FAIRMONT - Stepping into the batter's box at the top of the order for Fairmont in nearly every baseball game isn't an easy task. But for Luke Becker, it is something that has helped him succeed on the baseball diamond.
After a stellar junior season for the Cardinals, the second baseman was called upon to play this summer for the Minnesota Starz select U17 baseball team.
"I didn't know any of my teammates when I went to the first games. Most of the players are from the Twin Cities," said Becker. "I believe that they held tryouts for the team in the fall, but they called me up and asked if I wanted to play this spring, so I was pretty surprised."
SELECT CHOICE — Fairmont Cardinal infielder Luke Becker fires the baseball to first base for an out during regular-season spring high school action at Herb Wolf Field in Fairmont. Becker was chosen to play for the Minnesota Starz select U17 baseball team this summer. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
The Starz travel to five tournaments throughout the summer, playing against top competition and getting exposed to college scouts.
Since Fairmont's final game of the season, Becker has traveled to Chicago for the Longshots Tournament and to the World Wood Bat Tournament in East Cobb, Ga. - near Atlanta.
On July 24, the team will travel to St. Louis for the Gamer's Tournament for the final competition of the summer season.
"The games are a totally different level of play," said Becker. "You never know who might be watching you play, so everyone gives 110 percent every minute of the games. And the pitching is so much better. Everyone throws so much harder and faster than I'd seen before. I'm definitely not in southern Minnesota anymore."
With Becker in the lineup, the Starz have won five of their seven tournament games in the past two weeks.
The Starz practice three times per week in the Twin Cities, which Becker doesn't have to attend. Instead, the lone outstate player plays for the Fairmont American Legion Post 36 and the Fairmont Martins amateur baseball teams, and travels to the Starz's tournaments.
Despite the increased level of competition, Becker pitched three innings during a game in the Chicago tournament two weeks ago and didn't allow a run.
This past spring for the Cardinals, Becker pitched to a 3-0 record in 31.1 innings of work, allowing just 11 runs - 10 earned - on 24 hits, while striking out 31 batters.
The switch-hitting second baseman also bats near the top of the Starz order, batting in the No. 2 spot in each of the games.
"Originally, when I was younger, I was a right-handed batter. And then I watched the Minnesota Twins and Jacque Jones - he was my hero, and he was lefty. So I had my dad start pitching to me on the left side," said Becker.
That hard work continues to pay off Becker. He topped the Fairmont High School lineup with a .470 batting average, including a team-best 40 runs scored and 39 hits.
The two-time all-South Central Conference selection drove in 18 RBIs, while smacking six doubles, four triples and a home run. With an on-base percentage of .526, Becker also was able to produce a team-high 12 stolen bases.
While the added travel and games for the Starz have been a great experience, Becker also realizes that it means he is missing games for his other summer teams.
"I think so far with all this travel and the games, I have missed eight games for the Martins and Legion," said Becker. "I just hope all of my teammates can understand and appreciate what a great opportunity this is for me."
The exposure to better competition and potential college scouts is all the motivation that Becker needs to play at his best.
"My dream since I have been in Little League has been to play in the majors," said Becker. "I just hope that all this competition makes me a better player and I'll keep working to hopefully eventually reach that dream."
Seeing stronger competition and playing at a higher level has already made a difference in the way that Becker approaches the game - a change that will help him once the summer is over as well.
"With the speed of the pitching, it took me a while to get used to the reaction time and the speed," said Becker. "The great thing is that now that I've seen it, when I come back I'll have more reaction time for the pitchers we face."
After finishing with Minnesota Class AA, all-Section 3AA baseball honors for the second year in a row, Becker will continue to be a driving force at the top of the Fairmont lineup.