After Wednesday’s 7-1 home loss to Jefferson City, Rock Bridge baseball coach Justin Towe was upset with his team’s effort, comparing it to that of a summer league team. But despite his disappointment, Towe also noticed the defensive work of his first baseman, Ben Martin, who dug multiple balls out of the dirt against the Jays.
“Ben’s worked hard to play first base,” he said. “He’s gotten good at it. He’s stepping up and doing the job for us.”
Martin, a senior, has done just that for the Bruins (7-3), playing first base when teammate Erik Darkow takes the mound. Martin also spends time pitching for Rock Bridge. The right-hander threw a complete game Saturday against Eureka, giving up only one run in a 2-1 Bruins’ victory.
Towe said he was happy with Martin’s performance on the mound, and especially with the victory over Eureka. He said the fact that Rock Bridge has had trouble hitting the ball lately made his performance Saturday more important.
Towe also praised Martin’s work in the offseason, both as a pitcher and as a first baseman.
“He locks in on what his job is,” Towe said. “He worked on his mechanics in the offseason. Ben was flying open a lot. He’s a guy that’s always going to pitch.”
The biggest area of improvement in Martin’s game, Towe said, is his maturity level. Towe said the senior is much more mature than when he first started playing baseball for the Bruins.
“His poise on the mound has been great,” Towe said. “He always wants to just pick up the ball and go, ‘Let’s go play.’ Ben’s mind-set has a settling effect on the team. He’s always competed to the fullest on the mound for us.”
Martin said that his work in the offseason geared toward rehabbing a torn labrum in his pitching arm, an injury he suffered in a district game against Camdenton late last season. Martin said his work with Karl Carswell and Steve Miller greatly improved his mechanics. Carswell and Miller were Martin’s coaches on the Kansas City Barnstormers, a team designed to showcase top Missouri high school talent for college and professional scouts. The Barnstormers participate in a series of showcase tournaments in both Missouri and Kansas, including games at major universities like MU, Kansas and Kansas State.
“I worked on not wrapping my arm and staying parallel during my motion,” Martin said. “It feels good to pitch this year because I was hurt last year.”
Adding to his frustration Martin said was the fact that last summer was the first time NCAA rules allowed him to talk to scouts. Not being able to play last year, his third with the Barnstormers, was unsettling, Martin said.
“It was frustrating being my first recruiting year,” Martin said “I worked with my coaches on the weekends and during the week at Peak Performance with Scott Graham to get myself ready for this season.”
Towe said he is equally satisfied with Martin’s work at first base. Because Darkow usually pitches against the Bruins’ best opponents, Martin’s play is magnified by the importance of the games he plays in.
“When Erik pitches, we have a lot of confidence putting Ben over there that he’ll get the job done,” Towe said.
Martin said the reason for his defensive improvement was practicing as much as possible during the summer and winter.
“I take a lot of ground balls every day over at first base,” Martin said.
Even with all the work on his mechanics and glovework both on the mound and at first base, Martin said the key to his success in baseball is not totally based on his work ethic.
“I try to stay focused for a full seven innings,” Martin said.