The Return of Ben Moore
Photo Courtesy: Argus Leader
By: Ari Ross
“You know Ben, you’re a power pitcher.”
It’s 2009. Ben Moore is throwing a bullpen session and Mike Meyer, the Canaries pitching coach at the time, tells Moore he’s a power pitcher. For someone throwing 83, 84 mph, this doesn’t make sense. Yet Meyer tells Moore he needs to throw like a power pitcher. And somehow it makes sense.
Ben Moore didn’t expect to be drafted. After an injury his junior year at Viterbo University, Moore was never fully healthy his senior season. Playing for a small school in La Crosse, Wisconsin didn’t help either. But the New York Yankees called and signed Moore as an undrafted free agent. “It was unbelievable,” Moore said, “I'll never forget that day for sure."
Moore spent four seasons in the Yankees system, moving as high as Double A Trenton before being released. “I was fortunate to get signed, and I felt like I made the most of my opportunity,” Moore said. He would spend the next three seasons in the Northern League, playing for Calgary, Winnipeg and Joliet, before Sioux Falls traded for him.
Mike Meyer had seen Moore while he was in Joliet, but when he came to Sioux Falls, something was different. “I remember he had a live arm and a really good breaking ball,” Meyer said, “But he was kind of unrefined and didn't really have an identity.” When Sioux Falls traded for him, Meyer expected that live arm, but what he got, was a guy whose stuff had diminished. Moore’s fastball was mediocre and his breaking ball was still solid, but his changeup? “It was the best changeup I had ever seen,” Meyer said.
To this day, Meyer says that changeup is still the best he’s seen. But early in his career in Sioux Falls, Moore would too often fall in love with his changeup. He racked up the strikeouts, 106 in 2008 and 101 in 2009, “but he'd depend on his changeup a little bit too much,” Meyer said. “At times, he'd be a little stubborn because he knew that was his best pitch,” Meyer said, “And he didn't want to get beat by something other than his best pitch.”
Still, the Canaries won the American Association Championship in 2008. “It was pretty amazing,” Moore said, “I knew I wanted to keep playing as long as I could after that, having that experience.”
Moore would play for another six years, but the next year in Sioux Falls was a struggle. Though they were riding the wave from their 2008 Championship, the Canaries finished last in the North Division, hampered by injuries. Moore finished the season 5-9 with a 5.98 ERA.
But in that bullpen session in 2009, something clicked. “I learned to accept who I was as a pitcher. I wasn't the guy who was going to throw the ball past anybody,” Moore said, “I had to learn to be successful using all my pitches, and trying to almost outsmart the hitter.”
“And Mike Meyer was instrumental in that and basically making me trust in who I was and figuring out who I was,” Moore said. Moore used his fastball more near the end of 2009, evolving as a pitcher over his last few starts, to the point where the Canaries brought him back for another season.
Meyer and the Canaries’ coaching staff hoped they’d see a lot more of what they saw in his final starts in 2009, but they didn’t anticipate what came next.
Moore set the Canaries’ record for the most strikeouts in a single season in 2010 with 126. Just a year later, he’d break his own record, and set an American Association League record, finishing the 2011 season with 144 Ks.
The Canaries had the best record in the American Association in 2010, but fell in the championship to the Shreveport-Bossier Captains. Moore was named an All-Star, and again in 2011. He played in the Atlantic League in 2012 before returning to Sioux Falls in 2013 and 2014 to finish out his career.
Moore played 12 seasons of affiliated and independent ball, playing in places as far away as Taiwan, Australia and South America. And at 33-years-old in 2014, Moore knew it was time he hung up his cleats, and started to think about life after playing baseball.
Moore finished his career as the American Association leader in wins, strikeouts and innings pitched. “He's the best independent pitcher of all time. And anybody that argues that just needs to look at the numbers.” Meyer said, “As far as non-affiliated time, he's the best. He ranks No. 1 and he did it throwing 83, 85 mph as a right-hander, which is unheard of."
Like many former players, Moore couldn't imagine not staying in the game. So, when Moore got a call from a former teammate in South America, offering him the Washington Wild Things’ pitching coach job, it was a no-brainer. “Baseball is what I do and what I love to do. And when I'm coaching baseball and when I was playing baseball, I wasn't working,” Moore said, “I was getting paid for it but it was never work and coaching is the exact same thing."
For Moore, coaching made perfect sense and was an easy transition. Heck, it was almost like the Canaries had two pitching coaches when Moore and Meyer were on the Canaries. “He was essentially a half-coach,” Canaries pitcher Joe Bircher, who played with Moore in 2014, said, “He'd just seen everything. He knew every hitter inside and out and he was not short on letting us know how exactly we could pitch.”
The transition to coaching was natural for Moore, but he still wanted to get back in the American Association, and more specifically, back to Sioux Falls. “You have all the amenities you'd ever need [in Sioux Falls],” Moore said, “But then you can drive 15 minutes in any direction and you're out in the fields, in the farmland and there's great hunting, there's good fishing.”
Sioux Falls wouldn’t come calling the next year, but Mike Meyer would. With Meyer transitioning to be the bench coach in Laredo, the Lemurs were looking for a pitching coach. Meyer had joked with Moore that if Meyer ever got a manager’s job, Moore would be on his bench, so Moore was an easy call. Meyer brought Moore in, and it didn’t take long for Pete Incaviglia to hire him.
“He [Moore] cares, and he has passion and he wants to be there. He's there all day and he works tirelessly and he cares about the players and wants them to improve. He's just a likeable person and you want to be around him, and the guys want to be around him,” Moore said, “And you look at him and you don't see much. He's not that imposing, he's not 6'5'', he's not built like a god, but something about him."
When Meyer was hired in Sioux Falls, bringing in Moore was again a no-brainer. And not just for Meyer, but also for Duell Higbe, the Canaries GM. "He's brilliant, he's one of the most intellectual people I've ever met,” Higbe said, “He's just a very, very smart guy and he's the typical Midwestern down-to-earth kind of guy we need."
“I was just really blessed to be able to have this opportunity to come back to Sioux Falls,” Moore said.
“I don't think it gets enough credit around the league as being an unbelievable place to play. The fans are second to none. The guys, once they get to Sioux Falls, at least when I was there, nobody wants to leave,” Moore said. “And that just doesn't happen in Indy ball…that happens in very, very few places and Sioux Falls is one of them. It's a place where I see myself being, coaching there for a long time."
Meyer and Moore know they’ll have an uphill battle, the Canaries haven’t finished with a winning record since 2010, but they’re ready to return the Canaries to their winning ways. “I know the type of success we could have in Sioux Falls,” Moore said, “I want to help re-establish a culture of winning in Sioux Falls.”
It’s a lofty goal, but one that’s expected with Meyer and Moore coming in. “I fully expect to be competing in the North Division in 2017,” Higbe said.
In Moore’s five years with the Canaries, Sioux Falls twice had the best record in the American Association, and won one championship. “We're going to work harder than everybody, we're going to be more prepared than everybody and when you get enough guys to buy into that, the results that we want and expect will come,” Moore said, “That's the goal, and I really feel really confident we're on the right path."
“It's pretty cool and I'm very lucky,” Moore said, “For where I am right now today…this is basically my dream, to be coaching in Sioux Falls."