Engineered for success: How Meghan Beaubien became a force both on and off the field

Saturday, May 12, 2018 - 8:01pm

Freshman sensation Meghan Beaubien was destined for greatness from an early age

Freshman sensation Meghan Beaubien was destined for greatness from an early age Buy this photo
Courtesy of Jason Beaubien

For the most part, John Morningstar knew what was about to happen. The softball coach was sitting in a suite at a Toledo Mud Hens minor league baseball game with some friends and co-workers watching the Detroit Tigers on a TV at the back of the suite.

Detroit was batting with less than two outs and a runner on first, so he figured that the Tigers would try and advance the man on base somehow. The niece of one of his coaching partners, a bright-eyed tween softball pitcher, suggested that it was a bunting situation.

Plop. Indeed, it was a bunt. The Tigers advanced a runner. As the game progressed, the two continued to discuss the intricacies  of baseball, and Morningstar became more and more astounded at the child’s innate knowledge of the game.

“I’m sitting here, talking to a 12-year old girl about advanced strategy in a baseball game like I would talk to an adult that played the game all of their life,” Morningstar thought to himself. “Wow.”

That girl wasn’t the only truly prophetic one sitting in the box at Fifth Third Field. It would be years before the girl standing next to him would lead the nation in victories as a college freshman, compile a 32-3 record with 0.90 earned run average and be a successful engineering student, but Morningstar knew that very day: he was in the presence of a star.Her name was Meghan Beaubien.

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The moment Beaubien stepped onto the sprawling green lawns of Saint Mary’s Catholic Central High School in Monroe, Mich., she already had a plan. She was determined to take the hardest possible classes and be the valedictorian. Hardly surprising for someone who scored a 29 on her ACT — as an eighth grader.

As if that weren’t enough, she was determined to play softball at Michigan. Beaubien went to Michigan softball games many times during her childhood, and she sat in awe of the atmosphere there each time she went.

The summer before her freshman year of high school, Beaubien was already neck deep in the recruiting process. Even though she had been pitching since she was seven years old and paired that experience with a longstanding, acute knowledge of the game, the possibility of high-level softball as a future for Beaubien became closer and closer to becoming a reality.   .

Even though Beaubien had been to different college softball camps like Michigan State’s, Tennessee’s softball camp was a watershed moment for the left hander. No conference in all of college softball was as strong as the Southeastern Conference was.

She rose to the moment and clocked in at 65 miles per hour fastball on the radar gun. Tennessee co-head coaches and NFCA Hall of Famers Karen and Ralph Weekly were impressed and congratulated Beaubien.

“Wow this is a big SEC school,” Beaubien thought. “And if that coach is impressed by what I did, I can impress other coaches as well.”

Beaubien thanked the two coaches, but the Weeklys knew they wouldn’t have much of a chance with the Michigan native.

“Look,” Ralph Weekly said, according to Beaubien. “Call us if [Michigan coach Carol Hutchins] passes on you, but we don’t think she will.”

From that point on, Beaubien — who ended up being ranked as the No. 6 recruit  in the Country by FloSoftball.com in 2017 — was a hot commodity. Though she didn’t hear back from the Volunteers, she racked up offers from Ohio State, Northwestern, Michigan State and two SEC schools. But Michigan remained her preference.

The prospect of being a Wolverine seemed almost too good to be true. Beaubien lived less than an hour away from Ann Arbor, had attended games at Michigan’s Alumni Field in the past and was well on her way to becoming a strong enough student to attend the school, with or without athletics. Hutchins and assistant coach Jennifer Brundage attended a few of Beaubien’s games at St. Mary Catholic Central her freshman year and remained in close contact with the left-hander knowing her interest in playing for Michigan.

The coach invited Beaubien — like she did with many recruits — to watch Michigan football play Ohio State. While at first Beaubien assumed that this was just another step in the recruiting machine for Michigan, Hutchins’ words over the phone stuck out:

“When you’re there, I want to talk about your future,” Hutchins said. “At Michigan.”

Beaubien’s heart jumped out of her chest. She basically had one part of her three-part plan in the bag. Yet, when Hutchins pulled her into the tunnel at Michigan Stadium during halftime of the game and extended her an offer, Beaubien didn’t accept the it right away. Like any smart player, she needed time to think about and comb through her options.

No matter where Beaubien visited after that, though, it always came back to Michigan.

Was this school as academically renowned as Michigan?

Even if it was, how good is the softball program compared to Michigan’s?

Was this school the right fit?

Sure, it might’ve been easy to accept the offer from her dream school immediately, but Beaubien took time to look at every opportunity in front of her. About a month after the original offer, all it took was one hour of meetings with Hutchins and the coaching staff to discuss academics and finances to make Beaubien a Wolverine.

But that was just one goal to check off her list. With three years of high school left, Beaubien had more accomplishments in mind. As a sophomore, Beaubien led SMCC to its first of three consecutive Michigan state championships. She never allowed a run in any of her championship appearances — and even threw a perfect game as a junior. All three years, she was named Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year.

As much as she was on top of the softball world, though, Beaubien still had yet to quench her academic desires. She originally wanted to take an Honors Anatomy and Physiology class, but didn’t have room in her normal schedule to take it with all the other Honors and Advanced Placement classes already on deck. Rather than just dropping the class, Beaubien opted to take it as an independent study.

“She is a student that does not just settle for the average or norm,” said Beaubien’s Honors Anatomy and Physiology teacher Scott Hoffmann. “She wants to know all the details and inter-workings that go with finding a solution or answer to a problem. She took pride in going above and beyond and when she had setbacks, which were few, she took it as a personal challenge to do better.”

After seeing Beaubien thrive in the class and find success in calculus, chemistry and biology, Hoffmann pulled Beaubien aside one day and implored her to explore biomedical engineering. The combination of math and human anatomy piqued her interest, and Michigan happened to have a top-ranked program in that department.

It’s not hard to see where some of those smarts and determination comes from. Beaubien’s dad, Jason, was a softball coach in his own right, while her mom, Kim, was a former soccer player at Boston College. Jason, in fact, coached Beaubien for much of her early softball career and spent time coaching with Morningstar as well.

The father-daughter duo worked together through Beaubien’s freshman year at St. Mary Catholic Central. At that point, however, Jason realized that maybe, Beaubien didn’t need him anymore as a coach — he was coaching to spend time with her rather than to actually guide her softball journey.

“From that point on, I had to be a supportive parent,” Jason said. “At the time it was hard, but looking back on it it was a great decision…I still was close to her, but I was never on the staff anymore. But obviously, it worked out.”

That didn’t mean that Jason or Kim were not part of Beaubien’s athletic life by any means — in fact, quite the opposite. Every Sunday, the Beaubien family would drive Meghan back and forth from their home in Newport to Chicago so she could practice with her travel team, the Beverly Bandits. Jason estimated that going to Chicago cost the family about 10 hours in travel time per weekend — and that doesn’t even include cross-country trips to tournaments.

To whom much is given, though, much is expected. In those car rides across the Michigan countryside, Beaubien never put her feet up on the seat and played on her phone. She did two things and two things only in the back seat of her dad’s car: sleep, or manage the mountains of science and math coursework she was assigned. On some school nights, Beaubien would stay up all night doing homework, even after long practices or games.

Coaches, teammates and others who know Beaubien are quick to talk about that kind of determination, her aforementioned brand of competitiveness and unmatched intellect. What they’re also eager to talk about, though, is the side of Meghan that the average fan might not see from far away in the stands, or a school acquaintance might see passing her by in the hallway.

In one of her first trips with the Bandits, Beaubien and a group of 14Us traveled to California for a showcase. Before the first game, Bandits head coach Bill Conroy and the players met for breakfast. He noticed that most of the players were in uniform, or pre-game clothes, per usual. Beaubien, however, showed up in the hotel’s bathrobe, donning a shower cap on her head like it was a crown. While some of her teammates laughed at her outfit, the pitcher sat down, ate her breakfast and went through the meetings like nothing was wrong.

“She was not embarrassed or gun shy at all about coming down less than her stellar self,” Conroy said. “I thought she could laugh at herself, and she has a unique personality that I thought was a good mix of being really competitive, really smart but also being able to have fun.”

It didn’t take long for Beaubien to prove Conroy right in all three of those phases. Beaubien pitched well for the Bandits, who despite playing up multiple levels to 18Us, beat the 18U defending national champions from Southern California in the last game of the showcase.

At the end of games, Conroy usually talks to each one of his players and tells each one what she did well during the game and where she might improve. For players like Beaubien, that usually amounted to a good amount of praise, with a few adjustments for the future.

As he went down the lineup after the victory, Conroy got to one of the Bandits’ first basemen and paused. He had nothing good to say about her — she got multiple people thrown out because she didn’t protect them and missed a bunch of signs. Before Conroy could say anything, though, he heard a familiar voice.

“Xio!” Beaubien exclaimed. “You’re so beautiful!”

The whole locker room erupted in laughter. Conroy chose not to offer any criticism of the player because Beaubien’s humor served that purpose without hurting her feelings. On the surface, Beaubien’s comment might just seem like a joke, but her quick thinking showed Conroy that Beaubien was ready more to go far — in the softball world and as a student.

“When you have academics and athletic ability and you understand how to be a good teammate from not just a physical standpoint but a mental and emotional aspect as well, those are the three aspects that I look at as a coach to determine what kind of athlete you're dealing with,” Conroy said.

Indeed Beaubien had, and still has, all those traits. Looking back at all those years of hard work from Conroy’s criteria, Beaubien reached perfection. Not only was she able to maintain a fine balance between her pitching life and taking the hardest classes at her school, but Beaubien did in fact successfully check off her goal of becoming valedictorian and pitch at Michigan.

Maybe it was destiny. Maybe Beaubien knew from day one that she would reach those goals. Maybe her family and coaches did too. One thing is for certain —  Beaubien, just like she did in that Mud Hens suite, called her shot.

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