CARY, N.C. -– There’s not a parent alive who wouldn’t want their child to grow up to be the kind of person that Minnesota State-Mankato reserve catcher Ben Keller has become.
It’s not just that the kid plays baseball. In 18 games this year, the Andover, Minn., resident has six hits in 17 trips to the plate, good enough for a .353 batting average. But get this: Off the field, Keller is a mechanical engineering major with a 4.0 GPA. This summer, he’s going to Missouri for a little nuclear engineering research.
At a May 25 banquet here in Cary, Keller was named a recipient of the Elite 89 Award, which “recognized the true essence of the student-athlete by honoring the individual who has reached the pinnacle of competition at the national championship level in his or her sport, while also achieving the highest academic standard among his or her peers.”
The award goes to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative GPA in each of the NCAA’s 89 championship tournaments.
On top of all that, he leads two Bible studies, attends another and is heavily involved in Varsity Catholic, an athletic offshoot of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). During the Christmas break, he went to the Dominican Republic, where FOCUS Missions put one of the several baseball clinics it conducts around the world.
So, yeah, Keller is the real deal.
It just doesn’t seem possible that anyone could balance the demands of DII athletics with difficult schoolwork, not to mention building his faith. But that’s exactly what Keller does, day in and day out. He doesn’t watch a lot of television or play video games, but that’s alright, he says. He never was any good at video games, anyway.
“I try to give 100 percent in everything I do,” said Keller, a redshirt sophomore for Mavericks. “I like to keep myself busy, but it’s all stuff that I love to do. In high school, I had tough classes and I figured out going to school, sports, doing homework, going to bed. I have good time-management skills that I developed in high school and just carried that over. You just look at what your priorities are, and the things you prioritize, you give those a lot of time.”
As much as the kids in the area got out of the FOCUS baseball camp last winter, it sounds as if Keller got every bit as much out of it, if not more.
“It was just an awesome experience to be able to connect with those kids down there, in two things we both loved,” Keller said. “All the kids down there absolutely love baseball. It surprised me that a lot them really knew a lot about their faith, also. Just sharing faith and that love of baseball was really great.”
Asked to describe the kind of young man that Keller is, Mavericks head coach Matt Magers responded with a smile.
“He’s at the top of the list of the type of person you want to recruit,” Magers said. “He’s someone who has a strong support system at home, and that begins with his parents [John and Lauren Keller]. But also, he makes good decisions off the field. Whether it’s in the classroom, on the field or in the community, he’s done so much for our program, he makes our team better in so many different ways.”
|DII BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP|
If describing Keller as a person brought a smile to Magers’ face, he actually laughed when asked how the young man manages to balance everything on his plate right now.
“Again, it begins with his support system,” Magers said. “His parents have raised him in a way that he has his priorities straight. He’s such a great example for our players. There’s only so many hours in the day, but if you prioritize them, it can be done. That’s going to lead him into being successful after baseball.
“Being at the catcher position, he’s one of those individuals that you can tell to do something once, and he’s going to be able to do it. He certainly leads by example. I can’t say enough about his character, the ways he acts on the field and off. He’s one of those guys that people just follow. They feed off his positive energy.”
Although school is out at Minnesota State-Mankato for the summer, he’s still juggling responsibilities. He was to have reported to Missouri on Monday, but there’s a little thing called the DII championship going on.
“I e-mailed them and said, ‘Hey, I probably won’t be able to make it down there because we’re in the World Series,’ ” Keller said. “They were really cool with it, and said, ‘Come down whenever you can.’ I’ll just put that in the back of my mind right now and enjoy this.”