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Beetles baseball: Moore puts himself among NWL's best

Alexandria teammates congratulated Ben Moore (6) after he hit his 16th home run of the summer against the Rochester Honkers last Thursday night. The two-run shot to left-center field gave his team a 2-0 lead in the first inning before the Honkers came back to win 11-3. Moore finished the season hitting .335 with a NWL record 84 RBIs. (Echo Press photo by Eric Morken)

Ben Moore had to gather himself in the batter's box after getting a double taken away from him against the Rochester Honkers last Thursday night.

With teammate Tanner Vavra on first, the catcher/outfielder from the University of Alabama sent a sharp ground ball down the third base line that was called foul by inches. Moore stepped back in the box after third-base coach Danny Benedeto had argued the call.

Two pitches later, he turned on another pitch from Rochester's Mason Pingel. He left no doubt this time, elevating it over the left center-field fence for his 16th home run of the summer.

Vavra shook his head and started laughing as he rounded the bases. It was a reaction that summed up the kind of season Moore has had this summer, one that will go down as one of the best in the league's 19-year history.

"It's unbelievable," Beetles' manager Drew Saberhagen said. "Like I've told people, he has that 'it' factor. You don't run across guys like that in baseball too often. What he did at Alabama as a true freshman in the [Southeastern Conference] is unbelievable. What he's doing up here as a true freshman is unbelievable."

Record-setting is another way to put it. Moore set the Northwoods League mark for the most RBIs in a single season in a July 31 game against St. Cloud. He added 15 more in 11 games played after that, finishing the summer batting .335 with 84 RBIs in 65 games.

Moore's 66 runs scored are the second most in NWL history. His 16 home runs tied Willmar's Kenny Roberts for the league lead in 2012 and are the fourth most for a single season. His 84 RBIs shattered former Major Leaguer Jay Gibbons' record of 68 RBIs that he set with Manitowoc in 1997.

"Looking back at all the guys who have come through and played here, it's a big accomplishment," Moore said. "It hasn't totally sunk in yet, and I think when I get back it will kind of hit me. I'm extremely proud, and it's an honor really, with all the guys who have come through and played here."

Anyone who has followed his career since high school might not be all that surprised with Moore's success. He was named the 2011 5A Hitter of the Year and a 5A All-State selection at Cullman High School in Alabama. He broke every school record in the book that season with a .506 batting average, 22 home runs, 27 doubles, 83 RBIs, 86 total hits and 77 runs scored.

Those numbers didn't take much of a hit on his way to being named a 2012 Louisville Slugger Freshman All American with the Crimson Tide. Moore started 54 of Alabama's 55 games. He was second on the team with a .342 batting average in a conference that led the country with three teams in the College World Series.

Moore's power numbers were the only thing that did not translate to the college level. He hit just two home runs and 10 doubles this past spring - a product of facing a lot better pitching than he saw in high school. That's why his 16 home runs and 18 doubles surprised even him this summer.

"I've kind of gone above and beyond what I thought I was going to do," Moore said. "I didn't expect to put up the power numbers that I have. I had always felt that I could hit for average, but I've kind of surprised myself a little bit, coming in and hitting for power like I have. I've just got to stay humble through it and keep working."

Moore has gotten back to being more than a singles hitter by not trying to do too much. His approach has been to stay back and hit the ball up the middle. That hasn't changed all summer, and it's allowed him to avoid any struggles for an extended period of time.

"You'll go through spells where you don't see it quite as well," he said. "But for the most part, yeah, the ball looks pretty big."

The ball looked like a beach ball coming to the plate in slow motion on the night of July 12. That's when Moore put together one of the more memorable games in NWL history with three home runs and eight RBIs against the Duluth Huskies. He went a perfect 5-for-5 and scored four runs in a 15-5 win for Alexandria.

Moore raised his average from .284 to .306 that night. He never looked back after that, collecting 48 hits over his final 27 games played. He wasn't an all star at the midway point, but his final numbers made him an easy choice for the league's MVP Award that was announced this past Sunday.

"It was just an all-around unbelievable season," Saberhagen said. "He played a great outfield and catcher for us defensively. Offensively, it has to be the best season in Beetles' history."

Moore said he hopes a summer like this helps him get his name out there among professional scouts, but that's not his focus. His goal is to carry his success into his sophomore season at Alabama.

He knows it's still a long road between the Northwoods League and where he wants to ultimately end up. This summer could be just a stepping stone in his baseball career, one in which he left a memorable impression on scouts and the Alexandria Beetles organization.

"Don't forget that name," Saberhagen said. "I've had him for three months, and I'll never forget coaching Ben Moore. Just the way he handled himself on the field, off the field, the kind of human being he is, the way he plays the game of baseball and how much passion he has for it. Like I said, this is a guy you really root for."

MorkenEric Morken Eric Morken started as a sports reporter for the Echo Press on July 9, 2007. He is a graduate of Augustana College in Sioux Falls where he majored in journalism and minored in history and communications. In his spare time, Morken enjoys hunting and fishing or just being in the outdoors. He is also an avid Minnesota sports fan. Follow Sports Reporter Eric Morken on Twitter at @echo_sports. Read Eric's sports blog, More with Morken at Areavoices.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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