Peninsula Oilers starter Joey Becher delivers to the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks during the Oilers’ home opener Wednesday, June 12, 2019, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Peninsula Oilers starter Joey Becher delivers to the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks during the Oilers’ home opener Wednesday, June 12, 2019, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Becher makes strong return from surgery

2016 SoHi grad looks to Oilers to help him take it to the next level

Whether it was as a Little Leaguer looking for inspiration or a junior college player looking for the knowledge and experience of some of college baseball’s best talent, the Peninsula Oilers have come through for Soldotna’s Joey Becher time and time again.

Now this summer, the 2016 Soldotna High School graduate is looking to the organization again, this time to help mold him into a pitcher that can get outs for Division II Point Loma Nazarene University, which is where Becher will transfer in the fall.

The deep connection Becher, the son of Kathy Becher and Sam Brow of Soldotna, has to the Oilers was apparent near the end of a Sunday interview on Little League Day at Coral Seymour Memorial Park.

“Look at all those kids down there with gloves,” Becher said as he sat in the bleachers and reminisced about breaking free from Little League practice and attending Oilers games with his childhood friends. “I used to be just like that. I still have a picture here with Kenny Griffin when I was 13.”

Becher eventually grew into a 6-foot-4, 180-pound pitcher as a senior at Soldotna in 2016. He threw two no-hitters that season. Then in the summer for the Post 20 Twins, he threw another no-hitter and helped lead the Twins to an American Legion state title.

“I’m never amazed by what Joey Becher is capable of,” said Robb Quelland, who coached Becher at SoHi and with the Twins. “He’s always been that workhorse. When he played for the Twins and SoHi baseball, he was always the guy.”

But Becher quickly learned there is a big baseball world out there beyond SoHi and the Twins when he pitched 18 innings for Treasure Valley Community College in Oregon in 2017.

Thirsting for more exposure to the college game’s best, Becher signed up for the Oilers in the summer of 2017. He made an instant connection with Kyle Brown, who is now the head coach for the Oilers but then was the pitching coach for head coach Jim Dietz.

Becher, now 21, was the youngest player on the team at 19 and was a junior college pitcher going toe-to-toe with Division I and II batters. He still went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA, walking 13 and striking out 13, in 28 innings.

How did he do it?

“Coaching. 100 percent,” Becher said. “I attribute a lot of the success I had to Kyle Brown.”

From the minute Becher got off the plane, he said Brown was talking to him about pitching on an advanced, professional level that Becher had never experienced. A simple game of catch, bullpen sessions, grips on the baseball and the mentality of pitching all progressed to a new level.

But then came a major test. Becher was at Mulcahy Stadium pitching against the Anchorage Glacier Pilots. His bullpen went fine, but during the game he started losing velocity rapidly. After one pitch, using hand signals, Brown asked Becher if he had thrown a changeup.

When Becher signaled fastball, Brown quickly pulled Becher out of fear of what Becher soon learned — the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow had spider-webbed, meaning the pitcher would need surgery.

On Feb. 6, 2018, Becher was able to have Tommy John light surgery, meaning the ligament was wrapped in a type of suture that allowed it to heal instead of having to be replaced. That cut Becher’s rehab time to 12 months.

Becher also had made the decision to transfer to Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California, where Brown is the pitching coach.

“If I would have been rehabbing here, in the winter and the darkness, I don’t know if I would have wanted to keep playing,” Becher said. “Having the sunshine and the support from people at school was so helpful.”

Becher also used the time to get a lot more serious about training for the game. When Becher was at SoHi, he said Dr. Robert Ledda, a SoHi assistant, constantly talked about how important nutrition is. Becher took those words to heart and now is 220 pounds due to a new dedication to eating right and working out.

“He’s a gym rat now,” Quelland said. “That’s amazing from a kid in high school — that was not his forte, working out and conditioning.”

Brown said Becher has become so fervent about hitting the weights that sometimes he actually lifts too heavy.

“I found out how much I loved the game,” Becher said. “I don’t think it’s cliche. Someone told me I couldn’t play it for the next year.”

In conference play at Southwestern, Becher finished the season 4-0 with a 1.40 ERA in 38 2-3 innings pitched.

Brown said Becher had a rough first two outings coming off the rehab, but then found his stride.

“Once he got through those first two, he went on a roll with quality start after quality start,” Brown said. “He became one of our staples.”

Having recovered to be one of the top pitchers in the conference, Becher now has the new challenge of moving up a level to Point Loma. The Oilers and Brown will be a big part of that.

“He told me if I can get outs here, I can get outs at Southwestern,” Becher said of Brown. “Now he told me if I can get outs here, I can get outs at Point Loma.”

Thus far, Becher has a 3.34 ERA in 8 1-3 innings. He is scheduled to start Wednesday on the road against the Mat-Su Miners.

Becher’s best pitch is the fastball, which he threw in the upper 80s for Southwestern this season. Brown said with refined mechanics, there is no reason Becher can’t throw in the lower 90s.

Both Becher and Brown said Point Loma head coach Justin James is very good at using advanced techniques to get more velocity out of his players.

Becher has a solid curveball that could use some sharpness, but the big challenge for him this summer is the changeup, which needs a lot of work.

“It’s always been a dream to get drafted,” Becher said. “I know I have the body and the work ethic. It’s going to be all about proving at the next level that I can get people out with three pitches.”

Brown has told Becher he throws a heavy ball, meaning it is very hard to hit for a home run. Becher said the knock-on-wood stat of the day is that he hasn’t given up a home run since Kenai Central’s Ellery Steffensen, brother of current Oilers center fielder Paul, touched Becher up in the 2015 high school season.

Becher said Becher also must prove a lack of game experience will not hold him back. The short Alaska summer already left him short on high school games, and the yearlong break due to surgery didn’t help.

The flip side of that is Becher is very appreciative that the baseball programs in Alaska were even able to get him this far. He lists off coaches Mike Griffin and Roger Phillips from Little League, Quelland and Ledda from SoHi, Quelland and Lance Coz from the Twins, and Brown and Jim Dietz from the Oilers.

“Without all of them, I’d never be where I am today,” Becher said.

Last week, Becher showed his appreciation for the Twins by attending practice and addressing the players about his experiences at higher levels of baseball.

Becher also marvels at how the Oilers are able to bring top players from around the country to the peninsula each summer.

“I’ve loved all the different cultures, styles of play and all the different ideologies being brought to my hometown in Alaska,” Becher said. “It’s one of the best opportunities I could have had.”

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