A 2006 graduate of Kell, he got his wish in 2009, when he was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the third round of the Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft, following three years at Clemson.
Paulsen paid his dues in the minor leagues for the better part of six seasons, steadily climbing through Colorado’s farm system, biding his time as Rockies great Todd Helton continued to man first base.
Even as Helton retired following the 2013 season, the Rockies signed veteran Justin Morneau to take over at first, leaving Paulsen to begin another year in the minors.
But after Morneau was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a neck injury, Paulsen finally saw his dream come true Monday, when he was called up from Triple-A Colorado Springs and immediately placed into the starting lineup against the Washington Nationals at Denver’s Coors Field.
“It was pretty crazy (to step out onto the field),” Paulsen said Friday from Denver, where the Rockies were preparing for a series with the Pittsburgh Pirates. “It was like a climax of nerves. I couldn’t stop sweating, and it wasn’t even hot. But once the ball was put in play, I was able to calm down and remembered that it’s the same game I’ve played since I was 6.”
Paulsen made the most of his opportunity in that first game, batting 2-for-4 — including a base hit to left field in his very first plate appearance — and driving in a run.
The moment was everything he thought it would be.
“That was the cherry on top,” said Paulsen, who got to keep the ball. “I just want to do my part to help the Rockies win. Whatever I can do is a plus. I just want to keep the ball rolling.”
The 26-year-old Paulsen spent two seasons apiece in Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A. In 648 games as a minor leaguer, he batted .277 with 78 home runs and 375 RBIs.
“I had a good time through the minors,” Paulsen said. “I was pretty successful in high-A, and the next two years, I struggled in Double-A. In Triple-A, I started working with a mental skill coach, and he helped me get back on a better track to succeed at that level.”
Before his call-up, Paulsen was hitting .291 with 15 homers and 57 RBIs in 95 games with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, and was selected to the Triple-A All-Star game.
“That was a pretty crazy moment,” Paulsen said of getting the call that he would be joining the big-league club. “I was close with (Colorado Springs manager Glenallen Hill). It was such an emotional time, you couldn’t script it really. I was so excited, I didn’t know whether to cry or give a hug to everybody.
“I had no clue I’d get called up. It was just after the all-star break, and we had come back from playing at Memphis over the weekend. I wasn’t aware (Morneau) was put on the DL, and then I got the call. It was all pretty amazing.”
An all-state and all-region member of Kell’s state runner-up team in 2006, Paulsen batted .318 with 31 homers and 130 RBI over his three seasons at Clemson. The 90th overall pick in the 2009 draft, he hit .367 with 13 homers and 61 RBIs in his last season with the Tigers.
“Ben was one of the hardest workers I ever coached,” said retired Kell coach Donnie English. “He spent six years in the minor leagues, and it was great to see him get called up. He was a guy who did everything you asked him to do.
“I’m really excited for him. He paid his time in the minors and gets his shot to prove his worth. Hopefully, he’ll keep it up.”
So far, Paulsen is making a great impression with the Rockies, hitting safely in each of the first five games since his call-up. After four starts, along with a pinch-hit appearance Saturday, he was batting .533 (8-for-15) with two RBIs, three runs scored, two doubles and two walks.
“I definitely want to make the decision hard for (the team),” Paulsen said about possibly being sent back down to the minors once Morneau is able to be activated from the disabled list.
Rockies manager Walt Weiss has been impressed with his new first baseman.
“He was behind a legend at first base, and then Todd retires and he’s still off the roster in Triple-A,” Weiss told the Denver Post on Friday. “That’s tough to deal with when you’re a young player. But he put his head down and he’s had a great season. He’s had a tremendous attitude.”
Paulsen is the third major leaguer from an English-coached team, joining Osborne product Todd Jones and Kell’s Zeke Spruill. He was quick to credit English and longtime assistant Keith Brown, who became Kell’s head coach following English’s 2013 retirement.
“I want to thank coach Brown and coach English for helping me in my early stages of baseball,” Paulsen said.