Sox' Loss is Harvard's Gain: Ace Crockett Returns

It seemed like the perfect fairy tale ending.

Ben Crockett, Harvard’s captain and best starting pitcher, walked across the chalk lines at O’Donnell Field last May having just hurled a no-hitter. In his last outing of the season—and possibly his college career—Crockett held Ivy rival Dartmouth hitless over nine innings with one devastating curveball after another. It was the performance of a lifetime for the Harvard righthander, and it came just days before the Major League Baseball draft.

Already considered a top-tier prospect, Crockett saw his draft status soar even higher. Baseball America ranked him as the 85th best prospect in the country. ESPN.com had him pegged at No. 53.

Then came Draft Day. Nine rounds came before Crockett was taken. Finally, in Round 10, the Boston Red Sox claimed him with the 304th overall pick.

The slide might have stung a little, but hope for a storybook ending was not lost. Crockett was a local product, hailing Topsfield, Mass, and the Red Sox were his boyhood team. The “local boy makes good” angle was made-to-order—all Crockett needed was a contract.

Crockett spent the summer pitching for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League, all the while continuing his negotiations with the Red Sox. The defending Cape League Pitcher of the Year, Crockett led the league with 74 strikeouts and threw three complete games with a 1.67 ERA. Along the way, he impressed plenty of local baseball observers.

“He’s a tremendous pitcher,” said sports writer Ed Collins of the South Shore Standard Times, who has covered Crockett and the Wareham Gatemen for two years. “He’s a very smart player. He always keeps [the Gatemen] in the game.”

By summer’s end, no deal had been reached and Crockett returned to school. No Boston, no Fenway Park, no carmine hose. But the Red Sox’ loss was Harvard’s gain. Much of the Crimson’s hopes for success this season rest on Crockett’s shoulders—and elbow.

That elbow might well have been the reason why Crockett’s stock plummeted so precipitously last June. Crockett injured it back in the fall of 2000. After taking the fall off, he rehabbed all winter and was back on the mound for the Crimson in time for the spring season. But doubts lingered.

This spring, Crockett is quick to dismiss any concerns over his elbow.

“I am completely recovered,” he says. “I haven’t had any problems since [last year].”

If Crockett’s elbow bothered him last season, he didn’t show it. In eight starts, he averaged better than a strikeout per inning and his WHIP hovered around one. And then of course there was that near-perfect game he threw against a powerful Dartmouth lineup last May.

The game was by far the finest of Crockett’s career. He faced the minimum 27 batters, surrendering no hits and no walks over nine innings. He fanned 14 batters, most of them via a biting curveball that scraped shoelaces it fluttered so low. Nine of his strikeouts required a throw to first by catcher Brian Lentz to complete the putout.

But even before he worked his magic against Dartmouth, Crockett had already provided plenty for scouts to drool over. He features three quality pitches—the sharp curve, a solid changeup and a low-90’s fastball. In the summer of 2000, prior to developing his elbow injury, Crocket was named the Co-Pitcher of Year after posting a 5-1 record and 2.95 ERA for the Gatemen. Most scouts knew him even before that—Crockett enjoyed a fine high school career at Masconoment Regional High School.

After last season’s no hitter, Crockett was so serious about the draft that he enlisted Ron Shapiro as his advisor. While NCAA rules prohibit amateur athletes from hiring an official agent, college players are allowed to retain an advisor. Crockett consulted Shapiro, a well-known agent who has counted future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. and the Red Sox’ Trot Nixon among his clients.

The pairing seemed perfect—a young local pitcher drafted by a team starved for good pitching prospects. But the negotiations did not go perfectly.