POTSDAM — For Potsdam Central senior Ben Miller, baseball is a numbers game.
And for someone who takes pride in being a statistics guru, the five-year Sandstoner stalwart put up impressive numbers this past spring.
“Ben loves the game. He breathes, eats and sleeps baseball,” said coach Chris Donah, who first brought up Miller to the varsity level as a promising eighth-grader.
“He’s a big math guy too. He really enjoys keeping up on stats and doing stats and I think that’s one of the reasons that he’s become the player he has. He really knows the game, and he knows what to do in all the different situations.”
The epitome of a crafty lefty on the mound, Miller went 5-0, leading the Sandstoners to their initial NAC Central Division banner. He pitched 34 innings with 58 strikeouts and walked only one while scattering 21 hits and 13 runs, including two earned runs for a stingy 0.41 ERA.
Miller is the Times All-North MVP in NAC baseball this season.
“I still don’t throw all that hard so I’ve had to work on other pitches. My curve ball is probably my best pitch because I’m able to throw it for a strike when I have to,” said Miller, who cited former Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams and long-time baseball writer Bill James as two of his favorite authors.
Along with anchoring the Potsdam pitching staff, Miller elevated his stature at the plate. Working from the left side, he posted a team-high .500 batting average with 20 hits in 40 at-bats, including three doubles, a triple and home run. He also drove in 17 runs, scored 12 times, drew 12 walks and struck out four times. He also fashioned a team-high .623 on-base percentage.
“Before this year, I would have said that I like pitching more than hitting. This year, I was a lot better at hitting. I raised my batting average 200 points,” he said. “I’m not really sure why I hit better this year. I drew a lot of walks the other years. I was more aggressive at the plate. If the first pitch was a good one, I didn’t just take it as much.”
“He’s just very disciplined with the bat,” Donah added. “He has no problem taking the walk but the last two years, he’s really swung the bat well. He just has a very natural, powerful swing.”
Pitching and hitting go hand in hand for Miller,
“One thing I dislike as a hitter is facing a pitcher who is unpredictable. So when I pitch, I try to do the same thing and confuse the batter as much as possible,” he said.
The 6-foot-1, 160-pound southpaw was born in Louisiana and moved to Potsdam at age 6. He first dabbled in baseball as a second-grader playing in the youth program before competing on area travel teams by the time he was in the fourth grade.
“I didn’t have much success my first year playing travel team. I struck out a lot and I gave up a lot of walks but my parents kept encouraging me,” Miller recalled. “The competition was much better and we played so many more games. It was still a good experience for me.”
“I read Ted Williams’ book, ‘The Science of Hitting,’ when I was in the fourth grade. It made me realize there was so much more to hitting and to the game,” he added. “I didn’t know that baseball would become such a passion for me but it has.”
Having coached Miller for five years, Donah saw potential become reality.
“When kids go from modified to varsity, it’s a big jump and it usually takes a year to make the adjustment, but it didn’t take that long for Ben,” he said.
“He wound up being a big part of the success we’ve had. He’s pretty quiet but he leads by example. He always gives 100 percent and he’s always doing whatever it takes to get better. The other kids see that and they respect that about him,” Donah added.
Miller contributed quickly as a rookie pitcher and outfielder in 2010, then highlighted a respectable freshman season by connecting for the game-winning hit in a comeback win over Section 7 champion Plattsburgh in the first round of the 2011 NYSPHSAA Class B tournament.
A rebuilding 2012 season saw Miller step into a leadership role as a sophomore. Two years later, he was part of a senior core that helped the Sandstoners make school history, winning a division title.
The 2014 season ended for Miller in a loss to Ogdensburg Free Academy in the Section 10 Class B final, but he plans on continuing his baseball career at St. Lawrence University in Canton.
“St. Lawrence and RIT were at the top of my list, but St. Lawrence was the first one to guarantee me a spot,” he said. “I really like the field and they have a great math department. One of the professors even teaches a course on sports statistics.
“In the long run, I’d like to play baseball for as long as possible, but first I have to develop more as a college player,” Miller concluded.