Seemingly out of nowhere, St. Thomas University pitcher Ben Ancheff has become a media sensation, getting interviewed by People Magazine, dozens of radio stations and several newspapers and websites.
The attention has come, in part, because Ancheff, a 23-year-old junior right-hander, recently helped the Bobcats make a deep playoff run, losing in the NAIA national championship game.
But Ancheff is aware of the bigger picture — pun intended — and the reason he has become a national story at a school that struggles for any notoriety at all, even locally.
“I know I look like a lineman out there,” said Ancheff, who said he is 6-2, 320 pounds, 20 pounds above his listed weight. “But I run, swim, bike and lift. I do everything other pitchers do and more.”
Ancheff said he can squat 600 pounds, and he boasts of a 350-pound bench press in high school.
“I’m super flexible,” said Ancheff, who has a 3.75 grade-point average, is majoring in sports administration and wants to become a coach after earning his Master’s degree. “I can do a full split, and I can stand up and put my palm down on the ground without bending my knees.
“My weight is not a big deal to me. Everyone is big in my family.”
One of the biggest is his brother, Bob, a 6-6, 350-pound left tackle in his playing days, which included time spent at Division II Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.
“Big Ben” played football, too, as a 6-2, 285-pound high school defensive lineman at Williams Valley (Williamstown, Pennsylvania), where he also wrestled and played baseball.
Ancheff said he had scholarship offers for all three sports but chose baseball, believing that’s where he had the most potential. He signed with the University of Georgia, but transferred after one season due to a lack of playing time.
He landed at State College of Florida in Bradenton, where he had his best season, going 11-3 and leading the nation’s junior colleges in wins.
That success helped Ancheff return to Division I with Central Arkansas, where he had two saves and a 0.00 ERA in his first three appearances. But his roller-coaster career took another dip when he required Tommy John elbow surgery on March 20, 2014.
At that point, Ancheff transferred to St. Thomas — his fifth school in five years.
“I had seen him pitch in a junior college all-star game and I was impressed,” Bobcats coach Jorge Perez said. “He had 40 scholarship offers coming out of junior college, and we would never have had a chance had he not gotten injured.”
After recovering from his surgery, Ancheff made his Bobcats debut this past March 31.
“I can’t believe what he can do for a guy his size,” Perez said. “He is the most flexible guy on our team. He can throw 91 to 93 [mph] once he is full healthy, which is usually 18 months after Tommy John surgery.”
This September will mark 18 months for Ancheff. But even though he wasn’t totally right this year, he quickly became an important part of the team, starting the national title game against host Lewis-Clark State, pitching a season-high 4 1/3 innings and leaving with a 5-1 lead that would grow to 7-1.
Unfortunately for the Bobcats, Lewis-Clark State rallied for a 10-7 win. Still, the Bobcats (48-18) had their best finish ever at the 10-team NAIA World Series, nearly becoming the first St. Thomas team to win a national title in any sport.
Ancheff finished the season 3-2 with a 4.71 ERA in 21 innings.
By the time the Bobcats got back to their hotel that night of the final — at midnight Idaho time, 3 a.m. on the East Coast — Ancheff’s phone was blowing up, thanks to more than 100 text messages.
Comparisons on Twitter were being made between Ancheff and rotund New York Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon. One blogger called Ancheff his new favorite pitcher.
“One of my teammates said, ‘Hey, you’re famous’,” Ancheff said. “I had gone viral.”