PRAIRIE GROVE — Jesse McGraw parked his car at Frederick’s One Stop in Prairie Grove and took a picture with his cellphone of a sign where breakfast and lunch times are usually posted.
But there was another message last Thursday that caught the attention of McGraw and many others in this town of 5,700: WATCH HOMETOWN BOY JALEN BEEKS ON ESPN THURS AT 6 MLB DEBUT.
“I can’t believe Jalen is turning his dream into a reality,” said McGraw, who has known Beeks since the two were in the seventh grade at Prairie Grove. “It’s exciting that a guy from this little bitty town made it all the way to the big leagues. He had a dream and worked hard to make it pay off. “
Beeks took to the mound later that day and struck out the first batter he faced on national television against the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park in Boston. But the first inning did not go well for the left-hander, who allowed five runs on four hits, including a home run to Leonys Martin, the Tigers’ No. 7 hitter.
Beeks settled down and allowed only one run over the next three innings. He did not get the call on some borderline pitches, but he struck out four hitters, including Miguel Cabrera, a future Hall of Fame player.
“That first inning was rough,” Beeks told reporters after the game. “Obviously, not what you wanted. Just got to execute pitches better.”
Beeks took the loss in a 7-2 defeat to Detroit, but Red Sox manager Alex Cora had words of encouragement before Beeks was sent back to Triple-A, which was the plan beforehand.
“He’ll be fine,” Cora said. “He has a bright future. We really like the way he competed after that (first inning). He didn’t let it bother him. He kept competing and gave us four.”
The trip from Triple-A Pawtucket (R.I.) to Fenway Park in Boston and back marked a whirlwind 48 hours for Beeks and his family. Beeks’ parents, Scott and Sherry Beeks, were among over a dozen friends and relatives who were at Fenway Park on Thursday to witness the major-league debut for the former Tiger from Prairie Grove.
“The folks from the Red Sox organization couldn’t have been nicer,” Scott Beeks said. “We were on the phone with them making travel arrangements until 11 o’clock Tuesday night and flew out at 11 a.m. the next day.”
Beeks is still only 24 years old, so it’s likely his family will get to see him pitch again in the big leagues. For now, Beeks is back at Pawtucket, where he is 3-3 with a 2.56 earned run average.
“Jalen was given the opportunity to take three days off, but he decided to get back to work at Pawtucket,” Scott Beeks said. “That work ethic. That’s the way he is.”
Beeks (5-foot-11, 195 pounds) is not one of those overpowering athletes with an impressive array of pitchers. But he’s made quite an improvement in the minors after being selected in the 12th round (374th overall) by the Red Sox in 2014.
Two years ago, Beeks wasn’t even considered among the top 30 prospects in the Red Sox’s organization. Baseball America ranks him No. 11 on the list after he was voted the Red Sox’s minor league pitcher of the year for 2017.
That’s quite a turnaround for a small-town boy who played at Crowder Community College College before the Razorbacks came calling. He turned professional after going 12-6 in two years at Arkansas.
“Jalen is not one of those five-tool guys who can do everything really well,” Scott Beeks said. “But there’s a sixth tool, and that’s what’s between your ears. He has that drive where he’s going to outwork everybody. He’s always been undersized, and that’s stoked his fire.”
Beeks has already beaten the odds in his journey from Prairie Grove to historic Fenway Park in Boston. Only 0.5 percent of high school baseball players make it to the major leagues, and the odds are astronomical Beeks would make his major-league debut on ESPN for the whole country to see.
While Beeks’ debut did not go as he had hoped, folks in this town with three stoplights remain Prairie Grove proud of him. He’ll be back, they’re sure.
Rick Fires can be reached at rfires@ nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWARick.