Hunter Courson Brings the Spirit of Play for James to Pro Baseball

Hunter Courson was a two-time collegiate league All-Star who James coached on the Monmouth Monarchs in the Atlantic Baseball Confederation Collegiate League (ABCCL). They shared a passion for baseball that grew into a friendship and in turn became a relationship that both young men described as a brotherhood.

At the 2015 ABCCL All-Star Game, Hunter was selected as the game’s MVP. Here he’s accepting the commemorative trophy bat, presented by Ken Ianelli, father of Captain Ryan Ianelli in whose honor the annual event is named.

With James’ passing, it was Hunter who created the hash tag ”#play for James,” which he promoted to his own social media networks and which quickly became a rallying cry for many of the players James coached and shared the field with over the years. Of course, it also became the name of our charitable Play for James Foundation.

Like so many talented ball players, Hunter’s goal was to advance to professional baseball. While not a member of a major college program or a highly publicized prospect scouted by a host of Major League Baseball organizations, Hunter had a burning desire to succeed at “the next level.” He also had the belief of his ABCCL coach, who Hunter credits with boosting both his skill level and confidence to match the determination he already had in abundance.

Along with hours working in the batting cage and on the practice field, James spent time filling Hunter with valuable insights and advice on achieving his goals, often using his own journey from overlooked collegian, to undrafted free agent, to professional baseball veteran as an example. James didn’t gloss over the many challenges and the uncertain rewards that might be in store. But rather than dampen his spirits, the message that Hunter took away from James’ story was one of possibility and the power of staying positive and believing that dreams can and do come true. Of course that was James’ intent all along.

In July 2017, after graduation from St. Edward’s University in his native Texas, Hunter was brought to the attention of Kash Beauchamp, a veteran coach, scout and baseball executive who more than a decade earlier had signed James to his first pro contract. At Beauchamp’s request, Hunter paid his own way to a free agent tryout camp in Florida. There, showcasing his skills among over 100 other hopefuls, he grabbed the attention of several teams and at the camp’s conclusion received three contract offers!

In yet another parallel to James’ career, Hunter also picked the highly competitive American Association to begin his pro career, signing with that league’s Cleburne Railroaders on July 11.

Before every game, Hunter adds his friend’s initial and a cross to a piece of equipment, like this wristband, that he’ll use on the field.

On July 12, less than 24 hours after signing, Hunter was in the Railroader’s starting lineup and recorded his first hit, a hard single to center. Then, on July 13, he slammed his first professional homerun over the left field wall.

While he’s only beginning his baseball journey and the final outcome is unpredictable, one thing is certain: Hunter will always have James with him. On the ball field he continues to play for James, honoring his friend and brother by placing his initials on a wrist band, batting glove or helmet. More important, in every aspect of his promising life, Hunter carries James with him in his heart.