By Carter Cromwell

Though Chris Beyers’ baseball career is trending upward now – he stars in the German 1st Bundesliga, performed for the South African national team in the World Baseball Classic, and is set to play this fall in the inaugural season of Baseball United – it hasn’t always been that way.  In fact, a graph of his baseball journey would show valleys and long flatlines along with the high points.  

There were two years of standout play in the Little League World Series (LLWS), some good seasons playing in South Africa, and success in Germany, but also disappointments, seeming dead ends, and significant periods away from the game.

“Plenty of ups and downs, for sure,” Beyers said with a wry chuckle.

The son of South African parents moved with his family at age 4 to Saudi Arabia, where his father worked for Aramco, the Saudi national oil company.  There, he became hooked on baseball after one of his father’s American friends enticed him to a practice.  He starred at ages 12 and 13 for the team from Dhaharan that made it to the LLWS in 2007 and 2008.  In a 2008 game, he broke up a no-hitter in the sixth inning of an eventual loss to Japan.  

By the tenth grade, Beyers had earned a scholarship to a private academy in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, but was there only a year and eventually returned to Saudi Arabia to finish high school and eventually earn a degree in business management at South Africa Stellenbosch University.  He essentially didn’t play from the time he was 17 until he was 22, except for occasional appearances in local amateur leagues. 

Photo: Chris starred at ages 12 and 13 for the team from Dhaharan, Saudi Arabia, that made it to the LLWS in 2007 and 2008.  

“When I left Mercersburg, I lost the scholarship, so my parents had to pay the full cost,” he said.  “So, while they didn’t exactly discourage me from baseball, they figured I’d had my chance and that my baseball was done.”

But it wasn’t.  There would eventually be a new beginning.  More than one, actually.

During his final year of college, he played cricket on a field next to where a baseball club practiced.  One of the players noticed him and tried to recruit him, but the process took a while.

“When I was younger, I was obsessed with baseball; I ate and slept it.  But during the period I didn’t play, baseball was pretty much out of my mind,” Beyers said. “I was just going to school and playing rugby and cricket. But then Bles Kemp, a player for the South African national team, saw me and started asking me to come out for the club.”  

Kemp, later an assistant coach for the national team, had grown up in Stellenbosch, left for a dozen years while playing elsewhere in South Africa and in Germany, and then returned and started the Van der Stel club.  

Photo: Chris playing for the Van der Stel baseball club in South Africa. 

“I was doing whatever I could to make the team better, and I’d heard about this kid who played cricket and hit the ball hard and a long way,” said Kemp, who was a player/coach at the time, “so I went over to see him.  He told me he’d played baseball in Saudi, and I tried to get him to play with us.  But it took some convincing.  He was committed to cricket, and he’s the type of person who lives up to his commitments.”

With a laugh, Beyers says now that Kemp “was texting me every day, almost annoying me. He was really bugging me.  But I tell him now that I’m so grateful that he did.”  

The bug finally bit one day in 2017 when Beyers was walking back to his car after cricket practice, stopped where the baseball club was working out, and experienced a Eureka moment.

“I took a few ground balls and realized that it was fun and that I missed it,” he said.  “There were some guys on the team who played in Germany, and they said, ‘Wow, are you sure you want to play cricket instead of baseball?’”

The answer was baseball.

After graduating from the university, Beyers detoured to Scottsdale Community College in Arizona, trying to make the team as a non-scholarship player, but he was dropped after a couple of months.

“They were focusing on the players that had scholarships, and I didn’t,” he said.  “But that became a motivator for me – it made me want to prove them wrong.”

He then played a few years for clubs in South Africa and was “way, way above his teammates at the time,” according to Kemp.  “[He was] the most talented player I’d seen here. And he’d kind of come from nowhere, having not played for several years.”

Photo: Chris with Bles Kemp following a Bellville Tygers game in South Africa. Photo credit: Bles Kemp

Beyers, though, took another significant detour after a couple of years when he became a certified personal trainer in Dubai, a move which, combined with the Covid-19 pandemic, again mothballed his baseball dreams.  But it didn’t kill them.

Beyers’ wife Gitana, a native of Brazil and a flight attendant for Emirates Airlines, was a factor.

“She always says I should follow my dreams and is always pushing me to do more,” he said.  “During Covid, I couldn’t leave our building, but I was driven to play, so I’d go into the parking lot and throw a tennis ball against the wall.”

Beyers first advertised himself on Baseball Jobs Overseas, but the fact that he hadn’t played much and didn’t have many official statistics put him at a disadvantage.  

“I didn’t have enough of a [verifiable] background, so picking me up would be a huge risk,” he acknowledged.

Luckily, Kemp again stepped up.  Having played on Paderborn Untouchable teams that won two German Bundesliga titles, Kemp still had contacts there and convinced the club to take Beyers. 

“I talked with Jendrick Speer, the manager of the U-23 national team, and said they should give him a chance,” Kemp said.  “Since he had no stats to show them, they had to go on my word, but I said that he would show that he could do it.”

And he did.  Quickly.    

“I had to prove myself because the guys were understandably skeptical since they could see that I was pretty raw,” Beyers said.  “I remember going straight to the practice field from the airport.  The coach hadn’t told them I was coming, so I introduced myself to each of them as they were coming in from practice. Then I took batting practice by myself and crushed some balls.  Soon after, we played a practice game in Dortmund, and I hit a moon shot and pointed toward the dugout as I rounded the bases.”

Beyers posted a slash line of .340/.444/.528 in his first season, which he termed “All right – pretty good, I guess for not having played in a while. But it was addicting. I wanted to do better.”

And he did just that in his second season, batting .407 with a .478 on-base percentage and .559 slugging percentage as Paderborn reached the championship finals before losing to the Bonn Capitals.

Photo: Chris not long after said “moonshot”.

The 2023 season was even better individually, though the Untouchables again fell in the championship finals, this time to Heidenheim.  Beyers averaged .412 with a 1.163 OPS and was voted Best Batter in the North Division. He finished first in the entire Bundesliga in total bases (67), second in home runs (6) and second in OPS.  None of which surprised Bles Kemp.  

“He’s not the type to sit on the couch,” Kemp said. “He puts in a lot of hours on his own that no one sees.”

“I’ve always had confidence in my ability, but I knew I had things to work on because I hadn’t had a lot of coaching when I was young,” Beyers said.  “I’ve always had great hand/eye coordination, but I needed to improve my hitting mechanics.  Because I’d played cricket, I had a big lunge that I had to fix.  But the biggest thing I had to work on was to stay chill, no matter if I went 4-4 or 0-4.”

Matt Kemp, formerly the Paderborn pitching coach and now the team manager, concurred, saying, “I kept telling Chris to smile, no matter what. He asked me why, and I said you play better when you do that.  So now he always plays with a smile on his face.”

Beyers added to his resume by playing in Dubai leagues in the off-season, and he ended up making the South African team that participated in the WBC Qualifiers in late 2022. Andy Berglund, manager of the South Africa WBC team and an international scout for MLB’s Milwaukee Brewers, was excited to get him.

“Bles had reached out to me a few years ago,” Berglund said.  “That was during Covid, so it was tough to arrange an in-person meeting, but he sent me a video of Chris, and it was obvious that he was a phenomenal athlete with a lot upside.  When I finally saw him, I could see the raw talent, and it was a no-brainer to add him because he brought so many elements to our club.

“Also, Chris has incredible energy for the game. He’s always in a good mood, and he changes the dynamics of a room because of his good nature and positivity.  He can still treat baseball like a kid’s game and shrug off the tough moments.”

Playing for the WBC team was also valuable developmentally, particularly regarding his swing and basic mechanics.

“He was very raw when I first saw him – just kind of spinning off the ball,” Berglund said. “His lower half was really strong, but he wasn’t using it.  He was hitting too much from his upper half and was too stiff with his movements.  We loosened him up to improve his hand speed and bat speed, and I tell him now that he’s done a 180-degree change from when I first saw him.”

Beyers went 0-6 with a walk as designated hitter in the two games, and the team lost to Spain and Germany, but the experience was worthwhile.

“Chris faced really good pitching in the WBC – more guys with higher velocity than he’d been used to – and he had to adjust to that,” Berglund said.  “That will help him when he plays in
Baseball United.” 

Beyers added, “There’s no question that I learned a lot by playing with the WBC team, and failing personally gave me the motivation to do better the next time around.”

Photo: Chris takes a swing at the World Baseball Classic Qualifier as a member of Team South Africa. Photo credit: Sebastian Widmann

So what of the future?  In the near term, he’ll play another season in Germany, and then will come Baseball United, which is expected to begin play in Dubai around the first of November. That represents an unexpected opportunity that more or less dropped into his lap.  

“It’s a cool story,” he said. “I heard about it when a friend contacted me near the start of the 2023 season.  He sent them an email telling them that I lived in Dubai, and John Miedreich [co-founder and executive vice president of the league] called me about a week later.  He said I was the only pro player living in the region,” Beyers said. 

Eventually, he was taken in the eighth round of the league’s inaugural draft by the Wolves, whose current roster is highlighted by nine players with Major League Baseball experience, including Robinson Cano and Didi Grigorious.  Later, he was chosen to be on the West all-star squad for the two showcase games held in Dubai last November. 

“I wasn’t originally on the all-star roster, but John called me about a week beforehand and asked for my jersey size because I was going to be in it,” Beyers said.  “Just being there was a thrill – just talking to guys like Cano and Grigorious and taking ground balls with them.  One of the highlights was when they announced the names of the players beforehand, and my name got one of the louder cheers.  That was a really good feeling.  Actually, I’d wanted to shout when they announced all the other guys’ names.”

He was 0-3 in the game, but reached base on a hit by pitch and teamed with Grigorious to complete the first double play in Baseball United history.  Despite being on the field with former MLB players and others who had played in MLB organizations, he did not feel out of place.

“Going into it, I kind of wondered if some of the players might put on the big-shot act, but they were all very welcoming and friendly.  Grigorious was my locker mate, and he was a really nice guy, and the bigger guys kind of took me under their wings.  Pablo Sandoval was very humble and gave me a lot of advice. I’d never played with guys at that level, but I felt like I belonged.”

Then what of the longer-term future?  In May, Beyers will turn 29, which is old by MLB prospect standards.  But there still can plenty of baseball ahead as he gets more reps against tougher competition and continues to develop his game.

Bles Kemp said, “He’s come a long way in the last three or four years.  He works extremely hard, both with his team and on his own.  You want someone like that to succeed.”

Photo: Chris (left) in his Baseball United uniform prior to the November 2024 showcase game. Chris (right) hitting in the Baseball United showcase game. Photo credit: Baseball United

Matt Kemp (no relation to Bles),” added, “The talent is there. Defensively, his reaction time is immaculate, and his arm is strong enough that he can throw from his knees and get the runner.  He just didn’t find his way in life until he was 23-24 years old.  Bles had a profound influence on him by getting him to come back to baseball and setting him on this path.

“By playing in Germany, he put himself in position to be invited to Baseball United.  Social media has been a massive influence, also.  We promoted him, and videos a couple of our guys posted helped get his name out there.  He knows his way around the Middle East, and that helped give him a chance in the new league.  I’ve told Chris that he has an opportunity and that he should run with it, especially if the Saudis decide to pump money into baseball.”

Berglund said, “It’s kind of a crazy story.  He’s had some bumps in the road and then changed course.  He’s a late bloomer, but he’s kept the fire lit for baseball. I’m impressed that he’s stayed with it like he has.”

Beyers himself is positive about the future, although he has the occasional regret about the gaps in his career that slowed his development.  

“At the high school I went to in Mercersburg, there were several players that got signed by pro teams, and they kept telling me that I had the talent and should keep after it,” he said. “I even played summer ball in Pennsylvania after that one year and there were two scouts who told me they had their eyes on me. Looking back on it, that was probably an opportunity I didn’t pick up on.  If I’d kept playing in high school, I might have been able to play at a high college level and then get drafted.  

“But I try not to focus on that and just try be in the moment of where I am now.  I love baseball and want to play at the highest level I can.  I’ll quit when I don’t feel worthy of being on the field.”

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