Band shells beware: Ridge catcher bashing home runs at alarming rate

MINERAL RIDGE – Dividing the baseball and football fields at the Joe Lane Sports Complex in Mineral Ridge is an aluminum band shell.

Dan Ferguson has nothing against the Rams marching band, but that band shell just seems to get in his way.

“He’s hit that more than once in a game,” Mineral Ridge coach Andrew Barker said. “That’s a poke.”

The structure stands about 410-feet from home plate, or as Barker put it, “A lot farther than I’ve ever hit a ball.”

Some have even landed on the gridiron.

It’s for moments aside from the monstrous home runs that Barker calls Ferguson, “The best player in the county.”

It goes beyond the numbers, too. And a .514 batting average with six doubles and five home runs is nothing to slouch at.

“Everything he does is 110-percent,” Barker said. “He plays every game like it’s his last.”

Ferguson, a catcher, has thrown out a handful of runners on the basepaths and even leads the team – and Inter Tri-County League Upper Tier – in stolen bases with 11.

“He’s not a flyer – he’s a catcher,” Barker. “But he puts a team on edge every time he’s on the basepaths. The best thing about it is, he’s going to steal second and get to third. He’s a baseball player; not just a hitter.”

He’s drawn 22 walks this year, admittedly frustrating, but Ferguson stays humble.

“A walk is just as good as a hit,” he said. “It’s getting guys on and keeping the scoring chances up.”

In Friday’s 9-8 loss to Western Reserve, Ferguson came to the plate with the bases loaded, but the Rams (8-8) were still down six runs. He was walked on four pitches.

“A home run there isn’t going to be worth six runs,” he said. “It’s a team game; they aren’t won individually. I still came around to score because of the work the guys behind me put in.”

All but three of the Mineral Ridge players are underclassmen. Barker trots out a pitching staff that includes three freshmen.

“Knowing you have a veteran back there is calming,” said Mac White, one of those freshman pitchers who will actually inherit the catcher position next year. “I’ve definitely learned from Dan to be set for next year. He’s just a great ballplayer.”

Ferguson, a senior, will play at Southwestern Community College in Creston, IA. The Spartans are considered a top junior college program with a tradition of grooming players to go on to the Division I level. Ferguson plans to go that route, retaining the catching gear for the long haul.

“I started catching when I was 14,” he said. “It’s been a a different atmosphere than growing up, but it’s still the same game. I can’t say things have been easier, but a little more fluent and natural.”

“Catching is still a grind, but I don’t mind it. I have to do my job. If it takes sacrificing my body, I’ll do it.”

Barker, a Newton Falls graduate who coached the Tigers for four years and at Canfield for three, will be the first to say he’s been blessed with his situation at Mineral Ridge for the past two years. Ferguson is a big reason why.

“As far as I’m concerned,” Barker says, “Dan’s the best player I’ve ever coached.”