Dan Collins/Winston-Salem Journal
Two local Little League teammates who followed their common aspirations in different directions have reunited this season with the Winston-Salem Dash in time for Thursday’s night’s home opener against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, scheduled for 7 p.m. at BB&T Ballpark.
The two, designated-hitter Chris Jacobs and outfielder C.J. Beatty, are minor-league veterans in their mid-20s now, making the long odds of any Class A player making the major leagues all that much longer. Even so, they’re reaffirming at least the title, if not the romantic content, of the classic soul hit by Peaches and Herb.
The two old buddies are Reunited and It Feels So Good.
“We’ve been playing Little League baseball together since we were like six years old,’’ Jacobs said. “We played in high school together. We were both on high school conference all-star teams and all that stuff. It’s just crazy how things come back around full circle.
“Our families are all real close. They’ll probably all be sitting together at games, just cheering as loud as possible.
“It’s just going to make it a very, very fun experience.’’
Beatty said he learned that Jacobs had joined him and the organization of the parent Chicago White Sox while checking his Twitter feed during breakfast.
“Somebody that follows major league baseball said the White Sox signed a big prospect from the Dodgers, Christopher Jacobs,’’ Beatty recalled. “I dropped that bowl of cereal, and I was like, `Oh my God.’
“I called him immediately. I said `Bro you with me?’ And then the rest is history.’’
The history the two already share is deep and rich. They first played together in the South Little League in Winston-Salem. They were both stars at Glenn High School. They both learned much of what they know about the game from Dale Ijames, the former coach at Glenn High School, where the baseball field bears his name.
Though Ijames retired as Glenn’s baseball coach in 2004, he continued to teach the finer points of the game through his work with the Kernersville Bulldogs of the Carolina-Virginia Collegiate League and individual workouts.
“We joke all the time and say that he’s one of our founding fathers of baseball,’’ Beatty said. “We definitely work out with him in the off-season, and before we left for spring training we had a couple of opportunities to work out with him and help our swings out.’’
Their paths to a shared dream of playing baseball in the major leagues split after high school. Beatty, born Sept. 28, 1988, graduated from high school in 2006 and played three seasons at North Carolina A&T before signing with the St. Louis Cardinals as a 26th-round pick in the 2009 draft. Jacobs, born Nov. 25, 1988, signed a month after graduating from Glenn in 2007 as a 17th-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But whereas Jacobs played seven seasons in the Dodgers organization before signing with the White Sox as a free agent in December, Beatty’s road home was more circuitous. Released by the Cardinals after two seasons, Beatty spent the better part of the next four seasons playing with six different teams in four Independent Leagues, the North American Baseball League, the American Association, the Australian Baseball League and the Frontier League.
Because Independent League teams are not directly associated with major league organization, they’re seen as a last-ditch chance to keep a professional baseball career alive. So Beatty was relieved and happy to sign with the White Sox as a free agent last August. And he was ecstatic to be assigned to his hometown team, the Winston-Salem Dash.
Not only did he know the town, but so many in the town knew him. During offseason months he has worked in local government as what he described as an assistant to the assistant of Mayor Allen Joines.
“Man it is a dream come true,’’ Beatty said. “I remember driving up and down that highway going to work in the offseason and just looking over and saying `I just wish I could play in this stadium.’
“I kind of thought that opportunity was gone.’’
Jacobs, a 6-5, 255-pound right-handed hitter, is expected to contribute more on the field. He has been a regular in the lineup, routinely batting sixth in the order as a designated hitter. He had five hits in his first 13 at-bats, for a .385 average.
“Chris is an older guy,’’ Manager Tim Esmay of the Dash said. “He gets the game. In just talking with him, it’s nice to listen to a guy when the game has slowed down in his mind.
“He kind of knows what he needs to do.’’
Beatty, a 5-10, 190-pound switch-hitter who can play multiple positions, is valuable even while playing on a part-time basis. Although he played in just one of the Dash’s first five games, he continued to keep the clubhouse and dugout loose with his upbeat, vivacious nature.
“And C.J., man what a personality?’’ Esmay said. “He’s going to help us. He’s going to help us get through the days and help us with the ability to laugh at ourselves and have fun and all those things that you need to have – especially in the dog days when they start to hit you a little bit. You can see he can bring you up.
“So we’re excited to have him.’’
Which is maybe an iota as excited as Jacobs and Beatty are to be teammates playing for their hometown team.
“I’m lucky enough to be playing in my hometown around my parents and everyone who watched me grow up and play,’’ Jacobs said. “And now they wilI have the pleasure – they call it a pleasure – to come out and watch me play.’