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August 18, 2008 1:23 pm

Climbing the ladder

Written by Tribune Staff

Wetzel hopes to complete journey from Pioneers' bat boy to Wall of Fame
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Ben Wetzel, shown in front of the Powell Pioneers' Wall of Fame, recently completed his second year as the bat boy for the team. His contributions and dedication to the team during the regular season were rewarded with an invitation to travel with the team to Cheyenne for the recent state tournament. Tribune photo by David Dickey
Ben Wetzel has many aspirations when it comes to his baseball career. Like many 11-year-old boys, he envisions greatness on the diamond, particularly the one at Ed Lynn Field, which serves as the home of the Powell Pioneers.
The team's self-proclaimed No. 1 fan, Wetzel sees himself one day blasting a game-winning home run or making a stellar defensive play to help the orange and black to a dramatic victory. That, he said, is all part of what it will take for him to realize his goal of earning a spot on the Pioneers' Wall of Fame, which decorates the front side of the concession stand at the local American Legion ballpark.
The wall is adorned with photos of Pioneers past and present who have achieved some type of noteworthy milestone, whether it's hitting .400 in a season or striking out 21 batters in a game. Like those already there, Wetzel hopes to one day carve out his own little space on the wall and in Pioneers' lore.
Wetzel, who carries the nickname Bucky, still has a few years to go before he will have a chance to make that dream become a reality, so for now he's content to fulfill his role as the team's bat boy. But if his ability to handle whatever tasks are tossed his way in his current position is any indicator, Wetzel's a lock to achieve Pioneer greatness.
"It's great to have him around," said Pioneer head coach Jeff Young. "All you have to do is give him responsibility and he takes care of things. He gets handed a lot of stuff by me, the assistant coaches and the players. Whether it's running the lineup card to the press box, getting out a bucket of balls for practice or grabbing a bat or batting gloves for one of the players, he's on top of it. He does all those little things that allow the rest of us to focus on what we need to do, and that's play baseball."
According to Wetzel, his job as bat boy started by simply approaching Young during the 2007 season. At that time, Wetzel asked the coach if he needed a bat boy, and Young agreed to bring Wetzel onboard under one condition.
"He told me I had to wear a helmet," said Wetzel, who quickly accepted Young's terms. "After about three or four games, I got my first Pioneers' t-shirt."
And as the perks of the job began to add up, so did Wetzel's responsibility as a member of the team. In 2007, by the end of the season, Wetzel had a solid understanding of how Young and his staff conducted everything from practice to gameday preparations. Everything has its place, Wetzel said, and his increased knowledge of the team's day-to-day operations has made it easier for him to have a positive impact.
"Last year, I was only around for about half of the season," said Wetzel, who also played baseball for the Cardinals in Powell's 11-12-year-old Major League squad. "(The 2008 season) was my first full year with the team, and I've been able to do a lot more than just pick up bats. If there's a foul ball, I'm on it. I'm doing stuff like watching the backs of guys in the bullpen and helping out more in practice. I'm also able to help keep things organized as far as equipment because I know where everything goes now."
Though Wetzel has a distinct business side to him when it comes to doing his job, Young said "Bucky" also plays an important role as far as team morale. After all, it's the game of baseball and it's supposed to be fun. That's where Wetzel steps in once again.
As Wetzel's time around the ballpark increased, so did his reputation for being one that could dish out and receive plenty of good-natured humor. Unfortunately for Wetzel, however, his distinct size disadvantage often makes him the target for the players. Some shining examples of such occurred during the Pioneers' recent trip to Cheyenne for the state tournament. That event marked the first time Wetzel has been able to join the team for an overnight trip.
"I got thrown into the pool at the hotel five times," said Wetzel, who earned a spot at the state tournament courtesy of a team vote. "Oh, and the guys stole my cell phone twice — once at a restaurant and once while we were playing Ultimate Frisbee."
And then there was what will forever be known simply as the haircut incident. Wetzel and several first-year Pioneer players got traditional state-tournament hair styles courtesy of Powell standout Gianluca Giarrizzo. Wetzel's hairdo was one would make any parent cringe, and it even got him a mention from Scott Mangold, the voice of the Pioneers, during one of KPOW's radio broadcasts.
"It was pretty bad," Wetzel said. "I tried keep it covered with a hat or helmet. I had polka dots in the front, and he left a long patch of hair in the back. Gianluca definitely got very creative with the hairstyles this year."
That, Wetzel said, is just part of the price he has to pay for being an easy, undersized target. But for all the grief he does catch, those same player who dole out most of the good-natured ribbing are the same ones who spend time talking with Wetzel about everything from life to the game of baseball.
"I've learned a lot just by being around the team," Wetzel said. "Probably the three guys I've talked with the most are Gianluca, Scotty (Jameson) and Ethan (Young). Gianluca and Scotty mainly talk to me about baseball. I've learned a lot about what pitch to look for with a certain count and things like that. Ethan talks to me more about things concerning life in general. He's like a wise master, and I've picked up a lot from him."
Unfortunately for the Pioneers, Wetzel's services as bat boy will soon be coming to and end. Wetzel said he has one more year in that role, but he's already thinking ahead and planning to train his predecessor.
"I'll still be their No. 1 fan when that happens," Wetzel said. "And I'll do whatever it takes to get the next kid ready to be the bat boy."