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The Boys of Summer: Ben Waife — Sacrifice, passion and dedication

“You can’t just say, ‘I’m going to be better,’ without completely, absolutely committing to it. There has to be an internal drive pushing you to take the time — and effort — to be better. You can have guides along the way, but success always comes from within.”

The speaker was Shelter Island High School teacher and varsity baseball coach Peter Miedema, praising the discipline and ambition of Ben Waife, who he coached last spring, and how Ben has now charted a course to pitch in college, and to ultimately achieve his dream of playing professional baseball.

The 16-year-old left home this summer to play on what’s known as a “travel team” in games across the South. Travel teams are sports teams for young players — usually in high school — stocked with the best young talent by region, to train and play outside varsity seasons. Players must be chosen after try-outs or are recruited to play. On Shelter Island, many stand-out athletes in volleyball and basketball have joined travel teams, hoping to catch the eyes of college athletic directors for scholarships.

It’s worked for Ben, a 6’2” lefty with a nasty two-seam fastball and slider, who finished his junior year at Shelter Island High School in June. He caught more than a few eyes playing for his travel team, the East Coast Lumberjacks, and has committed to attend the College of Charleston in South Carolina, where he’ll receive a combination athletic/academic scholarship. Ben is a member of the National Honor Society and made the school’s honor roll many times, recently named to the Grade 11 High Honor Roll.

Starting next month, he’ll leave the Island to spend his senior year of high school at P27 Academy in Lexington, S.C., a school for elite high school baseball players. The following year he’ll stay at P27, for what he called “a gap year,” taking courses on line for college credits, and then, starting in the fall of 2024, will be studying and pitching at the College of Charleston.

When he gets to Charleston, he’s looking forward to science courses, which he’s always pursued. He won a “Best in Fair” science award in the 8th grade, demonstrating the effect of various types of music on plant growth. “My dad helped me make a sound box and we played rock, pop and classical,” he remembered.

And the most growth-producing music? “Had to be classical.”

Kinesiology and physical therapy have become a real interest of late, as he recovered from an injury to his left rotator cuff, a set-back that seems to come with the territory for pitchers. “It’s fascinating,” he said. “I realized that recovery is one of the pillars of success.”

Back home on the Island this week, he seemed at ease and grounded with what some would see as a whirlwind life for someone so young. He discovered he’s energized by travel and enjoyed the tour of Southern baseball venues, getting close to fellow players and forming friendships.

He was asked if anyone in Dixie thought he talked funny. No, he said, but his dad, Bert, who was along for part of the tour, said he sat next to a local fan and during a conversation occasionally thought he was listening to a foreign tongue.

One cultural hiccup. “We went into a Whole Foods and there was a barbecue restaurant right inside the store,” he said. “One guy working there was amazed we didn’t have barbecue places in our Whole Food places at home.”

It took some convincing to get the O.K. for his future in South Carolina, to leave his home and family — his father, mother Laurene, and 13-year-old brother Ari —for large blocks of time over the next several years. “They were hesitant at first, especially my mom, who wanted me closer to home,” Ben said. “But more information about school helped convince her. She finally said, ‘If this is where you’re going to be happy, I’ll be happy.’” 

Essential question to any local baseball fan: Mets or Yankees? Ben doesn’t hesitate. “Mets.” They had tickets to the 2013 All-Star game at Citi Field and in a raffle, young Ben won a signed jersey by Mets-god David Wright. “That was it,” he said, on securing his devotion to the Orange and Blue. “It’s framed and hanging in my room.”

He noted that he “lives in a house divided. My dad’s a Yankees fan, and my mom is from Boston, so …” 

Excited to go, he still knows what’s important, Ben said, remembering coming home just a few weeks ago. “My mom picked me up at the airport. When we got here, I said to her, ‘You never realize how beautiful this place is until you leave.’”