Dartnell Lives a Dream: Drafted by Red Sox, Pitches at Fenway
By Scott Taylor
Lefthanded fireballer Ben Dartnell says he’s already lived his dream. The rest of it is just business.
The 19-year-old son of Winnipeg Goldeyes Director of Security, Paul Dartnell, Ben was selected in the 34th round (1,042 overall) by the Boston Red Sox on Day 3 of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
He might not have been an early selection, but he was a selection, nonetheless, and while the draft itself was a thrill, his subsequent trip to Boston to pitch an inning at Fenway Park against other young draftees was, well, right off the hook. Especially after he threw one no-hit inning with a walk and two strike outs.
“I can’t complain,” young Ben Dartnell said. “I’m part of Red Sox Nation now. But I have to tell you, the feeling I had just shagging balls out in leftfield at Fenway Park, thinking to myself, ‘This is the same place where Carl Yastzremski and Jim Rice stood,’ man I still can’t believe it.
“When I got my chance to go out on the mound, I just stood there, looking around. I thought I was dreaming. It was so amazing.”
Ben Dartnell is a kid with a lot going for him and a little bit working against him. Amazingly, the only thing he needs to overcome is the feeling of awe he gets whenever he’s near Fenway. The son of a former cop and a member of a family that loves the game of baseball, Dartnell knows every story there is to know about Fenway and his beloved Red Sox.
For a kid from Winnipeg to be drafted by Boston might seem unimaginable in itself. For a kid from Winnipeg to be drafted by the team he has loved all his life is something that is still unfathomable.
“I’m a Red Sox fan, have been all my life,” Dartnell conceded. “After pitching at Fenway once, I don’t want to pitch anywhere else. Let me explain it this way: I talked a lot before the draft with the Seattle Mariners and the Philadelphia Phillies and I thought that was cool. It would have been great to get drafted by either one of those teams. But when Boston called my name, it took the draft to a whole ‘nother level. You can’t even begin to imagine how spectacular this is.”
Ben Dartnell was a pretty good pitcher in Manitoba, a provincial team member and solid young prospect when he went off to the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball in Vauxhall, Alberta, two years ago. Today, he’s an accomplished lefthander with an 88-90 mile per hour fastball and a couple of off-speed pitches, ”that need work,” according to his coach.
But what makes Dartnell special is the fact he knows that. There is no ego standing in the way of his improvement. He wants so badly to one day pitch for his beloved Boston Red Sox that he’s already committed to doing whatever it takes to get to the promised land.
“I guess my secret is that I throw my fastball for strikes,” he said candidly. “If I throw strikes, I have success. If I don’t, I struggle. I guess I’m no different than any other pitcher. I have a pretty good slider, but my change up is a work in progress.
A former Goldeyes bat boy and for one year, the Goldeyes assistant clubhouse manager, young Ben is known to many Winnipeg baseball fans as one of the kids who was always out on the field playing catch before Goldeyes home games at Shaw Park. Now he has a legitimate chance to one day play catch at Fenway Park.
“He’s just beside himself, he’s so happy,” said his dad, Paul. “This is a kid who has been a Red Sox fan his whole life. He has Red Sox underwear.
Dartnell was a standout at the prestigious Vauxhall Academy of Baseball. His former coach insists that Ben is one of the best lefthanders in the country, and is only getting better.
“We really thought he’d go in the 10th or 11th round, but all the teams just kept ignoring the Canadians. It was kind of amazing. Very few Canadians were drafted in the first two days. Then it just started and Ben was one of them.
“We thought Philadelphia, Seattle or Milwaukee might take him. Those were the teams that talked to him the most. Boston only talked to him once. They asked his agent what it would take to sign him. Ben and the agent threw out a number and that’s the last anyone heard from Boston. So when he was selected by Boston, Ben almost choked.”
Young Ben is an impressive specimen. He’s 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and has now graduated from the highly-regarded Vauxhall Academy of Baseball. He has been offered a scholarship at Eastern Michigan University, but he now has options. If he can sign with the Red Sox and get a spot in the rookie Gulf Coast League, he’ll jump at the chance. If he can’t, he’ll continue in school.
For Dartnell, it’s not about the money. It’s about a chance to start a professional career.
“This is huge for Ben and it’s huge for baseball in Manitoba,” his dad said. “He couldn’t even speak when he phoned on draft day, he was so excited. But he’s settled down now. He loved his trip to Boston but he’s a smart kid. He knows it’s all about business.”
Other than his father, there is likely no one who knows Ben Dartnell better than his coach at Vauxhall, Les McTavish. McTavish believes the kid from Winnipeg has nothing but upside.
“Ben has improved a tremendous amount,” said McTavish, via telephone from his home in Alberta. “He’s a kid who flew under the radar for a long time. But he has a strong, loose arm and he’s developed into one of the top two or three lefthanders in this country.
“He’s now throwing 88-91 (miles-per-hour) with no effort. His fastball is very good right now. His off-speed stuff, his slider and change, need work, but he has as much upside as anyone I’ve ever been around. It wouldn’t surprise me that if he stays healthy, he can get his velocity up to 92-94. He just had a jump in velocity a year ago as he got bigger and came back from elbow surgery. That got him to 88-91. I’m, sure he has another jump in him.”
McTavish was concerned that after elbow surgery, Dartnell might not be the same pitcher he was before the surgery. However, after coming back slowly, Dartnell has cranked it up again and is now the best pitcher on the roster of the Western Major Baseball League’s Lethbridge Bulls.
“I’m not sure if this is the right term to use, but I didn’t know if he’d be tough enough because he had that arm injury and we all know it’s human nature to be a little scared about something like that and to worry about cutting it loose,” McTavish said.
“But now he’s figured out he can do it and for a young man who is a headstrong 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, the sky is the limit.
“Right now he’s playing in the best college wooden-bat summer league in the country. He’s just turned 19 and he’s playing with guys who are 22 and 23 and yet he leads his team in ERA. That’s the kind of kid he is.
“If the Red Sox sign him, they’ve got a steal. If they don’t sign him now, it will cost them more money in the future because he’s only going to get better.”
McTavish believes that Dartnell is one of the finest young men he’s ever coached and, as a result, he’s exactly the type of player that Major League Baseball needs.
“He’s exceptional to coach,” McTavish said bluntly. “He’s zero maintenance – both on and off the field. He’s an ideal kid to have on your team because he’s not a part of the party scene so you never have to worry about him. The best way to put it is that he doesn’t get distracted by all the stuff that comes along outside baseball.
“This is a kid who has been around the Goldeyes and he’s seen how professional ballplayers prepare and he’s also seen how the successful guys handle themselves. He knows what it takes to be a pro. I can tell you this, he’ll be sadly missed in our program.”
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