He was 6-foot-3 with a live fastball and New England roots. Ben Crockett spent most of his youth in Topsfield, Mass., 20 miles north of Boston, and then enrolled at Harvard, where he studied economics and pitched for the Crimson.
So when the Boston Red Sox chose Crockett in the 10th round of the 2001 major league baseball draft, it seemed a given. Local Boy Makes Good, and all that sort of hype.
Then the unexpected happened. Crockett said no.
It would not be until 2007 when Crockett would finally give the Red Sox a yes, but it was not on the field. Crockett took an internship with the baseball operations department and has worked his way up.
Crockett, 32, is now Boston’s director of player development, replacing the promoted Mike Hazen (who, if you remember had replaced Ben Cherington, now the Red Sox general manager).
Crockett will be traveling the Red Sox minor league circuit often, including stops in Portland, to check on players and coaches.
“Similar to what Mike and Ben did before — finding the best ways as a group, collectively, to get the most out of different players — maximize and prepare guys for the major leagues,” Crockett said.
Crockett had been on that path to the majors himself, although his journey did not advance past Triple-A. His pro career ended in the independent leagues, pitching for manager Sparky Lyle.
When the Red Sox drafted Crockett in 2001, it seemed a natural fit. Maybe that is what Red Sox GM Dan Duquette and scouting director Wayne Britton were thinking — i.e., it would not take much to sign a kid who wants to pitch for the hometown team.
Crockett wouldn’t go into details about the negotiations, but Duquette and Britton were not always known for wowing prospects.
Three of Boston’s top 10 drafts picks in 2001 did not sign, including Crockett. With his glass-half-full personality, Crockett expresses no animosity.
“It was an incredible experience, a really challenging summer to decide,” he said. “We went back and forth. Clearly, I grew up a Red Sox fan. I was excited about that.
“But at the end of the day, the best course was for me to go back and finish school.”
It does not hurt to have a diploma from Harvard. And the extra year of baseball upped Crockett’s stock after he was named Co-Ivy League Pitcher of the Year, with a 2.79 ERA and a school-record 117 strikeouts.
The Colorado Rockies drafted Crockett in the third round and signed him for $345,000. He showed promise in Class A (10-9, 2.49 in 2003, with 117 strikeouts in 151 innings), but his career never got traction. Crockett was moved to the bullpen in Double-A and Triple-A in 2005 with little success. He was cut in spring training the next year.
After a season of independent ball, Crockett refocused on his long-range goal of working in the front office of a major league team. He finally hooked up with the hometown Sox.
At least when Crockett talks to players at Hadlock Field about the grind of being a minor leaguer, he will speak with credibility.
“You understand the challenges,” he said, “the physical side of things, and you appreciate some of the mental challenges, too — dealing with not ending up where you wanted to end up, or not being promoted, or being promoted and dealing with the pressure. A lot of things.”
SEA DOGS MANAGER Kevin Boles will be one of those talking with Crockett frequently.
Boles, 36, officially was re-signed as Portland manager for a second season, along with pitching coach Bob Kipper and hitting coach Dave Joppie.
“I can’t wait to return to Portland,” Boles said via email. “It feels great going back.”
Boles’ trip back will not be your normal one. Boles has spent the past four months managing the Sydney Blue Sox in the Australian Baseball League.
“It’s been a great experience, he said. “Things are going well. We are fighting for a playoff spot with two games to go.”
Since Boles’ email, Sydney lost a 3-0 decision to Perth (following a 15-inning, 4-3 loss on Friday). The Blue Sox end their regular season today.
Sea Dogs outfielder Mitch Dening is playing for Sydney, batting .281, with an .887 OPS.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: