Ten Questions With PSU Baseball Catcher Ben Heath
As the days grow hotter, so does the Penn State baseball team. The Lions have won their past two Big Ten weekend series against Ohio State and Michigan State, going 5-1 while averaging 14 runs/game during the span, including a 22-5 shellacking of the Spartans this past Saturday. With 10 games left on the schedule, Penn State finds themselves tied for third place in the conference, two games behind first placers Michigan and Northwestern. Their hot streak needs to continue in order to make the Big Ten Tournament, where only the top six teams compete.
One reason for Penn State’s success is junior catcher and Johnny Bench Award nominee Ben Heath. Pitchers have not been able to contain him this year, as he is hitting a .383 batting average with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs. He is also masterful behind the plate, sporting a .989 fielding percentage. I was able to ask him a few questions on his accomplishments and this year’s team, and this is what he had to tell me:
Onward State: Which player did you idolize growing up?
Ben Heath: I didn’t really idolize any particular player. I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, so there was no real close major league team to pull for. For the most part, I just watched whatever game was on.
OS: With living in North Carolina for most of your life and with the rich college baseball tradition of the South, what made you decide to come to play at Penn State?
BH: I chose to come to Penn State because I wanted to play for a big school in a big conference. I wasn’t highly recruited out of high school and didn’t have any offers from the big schools back home, so I decided to come to PSU. Plus, I wanted to major in Kinesiology and Penn State has the number one Kinesiology program in the country.
OS: Your numbers have gone up considerably since last year. To what do you contribute the spike (both things in the off-season and during the season)?
BH: As far as the spike in my numbers, I would contribute that to the continued work that I’ve done with Coach Hoover (our hitting coach) and Coach Wine. After my freshmen year, I wanted to develop more power in my swing, so I’ve worked with Coach Hoover over the last two years on increasing my power with some mechanical adjustments that I’ve made, such as widening out my base and hitting with more rotation to create more leverage when I hit. Also just being healthy all year this year has helped. Last season, I missed about three weeks with a pulled quad, so remaining healthy and continuing to increase my strength and flexibility in our off-season training program has helped me this season.
OS: You have the chance to break the Penn State record for most home runs in a season. What would that honor mean to you?
BH: The home-run record would be a great honor for me. There have been some great players to come before me at Penn State, and it would be an honor for me to break the record. But I try not to think about records at all and just play game to game. Everything else usually takes care of itself.
OS: Run production hasn’t been a problem over the past two weekends, something that could not be said earlier in the season at times. How was the run-scoring switch flipped?
BH: As far as the run production goes, that’s just how baseball goes sometimes. We’ve got a lot of guys who are swinging the bat real well right now and we’re just looking to keep that going. It’s been a bit of an up and down season for us so far, but we just want to keep building on the positives from last weekend and hopefully continue to win as we move forward in the season.
OS: How far do you believe this recent streak can take the team with regards to the Big Ten tourney and beyond?
BH: I think we just need to focus on each individual game and each series. If we don’t get caught up in looking too far down the road, then I think we have a good chance to make the Big Ten Tournament. But like I said, in baseball, as a player, you just have to concentrate on the next game and when you do that, good things usually happen.
OS: What does the team do here at home and on the road to bond?
BH: Everybody on the team is real close. We spend most of our time with each other, whether it’s just at the ballpark or hanging out after games. Also, team bus trips allow for a lot of down time to chill with teammates.
OS: Any special reason for the number 33?
BH: No special reason for the number 33. I wore it all throughout high school and was able to keep it during college.
OS: Outside of baseball, what’s your favorite thing to do here at Penn State?
BH: Outside of baseball, my favorite thing to do here at Penn State is hanging out with friends. There isn’t much time outside of baseball and school, though, especially during season when we play five games a week. Keeping busy makes the down time I do have to hang out with friends even better.
OS: Last question: Where’s your favorite place to eat here in State College?
BH: The Waffle Shop!
I’d like to thank Ben for answering these questions, considering his busy schedule. If you are still in town, the Lions still have home series this weekend against Iowa and between May 20-22 against Michigan. Game times can be found here. Come out and cheer the guys on to a Big Ten Tourney berth!