I wanted to do a profile piece on Ben Carlson about a month and a half ago. When I asked him about it after a Scrapper game in July, he simply told me “we’ll see”. Today Carlson admitted to me that he was reluctant to do a profile piece back then because he was not playing well and thought others on the team may have deserved the attention more than he did. It is because of that attitude that today, I am happy to be doing a feature piece on Ben. Carlson gives the words ‘team player’ and ‘wise beyond his years’, believability.
Carlson and I have been linked closer since last Wednesday. A line-drive foul ball off of his bat struck Luke Holko. Having an idea of what kind of a person Ben was, I knew that he would be devastated. After every game, I would talk to Travis Fryman. Our conversations have been pretty structured lately. My first question has always been, “Any news on Luke?”, followed by, “How is Ben doing?”, followed by, “Tell me about the start that Clayton Cook provided and how long are Kyle Bellows and Greg Folgia hurt?”
I met Chad and Nicole Holko on Wednesday, a week after the incident. The Scrappers played Brooklyn that night and I waited until after the game to talk to Ben and Travis about my visit. Ben told me, “I gotta get up there and see him.” The next morning, Ben and I were on our way to Akron Children’s Hospital. Ben brought a bat to give to Luke. We had about two hours to talk, so this profile piece is done with more than the usual amount of information.
We met at 9:00 AM at Eastwood Field. I learned that this early time of nine was a sacrifice in itself for Carlson who said he usually sleeps until 11. It sounds bad, but when you weigh the normal day ahead of a Scrappers player, it seems that isn’t enough rest. These guys got home at 6:00 AM from one of their unpopular eight-hour bus rides. On a gameday, which is pretty much every day, the players are required to be at the field by 2:00 PM for meetings and stretching followed by batting practice. Then they hit the field for the game. After showering and sometimes short post-game meetings, a player can expect to get home between 11:00 – midnight. That’s a long day.
One of the first things I talked with Carlson about was “home”, both growing up and here. The growing up part was in Kansas. Carlson has loyalty to the Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs, two franchises which have not been lighting it up as of late. We talked about George Brett and Christian Okoye and if the Chiefs were capable of winning even three games this season. Carlson has three brothers, all playing baseball at some level. His oldest brother is in the Detroit Tigers system, and recently needed surgery on his wrist. Ben attended Missouri State for a bit, but once you get drafted, college ends up on the back burner. After this season with the Scrappers, he will go to an instructional league in Arizona on September 30. His father runs a car auction back in Kansas. His parents recently made a trip to Ohio to see Ben play and because it was Labor Day Weekend, the car auction was delayed until Tuesday. “My father hasn’t missed an auction in 24 years.”
Nick Kirk and Brett Brach live with the same host family as Carlson. He claims that it is nice to have some teammates around but was quick to point out that pitchers are pretty much on a different schedule, so they go to the park at different times. “We pretty much have an area of the house to ourselves. There is a nice setup with a big screen when we have time to watch it.” Carlson said his host father leaves for work at 5:30 in the morning and he went a stretch of about two weeks without even getting to see him.
Once we got to the hospital and parked, the reality of our trip started to settle in. We agreed that it is tough to see Luke on the machines as we had both already been there once. Walking to the room, a million things race through my mind, the most important being some sign of improvement or some good news. Our unannounced visit was well-received. Nicole and Chad and Nicole’s parents were all there. Nicole told us about Eric Wedge’s wife coming yesterday and showed us all of the nice stuff she brought with her including a two-foot card signed by the entire team, some autographed bats, and even a Jamey Carroll glove. Nicole then talked with us about improvements. There is something caled an ICP count which is monitored on a screen. Luke’s ICP count rises when he gets annoyed. I was fixated on this single monitor for most of the visit. We had to leave before 11:30 because Carlson had to be back in Niles by 12:30 for practice.
One of the things Carlson and I talked about was his music that he picked when he comes up to bat. Most of the Scrappers pick R & B stuff, or newer music. Casey Frawley has a country song. Ben Carlson has Ted Nugent. Yep, the Motor City Madman. I asked Carlson if the music gets assigned or if they get to pick it. He told me that they get to pick what they want. I then asked how he ended up with ‘Stranglehold’. He told me he loved the song as a teammate of his in college used it when he came to bat. Once he got to Niles, he picked the song to use for himself.
Carlson is still getting used to hitting with a wooden bat. Having used aluminum bats his whole career, it is a big change. He is also learning to play first base. He had played there before, but very sparingly. “You go where they put you and make the most of it,” remarked Carlson whose primary world was the outfield.
Moises Montero, Jesus Brito, and Argenis Martinez do not speak much English yet. From what Carlson told me, Rafael Vera should draw an additional check from the Indians organization for being a full-time interpreter. The language and communication problems don’t end there. Carlson’s roommate on the road is Chun Chen. I asked him what they could possibly do or how they communicate. “Chen knows a little English and is learning, we get through it.”
Carlson is very complimentary of the coaches and trainers. He has much respect for Travis Fryman and Phil Clark and said nothing but good stuff about both guys. Nothing but praise for the Scrappers organization and not a bad word about a teammate. Carlson said in some ways it has been a very long Summer. He is looking forward to going to his brother’s wedding in Las Vegas in November. “He is 6’4″, she is 6’3″ and used to play basketball at New Mexico, they are going to have some tall kids.”
Carlson and the Scrappers will be competing for the NYPL championship this weekend. He was quick to point out that the Scrappers lead the NYPL in team batting, yet no Scrapper player is even in the Top-10. “We are a true team, everyone has been contributing all season. When someone gets hurt, someone else has been able to step in and get the job done.”
I enjoyed my time with Ben Carlson. He is a refreshing person who contradicts the young pro athlete stereotypes. If he doesn’t make it in baseball, he will succeed in some other avenue his path may drive him to.