Fourth-year Ben McCown began his baseball career in Aurora, Colorado, playing on a team called the Dodgers when he was six years old. Now he ends it on J. Kyle Anderson Field, a three-year letter winner for the Chicago Maroons. It has been an interesting road that has brought McCown to his final season as Chicago's hot-hitting second baseman and 2004 team MVP.
In high school, McCown played third base, and he was recruited to play at Chicago but opted to go to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. McCown ended up leaving Nebraska after his first year to pursue a more challenging education and the chance to compete earlier in his career. And compete he didboth on the field and among the scores of economics concentrators at Chicago.
"I always valued academics ahead of athletics my whole life," McCown said. "Chicago was a better fit, but the tables turned. Instead of playing baseball eight hours a day, I was studying."
Baseball head coach Brian Baldea noted that the outstanding fourth-year is exactly the kind of player he likes to coach.
"Ben is a very serious, very determined player," Baldea said. "There's no messing around."
McCown's intensity helped him lead his team to 25 and 24 win seasons in 2003 and 2004, respectively. He started each of the 33 games in which he played this year, notching four home runs and a batting average of .348 for the season. McCown also collected an impressive 50 RBI, making him one of the leading run producers in all of Division III baseball.
It hasn't always been smooth sailing for McCown, who has suffered his share of injuries. He sustained a rare double-bone bruise during winter training this year, but he came back in time to play on the team's spring break trip to Florida. The team noted the senior's resilience.
"He jumped back in like he never missed a beat," Baldea said.
Other coaches also noticed McCown's drive, as he was invited to the Division III All-Central Region Team by the American Baseball Coaches Association at the close of the 2004 season.
McCown is also highly-respected by his teammates. "He's a quiet guy, but his fellow players respect him for his purposeful preparation," Baldea said.
Not only did the team vote McCown the 2004 MVP among a very strong and talented group of seniors, they quickly praise his character off the diamond.
"[Ben] has been the biggest positive influence on my baseball career and college life at Chicago," McCown's third-year teammate, T.J. Rajcevich, said. "He's always there for me. He has helped me bloom into the man I am today."
Former teammate and current roommate, fourth-year Adam Alson, also noted McCown's selflessness. "Ben's very charitable with his time," Alson said. "He often plays with the kids at the school across the street from our apartment. He's not too good to give some of his time to the local youth, which says a lot for a busy U of C student like him."
Many were inspired by how well McCown balanced his roles of both student and athlete. "He's the quintessential scholar-athlete," second-year pitcher Dan Yeksigian said. "He works quite hard when it comes to baseball, but he's not afraid to hit the library pretty hard either."
According to McCown, the best part of Chicago baseball has been the camaraderie. He appreciates his teammates, who are many of his closest friends.
McCown looks back on one of the most controversial moments of his career, when he and his teammates found out that they were not given a bid to compete in the 2003 post-season tournament, with a lot of pride and little regret.
"It was awesome to be part of a team that put ourselves in a position to make the play-offs before that final phone call on a Sunday night," McCown reflected. "At that point, it was out of our hands. We had done as much as we could."
On the whole, McCown is more than pleased with his baseball career. He is ready to move on to his position with a private investment bank in New York City. He offers good advice to those third-year econ majors still sweating about not having a job. McCown himself didn't have a job last summer, so he took the opportunity to play for the Aurora Renegades, a semi-pro baseball team.
"It's essentially, your last year as a free person, to be beyond the grips of the working world," he said. "Have fun and enjoy it."