Ben Fisher has been a solid player for his entire baseball career at Eastern Kentucky University, but until last season there wasn’t much power coming out of the four-year starter’s bat.
Through his freshman and sophomore years, the Madison Central graduate had hit six home runs in 377 at-bats. As a junior Fisher sent eight balls out of the park in 222 trips to the plate. Not bad, but not as strong as the display he’s put on in 2017.
Fisher leads every NCAA division with 17 home runs through 33 games, two ahead of Mississippi State junior Brent Rooker (who added three to his season total in a win over UK on Saturday). The first baseman has also clinched career-highs in runs batted in (50, which is six behind first-place Rooker) and is on track for a career-best batting average; he’s at a scorching .412 (10th in the nation) as EKU prepares to host Austin Peay in a three-game series beginning Thursday.
Following a slow start last year, EKU’s coaching staff tinkered with some of Fisher’s mechanics as well as his general mental approach while hitting. The latter has made the biggest difference in his offensive performance, Fisher said.
“I’ve really grown a lot in plate discipline, swinging at the right pitches, looking for pitches at certain counts,” Fisher said. “I’ve really gotten into a rhythm where I’m confident with what I’m doing with my approach at the plate and that really takes care of a lot.”
Fisher’s first dream is the one he’s had since he was a tyke: to play professional baseball. A strong summer in the Northwoods League with the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters — whose alumni include former Lexington Legend Ben Zobrist — stoked that flame. He batted .292 with eight homers and 33 RBI while playing 76 games in 81 days.
But, Fisher has performed well enough in the classroom that he should be able to have a positive career outlook regardless of when he hangs up his cleats. He was one of six recipients of the Ohio Valley Conference Scholar-Athlete Award for the 2015-16 school year; the highest academic honor attainable by an OVC athlete.
The senior has averaged a 4.0 while majoring in biology and envisions working with athletes in some capacity one day. He plans to enroll in the University of Kentucky’s physical therapy school next school year if pro ball doesn’t pan out.
Having secondary career aspirations is another factor that’s made life on the diamond easier for the Richmond native.
“I think that even having the opportunity to do stuff outside of baseball has really made me be able to just relax and play with confidence, knowing that it’s not the only route that I have that I could take, y’know?” Fisher said. “But at the same time, to play baseball professionally would be amazing. I’m doing everything that I can on the field and off the field to get myself to be able to be in that situation.”
Steve Roof, Madison Central’s head coach, is proud of Fisher’s college achievements but said he isn’t surprised that the former third-team All-State selection is making a name for himself.
“He was a coachable athlete and always did what was asked of him,” Roof said in a text to the Herald-Leader. “ ... Ben is the kind of young man I would like to see my sons grow up to be like.”
Fisher welcomes the minor celebrity that comes with playing for the Colonels. The coolest part about it is getting to play in front of people he’s known his whole life all the time, he said.
“And just being able to use my platform as an EKU student-athlete to go out and do some things in the community has been really, really cool,” Fisher said. “I know whenever I was younger, growing up playing ball (around) here, if I ever met an EKU baseball player I would for sure have looked up to them.
“I think knowing that has made me realize what kind of position I can be in, and I just try to set an example for the kids who are now those guys looking upping to us and are in the shoes that I was in.”
Record: 19-14 (5-7 OVC)
Next series: vs. Austin Peay at Turkey Hughes Field in Richmond
Times: 7 p.m. (Thursday), 6 p.m. (Friday), 1 p.m. (Saturday)
NCAA Division I home run leaders
(Through Sunday’s games)
17 — Ben Fisher, Eastern Kentucky
15 — Brent Rooker, Mississippi St.
14 — Charlie Madden, Mercer
13 — Jake Adams, Iowa; Sam Fragale, Virginia Tech; Andrew Kendrick, Youngstown St.
12 — Jake Burger, Missouri St.; Jeremy Eierman, Missouri St.; Niko Hulsizer, Morehead St.; Kevin Woodall Jr., Coastal Carolina