All In The Family

By JOE McFARLAND

If Ben Prediger has his way, he won’t have to worry about filling anyone’s shoes as he tries to blaze his own path in the baseball world.

He’s off to a good start as the Absolute Baseball Academy and Calgary Junior Dinos product was recently named the Midget AAA Player of the Year by Baseball Alberta. It is high praise as previous winners of the award include Matt Lloyd, Erik Sabrowski, Tanner Kirwer and Matt Coutney.

In his eyes, following in their footsteps wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing to Prediger, who turned 18 this week.

“It really is just motivation,” Prediger said. “I feel like looking at those guys, it just makes me want to work harder and accomplish the same things.”

It’s not just other players from the province that serve as inspiration for the young catcher. Baseball runs deep in his family, starting with his brother, Josh, who is now at Prairie Baseball Academy and goes well into the past with his great-grandfather, Peter, who is in the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame. If that’s not enough, his grandfather was also heavily involved in sports. Ivan Prediger spent plenty of time in penalty boxes during his playing days in the International Hockey League (IHL) in the 1960s.

But he saves his highest accolades for his father.

“One hundred percent, he has been a big influence in my life,” Prediger beamed. “He played a really high level of hockey down in the U.S. and he’s just been the biggest influence on my life. He’s up every day at 5 a.m. working out. I mean, he’s a role model for me to just get better every day.”

LEADING THE WAY

Even with all of the sports connections in the family, it took Prediger a little while to find his footing.

“The main thing for Ben this season was consistency,” his coach Cameron McLachlan told Alberta Dugout Stories. “In the past, he has been a bit more of a streaky type player. But last winter, he put in so much work to become a more complete player that he was able to put it together every single game.”

WATCH: Ben picked up the CTV Athlete of the Week earlier this year

McLachlan has been working with Prediger since Grade 8, so it made him proud to see him take the necessary steps to improve his game both at and behind the plate. It also allowed him to become more of a leader, even at a younger age.

“He has definitely always had that leadership side in him, but I think he took a major step this year in maturing and becoming an actual leader,” McLachlan said. “It’s tough because he’s always been the young guy on the team in the past years, so although he may have understood the game more than others or had those leadership qualities, there was already that older core of players in those roles.”

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Prediger even noticed the change, although he describes himself as more of a “lead by example” kind of player.

“Just to put my head down and get to work and try to get my work done and get better every day,” he said. “That has a domino effect, like once one guy does it another guy does and it really just runs through the whole team and we had a great group of guys this year who were always putting in the work.”

That work allowed the team to make it to the provincial finals, where they lost to St. Albert. Their efforts also earned them a trip to the Western Canadian Championships in North Vancouver. But it was that initial playoff run that sticks out in Prediger’s mind.

“I knew we had a good chance,” he reminisced. “We had to battle through some adversity as our coaches were always telling us that it’s the peak. We couldn’t squeeze out the championship but we made it further than any other Junior Dinos team in history and I really think that’s special to be a part of it.”

THE FUTURE

While he may not be getting the star attention that others have received in the past, like being named to the Tournament 12 (T12) in Toronto, Prediger has his sights set on what lies ahead: college baseball. In doing so, he also acknowledges one of his Baseball Alberta award predecessors.

“I’ve always wanted to play Division 1 baseball and those guys, they were phenomenal,” the backstop said. “Like Matt Lloyd, you still see him tearing it up at Indiana University.”

He also looks at former throwing partner Jared Kennedy as inspiration.

“We became friends a couple of years back when I was in my first year on the Junior Dinos and now he’s doing really well down at Canisius, where they won the MAAC (Mid Atlantic Athletic Conference) championship,” he continued. “He’s just a really good dude to be around and has a lot of knowledge and he’s really helped me through all this stuff.”

READ MORE: Prediger’s profile from PBR Alberta

As he goes hunting for a possible college, Prediger feels it will all be about balance. He knows school will be important, but he also wants to seize the moment and see how far baseball can take him.

In his coach’s eyes, it might be pretty far.

“I might be a bit biased as his coach, but at this point, he has everything it takes to be a very high-end U.S. college player and perhaps more,” McLachlan replied. “I think he will be a huge asset to whatever school he ends up going to and then who knows what could happen from there.”

McLachlan believes Prediger could step into a college lineup now and wouldn’t look out of place. His hitting is there, but he will always have something to work on.

“As a catcher, he always needs to work hard to develop the defensive side of his game,” he said. “Being a stud offensive catcher only works if you can be reliable as a catcher first. So making sure he continues to work on blocking and throwing runners out will be big for him over the next year.”

And as he’s watched fellow Calgarian Mike Soroka rocket up the Atlanta Braves’ depth chart, it gives Prediger hope that he could head there one day as well.

“He’s been a big role model, not just for me, but for the whole country,” Prediger said. “I mean, having guys like him and Chris Reitsma like that, I feel like it’s not an out-of-reach goal. I feel like if I get to work in college and do what I can do and know what I can do, I have a good shot at making that happen.”

Maybe, just maybe, one day Ben Prediger will add his own name to his family’s sports legacy.

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