Published: May 2, 2013
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Respect is a key part of being a good leader. Having that respect, from teammates looking for answers to coaches seeking to get messages across to a team, is often a crucial factor in the success or failure of a team.
Ben McLaughlin makes it his business that Lackawanna Trail will continue its recent run of baseball glory.
Based on bloodlines, the senior shortstop is an ideal leader for the Lions.
"Both of my brothers are involved in the military," McLaughlin said. "My oldest brother, Matt, is in the Air Force, and another brother, Joel, is in ROTC [Reserve Officer's Training Corps] at Millersville."
Lions head coach Todd Peters said that McLaughlin, who plans on attending Temple with an eye on getting into the ROTC program, has grown into a leadership role for the team.
"He's been very good," Peters said. "He is this year's senior to step up and help lead these guys. Kids don't want to hear from adults, but they will listen to their peers. They're more apt to listen [to a teammate]."
Veterans from last year's District 2 Class A championship squad graduated, and there were some concerns about who would fill the leadership void. But McLaughlin earned everybody's respect by the attitude and example he showed making the move from second base to shortstop.
"There is a lack of experience compared to last year, so there is a different dynamic," Peters said. "Last year, we had guys like [Ben] Lehman, [Matt] Aten and [Steve] Miller; guys who had played since they were freshmen and had a lot of experience under their belts. This year, we have juniors who are in their first year of varsity, some kids who are good athletes but who are still learning baseball."
"Last year was a little different," McLaughlin said. "We're confident, and we're playing like we have something to prove. We're pretty scrappy."
It's easier for Peters to coach his team when he has the ear of the team's most seasoned players. McLaughlin is that guy.
"It's his team this year," Peters said. "It seems Ben is the most vocal out of them [the seniors]. He relays the message. If we break up into drills in practice, I can throw Ben out there, and he'll make sure the drill is done. He has shown me that quality to be a leader in the military."
Being the shortstop mandates a level of know-how and respect from the rest of the team, from making sure cutoffs are hit to making sure everybody understands where the ball should be going given the circumstances.
"You know how important shortstop is on a baseball team," Peters said. "Think about a military guy, he can adapt to any situation thrown at him, and he gives 100 percent. Ben thinks of his team first, he's a selfless player not worried about his stats."
"It comes with a leadership aspect," McLaughlin said. "You are constantly communicating."
Having played second base made McLaughlin's move to the other side of the bag go a little bit easier and smoother. The senior didn't make a big deal about changing positions.
"It's not really too different. They're both infield positions, and I've adjusted the best I could," McLaughlin said. "It's not that big. I had to get my footwork down, especially on [turning] the double play."
"I'm very familiar with the position. There's not a whole lot of difference [between playing shortstop and second]; some of it applies with lefties, but it is a shorter throw."
Peters believes it was a little more difficult than the senior made it out to be, but knows he made the right decision with the right player.
"The speed on that side of the field, you don't have as much time," Peters said. "You have to charge the groundball to have enough time to throw over. Get into a routine, come in, get it, get rid of it and make the play."
All the extra work taking ground balls and making sure his defense is up to snuff had put his offense a little bit on the backburner, but as the weather is heating up, the senior's bat is starting to catch up.
"It's been a slow start," McLaughlin said. "I'm starting to hit the ball a lot harder and a lot better, and it's showing in practice. The key is to move forward."
Looking ahead and keeping his eye on what the team needs are among the traits McLaughlin shows guiding the team on the field. Being a leader seems to be what the Lions need, and they believe they have the right guy in charge.
It's an attitude that will serve him well as he chases down his hopes of making the ROTC program at Temple.
"I guess the leadership role appeals to me," McLaughlin said. "It's a good opportunity and it's going to open a lot of doors down the road."
He'll remember his senior baseball season as a time when he honed his leadership skills and kept a proud winning tradition going at Lackawanna Trail.