By Sandra McNeill

DETROIT (WWJ) – Growing up, Ben Sheckler watched a lot of basketball. And he decided that he wanted to be 6’8. At 22, that’s exactly where the former pitcher on the Cornerstone University baseball team measures up.

You can almost believe Sheckler, who’s starting on the San Diego Padres Farm team called the Tucson Padres this spring in Arizona, has that power.

Sheckler grew up in the farming town of Sparta, Michigan. Population: 4,233. He’s believed to be the first man from the town with a real shot at the big leagues.

Sheckler’s parents work on the floor of the Tesa Tape Factory in Sparta.

As he describes it, his shot at pro baseball fame seems to be partially a stroke of good luck. When a game he had scheduled in February in Kentucky was snowed out, it was moved to a Division A complex in Atlanta.

Sheckler was in the zone. “I just happened to be throwing a ‘no-hitter,’ and touching 90 on the gun, as all these pro scouts are filing out of these Division 1 games,” said Sheckler. “And they just see this huge dude touching 90, they see zero on the scoreboard … and they decided maybe it would be an okay reason to stop and watch.”

It was that exposure that lead to an agent and eventually the contract with San Diego.

He doesn’t believe it was dumb luck.

“I think it was a God thing definitely,” said Sheckler said. “It had to have been a God thing, because it was all by chance … all the exposure started there.”

When Sheckler received his first paycheck, he said, “The first thing I did, I wrote a check out to my church in Sparta.” He paid his agent Derrick Ross, then bought an XBox One.

Sheckler has put in some work to get where he is. In high school, he said, he ate whatever he wanted. Basketball trimmed Sheckler down by the time he started college, but he still had some growing up to do.

“I was still lazy, no work ethic, still overweight. And it wasn’t until getting hit around and performing very poorly my freshman year at Cornerstone that it kind of kicked my butt into gear to develop a work ethic and start working out.”

Now in good physical shape, Sheckler believes that his mental game is his last hurdle. At the professional level, said Sheckler, everyone has talent. What separates those who make it from those who don’t is what he calls ‘mental toughness.’

“Knowing that you can get anyone out is a huge thing. Just the chip on your shoulder that you have that you can beat anyone. You wouldn’t be there if you couldn’t get the top level guys out as a pitcher.”

He is working on his mental game with Sports Psychologist Jason Novetsky of Birmingham. Novetsky said that it involves figuring out how his body is working when he is throwing well.

“We’re working hard on pre-pitch routines right now … some checkpoints that he can go back to in his mind when he might be struggling a little bit and not hitting his spots.”

Sheckler had a tough first professional outing over the summer in Arizona against the Mariners’ rookie team. He was called in as a reliever in the 9th inning, with the bases loaded in a tie game. His fielding error gave up the winning run.

“Especially in pitching,” said Sheckler, “we say ‘one pitch at a time.’ And ‘so what, next pitch.’ ”

Sheckler said he doesn’t think much about the odds of him making it as a pro pitcher. But he said he thinks he will make it.

“I do.”

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