Growing up, Ben Anderson caught for his twin brother. Anyone else, too, who needed a reliable backstop. Looking around the bullpen at Shenendehowa’s home field during a recent practice, he ticked off one name after another of the teammates for whom he’s spent time stationed in a catcher’s crouch.
“I’ve caught for all these guys, actually,” he said.
Now, he’s one of them. One of the best, too.
While brother Ian Anderson is the unquestioned star of the Shenendehowa pitching staff and projected as a possible first-round pick in this year’s Major League Baseball amateur draft, Ben Anderson has developed in less than two years into one of Section II’s top hurlers. Through his sophomore year, Ben Anderson was a catcher who only visited the mound in emergencies, like when one of his pitchers needed some words of encouragement or his team needed a spot inning from a willing player. Near the end of his sophomore season, though, Shenendehowa assistant coach Keith Lansley saw enough in Ben Anderson that he wanted to incorporate him into some bullpens and throwing sessions for the Plainsmen pitchers.
“He thought it would be helpful to the team and the program that I pitch, too,” Ben Anderson said. “I can’t thank him enough for that.”
“Next thing you know,” Shenendehowa head coach Greg Christodulu said, “he’s got Division I schools looking at him and then he’s signed, sealed and delivered to Binghamton.”
Ben Anderson signed to pitch for Binghamton University this past fall, while his brother did the same for Vanderbilt University. The brothers kept up the twin act this past winter, too. That’s when representatives from all 30 MLB teams visited with Ian Anderson, and roughly a third of those teams also requested some time with Ben Anderson.
On the mound, Ben Anderson still has a ways to go to catch up to his identical twin. While Ian Anderson regularly throws his four-seam fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, Ben Anderson pitches comfortably around 85; Ian Anderson tops out at 97, while Ben Anderson has hit 88. The brothers — each listed at 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds; Ben Anderson is actually a little taller while Ian Anderson weighs a little more — primarily work with four-seamers, curveballs and changeups, while Lansley is working with each to develop a two-seam fastball.
Throwing all those pitches is new to Ben Anderson, the older twin by about two minutes. He has to spend extra time working on his grips with Lansley, and regularly picks the brains of his brother and dad Bob Anderson — who won a state championship coaching baseball at Schalmont — for advice on his new position.
“We talk about what we can do to manipulate the ball, a lot about attacking hitters and what to do out on the mound,” said Ian Anderson, who won a world championship last summer in Japan with the 18U United States national team.
Along with Saratoga Springs’ Danny Hobbs and Guilderland’s Matt Pierce — both seniors committed to Siena College — Ben Anderson is in the Suburban Council’s crop of next-best pitchers after his brother. Last year, Ben Anderson posted a 1.56 ERA in 27 innings, and his workload will grow this season, helping to further bolster the Plainsmen’s rotation.
“He’s always had a great work ethic and he’s put in the time in the bullpens and on the mound,” said Shenendehowa senior pitcher Nik Malachowski, who produced a 0.47 ERA in 29 2⁄3 innings last year. “For him, it’s been a great transition, but I’m definitely not surprised. He deserves it and he’s worked hard for it.”
The constant work-in-progress element to pitching for Ben Anderson is the fine-tuning of his throwing motion from a catcher’s quick fling to a pitcher’s more-extended toss. Most of the catcher-turned-pitcher’s practice work has focused on mechanics, leaving Lansley — who pitched a perfect game for Shenendehowa against Schenectady in the 1994 Section II Class A championship game — impressed with the improvement, and knowing there’s a lot more to come.
“I don’t think he’s anywhere near his full potential,” Lansley said.
The one thing Ben Anderson cannot use to improve is his brother in the role of catcher. After growing up with Ben Anderson catching for his brother for years, Ian Anderson tried to return the favor this past summer.
It didn’t work.
“I got hit in the face,” Ian Anderson said. “So we won’t be doing that again.”