Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox is once again headed to the Major League Baseball All Star Game, set to start for the American League in right field. It’ll be his second time playing in the Mid-Summer classic; his first time starting thanks to an injury keeping Mike Trout out of the game. And while it remains to be seen whether or not Betts has a memorable moment or two in the game, he has already made a memorable entrance.
Following Boston wrapping up a series with the Tampa Bay Rays this past weekend, Betts invited Rays’ pitcher Chris Archer to tag along as he flew from Tampa down to Miami. The caveat for Archer? Betts would be the one doing the flying.
Does Betts even have a pilot’s license? CBS Sports wasn’t able to find anything, but given Betts history of excelling at multiple things, it makes sense that he’d be able to fly a plane. In addition to being a star on the baseball field, Betts was an accomplished point guard for his high school’s basketball team and has played in bowling tournaments hosted by the Professional Bowler’s Association.
Oh, and he can also solve a Rubik’s Cube in under two minutes.
For now though, Betts priority is baseball and he’s once again having a good season for Boston. A year after finishing second to Trout in the AL Most Valuable Player race, Betts is anchoring a Red Sox lineup in the midst of a transitional period following the retirement of Sox legend David Ortiz. At the break Betts is hitting .272 with 16 home runs, 53 RBIs and 15 stolen bases and has helped the Red Sox overtake the Yankees for first place in the AL East.
Here is what you need to know about Mookie Betts.
1. Betts was a Two-Sports Star in High School
Betts, whose real name is Markus Lynn Betts, was a two-sport athlete at John Overton High School in Nashville, Tennessee. He played second base, shortstop and outfield and following his junior year, when he hit .549 and had 24 stolen bases, he committed to the University of Tennessee. He was also recruited by Vanderbilt University, Mississippi State and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The next year as a senior Betts hit .509 and had 30 steals and was included as a honorable mention on the Louisville Slugger High School All-American List.
On top of baseball, Betts excelled on the basketball court. During his senior season he averaged 14.1 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals and was named Most Valuable Player of his school’s district. At the end of the season Betts was named Class AAA All-City Player of the Year for Nashville.
2. Boston Drafted Betts After Seeing Him Play Basketball, Not Baseball
Betts didn’t just draw attention from colleges and universities in high school, he attracted interest from some pro teams, including the Red Sox, who sent one of their scouts, Danny Watkins, to visit Betts. Watkins saw Betts workout and do some drills, but when it came to seeing him in a game, it was basketball, not baseball. Nonetheless, Watkins liked what he saw.
“I was impressed with the leadership he showed on the floor and how he ran the team,” Watkins said. “Then, about the third quarter, he got the ball on the left and made a move to his right, then went baseline, and as he gets closer to the basket, I’m thinking he’s going to dish it to somebody or go up and lay it in. To my surprise, he went up and dunked it. That really opened my eyes to the explosiveness that he had.”
Watkins came away convinced that Betts was “a well-rounded kid” and “wasn’t going to get too carried away with any level of success that” he was bound to encounter down the road. Watkins also knew that despite his love for basketball, Betts’ destiny was baseball. It had been so since he was born and his parents gave him the initials “MLB.”
Knowing that Betts had already committed to Tennessee and was set to receive a scholarship to play baseball for them, Boston still drafted him the fifth round of the 2011 draft with the 172nd overall pick. Betts eventually signed with the team for $750,000, but it took a while to get there.
“That particular summer, there were a lot of players that went down to the wire,” Watkins said. “Ultimately, I feel like Mookie wanted to sign and that we wanted to sign him. With two people wanting the same thing, I felt good that we could make it happen.”
3. Betts Came Up as an Infielder but Was Moved to the Outfield in 2014
Betts had played outfield in high school, but he was primarily a middle infielder, splitting his time between second base and shortstop. Once he was in the Red Sox farm system that trend continued. There were two factors that led to the decision by the organization to move Betts to the outfield.
First, Boston had Dustin Pedroia at second base and didn’t see him going anywhere anytime soon. At short, they had another prospect Xander Bogaerts in the pipeline. In order to get Betts to the big leagues, it would have to be at another position.
Then in 2014, Boston found itself needing outfielders. Injuries and under-performing players had created a need and Boston looked to Betts to help fill that need. Initially Betts was put in center field and he stayed there for most of the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Despite adapting well to the position and performing admirably, Betts once again found himself being asked to move so another player could step in. This time it was Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who despite being a stud in the field, was inconsistent at the plate. He had started to turn it around towards the end of the 2015 season though and Boston finally felt comfortable slotting him in to the starting lineup and having him anchor the outfield in center. Betts was asked to move to right field where has been since.
Betts could be forgiven for getting salty about the multiple position changes, but Betts isn’t that kind of player.
“I don’t think it’s really frustrating just because … it’s Jackie,” Betts said. “Jackie is arguably the best outfielder in general in baseball so I completely understand it. I’m not mad about it at all. But as long as he’s on my side I really don’t care. He covers a lot of ground. He talks to me. He makes me comfortable out there and I think that’s the most important thing. Going out to right with him in center, I know he’ll make sure I’m comfortable with everything and I think it’ll be pretty smooth.”
Betts played right field so well in 2016 he earned himself a Gold Glove award.
4. Betts is an Accomplished Bowler and has Played in Professional Tournaments
Betts’ mother, Diana Benedict, was an avid bowler when Betts was growing up and when she participated in tournaments in the greater Nashville area, Betts tagged along. Over time he picked up the game and was competing himself. In high school he had average score of 240 and even kicked around the idea of pursing a career in bowling as opposed to baseball.
“It’s something I definitely thought about,” said Betts, who has rolled seven 300 games. “I’ve been bowling for so long, and I really, really enjoy it. It definitely would’ve been something I pursued.”
With Boston’s permission, Betts participated in the 2015 PBA World Series of Bowling, where he rolled a 224 in his first game of the tournament. He topped out at a score of 249 and when the tournament was over, had finished 212th out of 240. Throughout the tournament, Betts had been careful not to overstep his bounds.
“I just didn’t want to step on any toes,” Betts said. “I knew I was there to bowl, too, and I felt like I was good enough to maybe not compete but at least be out there. But I wanted to make sure I didn’t get in anybody’s way that was actually legit going to win the tournament.”
The other bowlers in the tournament, including some of the more established veterans, raved about Betts’ professionalism and frequently had to encourage him not too worry about things and just bowl. From the PBA’s standpoint, Betts’ involvement with bowling was a marketing blessing, as they had been looking for ways to reach a younger and more diverse audience.
“It’s really important to us to have people understand that [bowling] is cool, and Mookie is cool,” PBA commissioner Tom Clark said. “He’s one of the best players in baseball. He’s young and he’s hip and he’s engaging. When you see him standing there at a bowling event, and he’s with pro bowlers, tell me bowling isn’t cool.”
Betts continues to bowl, mainly during the offseason, and this past winter made headlines by rolling a pair of perfect games.
5. Betts’ Current Contract is a Bargain for the Red Sox Given His Production on the Field
After signing with Boston following the 2011 draft and making his professional debut in June 2014, Betts has elected to go year-by-year with the Red Sox when it comes to his contract. In March of 2017, Betts signed a one year contract with the team for $950,000.
Betts is eligible for arbitration following the 2017 season and given the way he’s played these past few years, he’s expected to see a significant jump in salary. Boston reportedly attempted to lock him up long-term this past winter, but Betts elected for the one year deal instead. Betts is currently with Boston until 2021. If Boston doesn’t sign him to an extension before then (which is unlikely,) he’ll be entering free agency in his prime at the age of 28.