Only a hardcore Modesto Nuts' fan would notice a catcher named Drew Beuerlein has been with the team for about a week now.
He didn't get an at-bat during the recent three-game home series and his official duties were pretty much limited to warming up pitchers in the bullpen.
Beuerlein got his first start Thursday, doubling and scoring in his first Modesto at-bat, then launching a two-run homer his next time up as the Nuts grabbed a rare win in San Jose.
Despite the auspicious debut, there are no guarantees as to the next time he'll be in the starting lineup, or if he'll even be a Nut this time next month.
But you won't find a guy more excited to be pulling on the Nuts' uniform every day.
"The Rockies haven't told me anything about my role, but I'll accept whatever they ask me to do," said Beuerlein, 24.
"If they want me to be a backup catcher for five years, or if it's to play here for a while and be done, I'll take it. I'm just happy to be in a uniform and part of a team."
Just happy to be on a team? Heck, Beuerlein's happy just to be alive after surviving a life-threatening staph infection as a high school senior.
He's part of a very athletic family. His dad John Beuerlein, a former Stockton Ports catcher, reached the Triple-A level with Milwaukee. He has a cousin and an uncle who also played minor league baseball and he's a second cousin of former NFL quarterback Steve Beuerlein.
That pedigree and his own ability at catcher had Drew Beuerlein on the prospect radar as he entered his senior year at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Ariz.
He was set to attend the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on scholarship, despite battling mononucleosis his senior season.
After being cleared to play for his high school team, he dove into a base and scraped his chin in the dirt. Then he went back behind the plate for the rest of the game, his fresh-cut chin constantly rubbing against his mask.
A few days later, the wound appeared infected, but healed after being treated with topical antibiotics.
"We thought it was fine, then I developed a real bad pain in my side," Beuerlein said. "I couldn't run, throw or hit and I lost 40 pounds in three weeks. They did more tests and found a softball-sized lump right above my kidney. They went through my back and drained it, then they tested it and found it to be MRSA."
That's Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a potentially deadly and highly contagious staph bacteria that as the name implies is highly resistant to the usual antibiotic array. Some strains have been linked to toxic shock syndrome and even flesh-eating pneumonia, and Beuerlein was told his mono-weakened immune system helped MRSA spread into his body.
The development of new antibiotics seem to have MRSA under control these days, but in 2006 that was far from the case.
"MRSA was pretty fresh, so there weren't that many ways to treat it," Beuerlein said. "There was one antibiotic, and if that one didn't work, I was done.
"Luckily, it worked. It was a scary thing, but I know someone had to have been looking out for me. I think it was most scary for my friends and family to see me in that state. I was determined to beat it."
Perseverance pays off
The infection was gone by the start of the next season, his first at UNLV, and again he was moving up as a prospect. Then, 17 games into his junior season, while hitting .407 for the Rebels, Beuerlein broke his hand and lost the rest of the season.
Again he rebounded, hitting .360 as a senior, and was taken by the Angels in the 32nd round of the 2010 draft. Beuerlein thought this was going to be his ticket to his dream of a baseball career, but he saw action in only 29 games for three Angels' affiliates that season and was released the following year out of extended spring training.
In Beuerlein's mind, he was done with baseball.
"I was bitter," he said. "I didn't get much of an opportunity with the Angels, but I understand that's baseball. I wanted to get away from organized baseball, so I played shortstop, for the first time in my life, on a team run by one of my buddies. It helped me find my love of the game again."
That adult league team played its games at Colorado's Scottsdale training facility, and when the Rockies needed some catching depth at the minor league level, they signed Beuerlein. He played in two games last month at short-season Grand Junction and one in low-A Asheville before being sent to Modesto as insurance after catcher Dustin Garneau bruised his shoulder in a home plate collision.
Inspired to help others
During his time in the Angels' organization, Beuerlein began writing a blog that covered not only his experiences in beating MRSA, but his outlook on life and baseball from a Christian angle.
He showed a couple chapters of the blog to a fellow church member who owns a publishing company. Many writing, editing and rewriting sessions later, "Catching Grace: Finding God's Grace in Everyday Life," was published in February by Richer Press.
"I have two more books in the works," Beuerlein said. "It's a fun process and it's nice to have something like a book to take with you everywhere you go."
With a friend, Beuerlein has started a non-profit organization called "Unashamed Athletes" with the goal of raising money to put on free baseball clinics for underprivileged kids. He also is a Christian motivational speaker, addressing high school kids on the importance of perseverance.
"It all started in high school with MRSA, and after I got through that I had a whole new outlook on life," Beuerlein said.
"I don't have many at-bats this year, but I show up every day and I love being here. I feel so lucky just to be out on the baseball field every day."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2150. Follow him at twitter.com/modestobeek.
Nuts Player File
NAME: Drew Warner Beuerlein
HT/WT: 6-0, 205
DRAFTED: 32nd round of the 2010 draft by the Los Angeles Angels