The story of Ben Fisher’s career at Eastern Kentucky was already a pretty good one. For one, he’s a hometown kid. He attended Madison Central High School in Richmond, Kentucky, just about a mile away from the front door of the EKU campus.
Sure, there are plenty of Kentucky kids on the roster of a team that does much of its recruiting in the Louisville and Lexington areas, but this was a kid who grew up within a crow-hop throw of the campus. For the local fans of the program, he was not just a fellow Bluegrass State native; rather, he was one of them, through and through.
On top of it, through his first three seasons, he’d had a good career. He had a slash line through three seasons somewhere in the neighborhood of .285/.375/.420 with a total of 34 doubles, 14 home runs, and 95 RBI.
Assuming another modest jump in his numbers, it was easy to foresee Fisher developing into an all-league player in time for his senior season, which would have been a nice capper on a quality career in a Colonels uniform.
But he didn’t make a modest jump at all.
He made a massive leap.
For the 2017 season, Fisher hit .363/.452/.762 with 14 doubles, 25 home runs, and 72 RBI. The homer total was good enough to lead the nation at the end of the regular season. He not only elevated his level of play to that of an all-conference selection. He raised it to the level of the Ohio Valley Conference’s Co-Player of the Year, an award he shared this season with Morehead State’s Niko Hulsizer.
It seems like a shocking jump in production from one year to the next when you consider that, from 2016 to 2017, he raised his batting average 75 points, his on-base percentage 90 points, his slugging percentage by an astounding 294 points, his home run total by 17, and his RBI total by 39. There were signs, though, that this type of leap was on the way.
After hitting just .238 over the first 30 games of the 2016 season, Fisher hit .350 over the final 25 games, reaching base in the final 15. Then, over the summer, he kept things rolling by hitting .292 with 21 doubles, eight homers, and 33 RBI as a member of the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters of the Northwoods League.
For Fisher, that late-season push in 2016 was when things really started to click, and that momentum carried him through the summer and into the 2017 season.
“I’ve made a few adjustments this year that really put me over the top as far as success goes,” he said. “That just includes the weight room, getting in there and getting a little bit more strength. Our strength coaches do a really good job. A few mechanical things, getting in my lower half more, making sure I’m staying inside the baseball. Approach has been the biggest thing. I’ve been trying to get into a lot of good counts, taking pitches that I can’t put good swings, and then just attacking the ones I can. I’ve really tried to stay aggressive this year, and it’s been working out for me.
“Halfway through the season last year, I kind of started to make an adjustment with Coach Thompson’s (head coach Edwin Thompson) help. From that point on, I kind of had a turning point in the season, and then just carried that through the summer. The summer was the first time I had gotten to do it pretty consistently. It helped, obviously, to get a lot of at-bats that summer.”
Coming into the season, Fisher knew he’d have to take on a little bit more for his team. After all, they were going to be without two key pieces from their 2016 team. Gone was Kyle Nowlin, a four-year star in his own right who cranked 49 career home runs in an EKU uniform, including 21 during his senior season, and Mandy Alvarez, who spent two very successful seasons at EKU after transferring from Miami Dade Community College and capped off his career with a .409 batting average.
As it turned out, Fisher did his part (and then some) to help replace the production of those departed players, but it wasn’t always as easy as just going out there and doing it. Learning to trust his teammates and not try to do too much was a big part of his maturation as a player.
“Early on, I put a little bit too much pressure on myself, just trying to produce,” he said. “I think a big thing was just making sure that I understood that the guys behind me can get the job done too. Trust in that helps take a little bit of pressure off yourself. Through that, I was able to just relax and do what I could do.”
In college baseball, we often gravitate toward the players who come in with fanfare. We’re all guilty of it. You know, the guy who spurns a contract offer from the team who drafted him out of high school to come to college. And it’s easy to see why. These guys are often instant-impact players who will quite likely be high draft picks three years later, when they are once again eligible for the MLB Draft.
We’re also quick to notice the player who bursts onto the scene early as a freshman or sophomore and establishes himself as a sure-fire all-conference pick from the get-go, a high draft pick once he’s eligible to be drafted, or both. After all, these are the guys who provide the best testimonials for college baseball. Come play big-time college baseball, these guys would say, and give yourself a chance to make a name, both as a star at the college level and as a prospect.
There’s still something really cool about the four-year player, though. The player who comes to campus, sometimes at a small program such as EKU, and is really just looking to get an education, play a few more years of competitive baseball before moving on to the “real world,” and maybe, just maybe, give himself a shot to play pro baseball.
Maybe the pro baseball thing doesn’t work out for everyone (although the smart money is on Fisher getting his shot), but at the very least, these players get the chance to have a big impact on a program and learn a lot about themselves and the game along the way.
Fisher certainly hasn’t been an exception. When asked what he learned, his answer was quick and concise.
“So much,” he said with a smile. “The game is a lot simpler than you think and it’s all about having fun. My identity is not in baseball. Just recognizing that and just being able to play and enjoy it has been awesome.”
Sure, Fisher is undoubtedly disappointed that his college career came and went without an appearance in the NCAA Tournament., and he seems like the type of guy who believes that he could always have done more. But now that four years have passed, he’s established himself as one of the greatest players in the history of the Eastern Kentucky baseball program, all the while doing it just steps from where he grew up, in front of family and friends, and to top it off, he made himself into a prospect for the next level.
It’s a safe bet that he thinks that’s a pretty good deal in the end.