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Bound for Mercyhurst

Berdine’s quiet trip to college baseball not by accident

Photo submitted to Times Observer Warren Area High School senior Ben Berdine has committed to Division II Mercyhurst University in the fall as a pitcher.

Ben Berdine is easy to root for. He’s quiet and unassuming, and his smile is infectious.

Oh, and he’s good at baseball. He recently decided that Division 2 Mercyhurst University is where he will continue playing.

“Honestly, when I got to high school, I realized this is something I love to do and have a passion for,” said Berdine, a Warren Area High School senior. “I just didn’t want to stop after high school.

“It has always been a good program with good players and great coaches and there I can get the most help and knowledge to be a better player,” he said. “I knew this was the place, just seeing all the success and all my friends there, too.”

Berdine is used to success, and successful teammates. Ryan Rafalski and Mitchell Grosch are already at Mercyhurst, and they were Berdine’s teammates when they won a District 10 championship in 2019 under head coach Rick Eaton. He’s also played with those two on the Kinzua Sluggers and Erie Steelheads travel baseball teams.

Photo submitted to Times Observer Warren Area High School senior Ben Berdine has committed to Division II Mercyhurst University in the fall as a pitcher. From left, in front, are Jeff Berdine, Ben, and Nicki Berdine and, in back, are WAHS head baseball coach Rick Eaton, Brady Berdine, and Roy Swanson.

“He was the type of kid who was apprehensive to get involved with something until he was there and then had a great time with it,” said his father, Jeff Berdine, who is also his high school basketball coach. “He really has a diverse group of friends from all of the sports he played growing up (soccer, baseball, and basketball). Nicki (Ben’s mom) and I are extremely proud of the young man he has become and are both excited to see him get an opportunity to play at the next level. He has earned it.

“As a player, he always has been a hard worker who listened to the instruction he gets from his coaches and peers,” said Jeff. “Ben played in the Kinzua Sluggers travel baseball organization until ninth grade and, since then, has played in the Erie Steelheads organization. The extra work he received from these opportunities was invaluable towards his overall development and realization that baseball was what he wanted to focus his efforts on. He took advantage of those opportunities to earn a starting spot on the WAHS baseball team as a sophomore (first base). I feel the starts (pitching) he got down the stretch and in the postseason during WAHS 2019 District 10 championship run helped fuel his desire to play at the next level. As his father and basketball coach, I really hoped he would take to basketball more. We had that father-son conversation before his tenth-grade year and we have never wavered from that goal.

Jeff added: “We’ve certainly spent a lot of time at the cage and having bullpen sessions with Ryan, Mitch, Hunter (Loomis), Aidan (Morrison), and Lance (Baldensperger). Having peers that shared the same dream and seeing them work for those dreams has been a huge motivator for him. He never shied away from the extra work needed, whether it was with his team, coaches, or family. We are really excited for him to get to work more with his coaches at Mercyhurst and increase his skill and strength levels.”

Berdine remembers his first home run when he was 12, and all the fun he’s had playing with friends… in any sport.

“When it comes to basketball, I always loved it, but there was just something about baseball and being on a ball field that just stood out to me,” said Ben. “I did not really consider anything else. I have always worked hard in baseball and want to continue that. I think everybody’s dream is to make it to the big leagues and, ever since I was a little kid, I always dreamt about playing in the MLB.”

But, first thing’s first.

“When I started throwing hard and getting better at pitching, it was at that point I was like, this is fun and getting people out is just what I want to do,” he said. “I always did love catching pop flys and hitting the ball hard around the park, but I definitely think pitching is where I want to be and I can have the most success.

“My goals are simple for my senior year; go out and outwork everyone and be the best in every game,” said Ben. “I really hope sports don’t get shut down, that would be terrible for everybody. If the seasons got canceled, I would still find a way to work and get better.”

That seems to be the consensus.

“Ben is an outstanding athlete with a very bright future,” said Jason Rafalski, who has been a head coach or assistant coach at almost every level Ben has played. “He is a hard worker that continues to see big improvements every year. Ben has always been a quiet kid, never trying to be the center of attention, but chooses to let his play on the field do the talking for him. He has grown into a dominant pitcher on the mound, and still had a ton of upside potential going forward. I’m happy he chose Mercyhurst to play his college baseball, and look forward to watching him over the next several years.”

Ben said his emotion comes out on the mound. He was 5-1 with a 1.30 ERA during his championship sophomore year.

“On the mound I can be different and really show emotion and work for what I want,” he said. “I have always worked hard and been very open-minded. When I first started pitching, I struggled to throw strikes and I had to adjust, learn to throw more strikes. One thing I think I do well in pitching is starting strong. I have always started games strong and really set a tone.”

Besides baseball, he excels in basketball for his father.

“It has its pros and cons because my father has always been hard on me, but to make me a better person,” said Ben. “I always strive to be better knowing they are watching. I want to make them proud of me and see how hard I’m working. My parents are my biggest inspiration, seeing them go to work everyday and coming home and wanting to help us get better at anything in life and seeing their drive and determination in whatever they do.

“My grandpa is also a big inspiration because he is the hardest working person I have ever met,” said Ben.

Pitching is in his blood as Roy Swanson pitched for the Dragons and Penn State University and is in the Warren County Sports Hall of Fame.

Pitching runs deep in the family. While his dad played outfield for the Dragons in the late 1980s, Ben’s mom pitched for the Lady Dragons softball team of the early ’90s. Heck, even his little brother Brady is a pitcher.

“I would like to major in sports management and in 10 years hopefully be married and have a good job and a house and, who knows, I could still be playing baseball,” said Ben.

Always a quiet kid, Ben was an active toddler, running around before he learned to talk.

“He never wants to be the center of attention but when he is, he handles it with such a calm, quiet confidence with very little emotion, other than his smile,” said Nicki. “I see him as a very competitive person, which most people don’t get a chance to see. He hates losing, especially when playing wiffle ball or hoops in the backyard against his younger brother. Ben is just an all-around good kid and, as parents, we are so lucky to see him turning into the confident young man that he is. We are so proud of his hard work that he has put into becoming a better ballplayer. Once Ben decided that he truly loved the game and the desire to play at the college level, is when he started dedicating himself to the sport. I remember the day he told us that he was considering playing in college. It was right before his freshman year in high school. We had never discussed it before and it caught me off guard. Jeff and I said, OK, let’s do this. Ben did all the work and we supported him however we could. Having friends with the same interest, I think, also helped as well as high school coaches that encouraged him along the way.”

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