest of sights to behold for a baseball purist. But the other aspects of his game are what drew the attention of Reames and others. Last week, in a start for the Kershaw County Post 17 American Legion baseball team, Beckley’s fastball was timed in the high 80s. Now, he said, he needs to fine-tune the rest of his mound work.
“They said they really like my height and my makeup. They said my velocity was pretty good, too,” Devin Beckley said before breaking into a smile. “Definitely not my control, though.
“Coach Reames knows his stuff. He pitched in the big leagues. I’m sure he will help me out to where I don’t have eight walks in a game.”
The fact that Devin Beckley, who also started at third base for CHS when Abbott was pitching, will just pitch at The Citadel and will work under a full-time pitching coach should help with his control isues as well as his approach to the game.
“One thing my brother mentioned is that once Devin becomes a pitcher-only in college, then he’ll be able to shore up his mechanics even more,” said Denny Beckley. “I think there is a high ceiling for him once he becomes a pitcher only. I know how competitive he is and he’ll be really bored at first in not being able to play the field or, swing the bat but I think it’s the right place for him. He has more potential on the mound than he does in other areas.”
Hoping to stay a starter rather than being used in relief at The Citadel, Devin Beckley said having two former CHS Bulldogs on the team did not play a major role in his decision even though he said it will be nice to have a friend like Abbott already on the team. “That’s cool to have a friend there to start off but I’ll make friends there,” he said.
Even better for Devin Beckley is that he enters his final year at Camden High already knowing what his immediate future holds.
“Just being able to know that I don’t have to worry about where I am going to college or, going to camps to get looked at,” he said of the advantages of his verbal commitment. “I can enjoy my senior year.”
For Denny Beckley, whose team’s last two seasons came in losses to eventual state champion Belton-Honea Path in the AAA Upper State championship and District 1 championship, respectively, his son’s commitment to play at the Citadel is exciting for him both as a parent and a baseball coach.
“First of all, as a baseball coach,” he said, “I’m very excited that we have another Division I offer for our program. Devin has been a guy who has been pretty steady for us. He’s been on the varsity since the end of his freshman year and has pitched in some really big games for us. I’m excited for him that he is going to a quality program that has great tradition.
“And as for our program, I’m really excited for us because it seems like we are taking steps in the right direction to improving not only the results in terms of wins and losses but also, some of our guys getting more exposure and getting into some bigger programs.”