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#TGW: Having a Blast

July 26, 2014

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

– Fun is where you find it.

Freshman Ben Schniederjans has found fun this summer one pitch at a time in Columbia, S.C., as a member of the Columbia Blowfish of the Coastal Plain League.

“I really couldn’t have trained in a better spot,” said the right-hander and Powder Springs, Ga., native, who is 4-4, with a 2.89 ERA. “I love the whole city. Our attendance is, I think, the best in the league. We have a lot of people who come every day. I love the way they are involved in the games. It’s been awesome. If they have a team here next summer I’ll be first in line to come back.”

The Blowfish, who began play Saturday at 12-8 in the second half, a game back of the first-place Florence Redwolves (two in the loss column) in the race for the West Division with eight games to play, probably are as happy with him.

Schniederjans is tied for the team lead in wins, is second among starters in ERA, second overall in innings pitched (46 2/3) and third in strikeouts (34). He’s allowed two-or-fewer earned runs in six of eight appearances, has yet to allow a home run and is holding opposing hitters to a .257 batting average.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I love my teammates. It’s awesome. It’s awesome just to be able to pitch a lot of innings. I’ve missed the competition of baseball. I did pitch at Georgia Tech but being able to come out here and pitch seven innings a week, this league and everything about it, I’m just having a blast.”

Schniederjans made 13 appearances, all in relief, in his freshman campaign. Getting to start this summer makes all the difference.

“It’s great to start, to get a lot of innings in. It’s fun to get back to pitching on a routine basis instead of coming out of the bullpen,” he said. “[The 2014 season] was pretty difficult. It’s hard not knowing when you’re going to pitch because you have to be ready every day, and you have to be ready on the drop of a dime. It’s nothing I ever experienced but I knew that’s what I was coming to. So I was prepared.”

He probably wasn’t prepared for the way the hard luck in which he pitched in June, as he started 0-3 despite a respectable 4.00 ERA (8 ER in 18 innings) including dropping a 1-0 decision on June 19, despite pitching 7.0 innings and allowing one run on four hits. Early on, seemingly every mistake proved costly, no matter how little.

But as the calendar flipped over to July, so did his control and effectiveness. Since hitting four batters and uncorking four wild pitches, in addition to walking four hitters (vs. nine strikeouts), in those first three starts, Schniederjans has made five starts, pitching 28 2/3 innings, and has walked only five, while whiffing 25.

His fortunes also improved, as Ben has gone 4-1, winning four straight decisions at one point — during which he pitched to a 1.59 ERA (4 ER in 22 2/3 innings) — and he’s helped Columbia stay in the race in the second half. His July 1 win (7.0 innings, one run on seven hits) snapped a four-game losing streak and started a Blowfish season-high five-game win streak. The streak ended Wednesday in a 6-4 loss to Florence.

He’s especially enjoyed Columbia’s three games against the Asheboro Copperheads, whose roster includes three Yellow Jackets teammates, shortstop Connor Justus and pitchers Matthew Gorst and Matt Phillips, the only other three Jackets in the CPL.

“I’m the lone wolf,” he said, with a laugh. “We see those guys about once every two or three weeks. I get to see Phillips, Gorst, `Cono’ — Connor Justus. Every time we see Asheboro, even if I don’t have to travel, I make sure I travel because I love watching them play.”

Schniederjans has pitched twice against the Copperheads, once at home, once on the road, losing on June 9 — a 3-1 loss at Asheboro, in which he went 4.0 innings, allowing two runs, both earned, on four hits — then winning the last time they met, on July 18, a 6-1 win, in which he beat Phillips, pitching 5.0 innings, allowing an earned run, on four hits.

“That outing was awesome,” he said of the July 18 start. “I never pitched against Matt in my life. I know he really wanted to get a start, too. We had a blast.”

The most fun comes when facing off with Justus.

“I love pitching against Connor,” he said. “We give each other a smile every time he gets up there. It’s fun.”

It’s fun with the caveat of bragging rights at stake come the fall.

“Oh, it’s for real,” he said. “Matt and I will have some talk here and there because we both pitched the same game, but Connor and I will be going at it next season after what’s happened already all season.”

Schniederjans has an edge as Justus is 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, but he also reached via a walk and scored the game-tying run in the June 9 game. Then there is the last at-bat on July 18, when Schniederjans hit Justus with a pitch. It remains to be seen if the two meet again, in the their final scheduled meeting, on August 1st.

It also could allow Schniederjans to pitch against Gorst.

“I hope both of our starts line up the same day because I know he’s having a good summer as well,” he said.

Ben has enjoyed sharing “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” stories with older brother, Ollie, the nation’s top-ranked amateur golfer, who had a pretty good summer, himself.

“I’m ecstatic for him,” said Ben. “We talk often. I text him all the time. I always know where he is and how he’s doing. He knows where I am, what I’m doing.”

He’d like to text Ollie throughout what is a long playoff run — the postseason begins Aug. 6 and could run until Aug. 16. Once the season/postseason ends, he’ll return to Atlanta, take a brief break from baseball — as will all Jackets that pitched in summer leagues — and concentrate on conditioning in preparation for fall practices.

He’s not sure what his role will be next season, but feels as comfortable starting as in late-inning relief.

“It’s two different ways of pitching, two different mindsets,” he said. “I’ve relieved once this summer. It’s a lot more adrenaline, it’s not as steady. It’s two different games.”

That one relief appearance came July 5, as he entered a scoreless game against Martinsville in the 10th inning. He threw four shutout frames, allowing only three hits while striking out six. He retired the final five Mustangs he faced, striking out three of them, and earned the win when the Blowfish got a walk-off homer leading off the bottom of the 13th.

Having sharpened all of his pitches in what likely will be north of 50 innings this summer, Schniederjans is prepared for his second fall practice.

“I’m sure I’ll get an opportunity to start in the Fall, as everybody will,” he said. “I’m expecting to come in as a late-inning relief guy next year but I’m going to compete for a starting role. It’s going to be whatever the coaches ask for.”

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