DURANT, Iowa – Laid up for five months due to knee surgery, Ben Orr had to get creative.
The Durant freshman wanted to improve; he wanted to build on an eighth-grade summer spent playing for the varsity baseball team. Since he couldn’t do the workouts he was accustomed to, Orr made his way to Youtube to watch the Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto and studied how he approached at-bats.
“I learned to have more patience,” Orr said. “He always takes the patient approach at the plate. I’ve tried to do that this year with a hint of aggressiveness.”
Those lessons have paid off so far for the Durant freshman.
Despite not being fully cleared for baseball activities until a week before the season, Orr has been one of the state’s best players in the first few weeks of the season. He leads the River Valley Conference South Division in batting average (.528), hits (19) and doubles (seven). He also boasts a .722 slugging percentage and eight RBIs to lead the Wildcats (3-8).
“He’s just spot on right now,” Durant coach Shawn Dierickx said. “He’s a very natural hitter. He looks for his pitches and isn’t swinging at what the pitcher wants him to swing at.”
He already has six more doubles than last season and his 19 hits are just five fewer than last summer’s total. He’s also 4-for-4 on stolen base attempts. The freshman never even attempted to steal a base last season.
Still, despite Orr’s strong start, it’s been a tough start for Durant. The Wildcats sit five games below .500 through 11 games. Better days are ahead though with more than three years remaining in Orr’s prep career.
“If he has the drive to go somewhere the sky is the limit,” Dierickx said of Orr. “I think he’s part of the building block along with a lot of others. We have no seniors, seven juniors, five sophomores and a huge class of freshmen, eighth-graders and seventh-graders.
“(Orr) is going to be leading the charge for the young guys.”
The second-year coach knew he inherited a good player the first time he saw Orr take batting practice as an eighth-grader. More than a year later, Orr is a more confident player in his second season of varsity action.
“The biggest thing for me is confidence,” Orr said. "Now I know I can hit the pitching. I learned a lot last year and got the privilege of working with a few of the seniors. That really helped.”
A new stance has also helped Orr, as the Wildcat freshman says he has a wider stance and is now leaning more on his back foot.
“That’s allowing me to get more power,” Orr says.
“He’s hitting the ball over people’s heads and hitting in the gap,” Dierickx added.
Pitching, however, has been a source of frustration for Orr. Both he and Dierickx believe the knee injury has slowed him down in that area, as Orr is 1-2 with a team-high 9.15 earned run average. The injury occurred in December in the Durant High School weight room. The freshman had just finished squatting and took a breather because his knees felt weak.
“As soon as I stood back up, I was in a cross position, it popped out of place and back into place,” Orr said. “At home, I had my leg down and it did the same thing.”
Orr suffered a torn meniscus and a bucket handle fracture, which is a fracture of the wider end of a long bone along the growth plate according to schoolinjuryattorney.com. He had surgery December 5 of last year.
Still, the Durant freshman with Division I aspirations knew he could make a bigger impact this year. But he’s even surprised himself a bit along the way.
“I didn’t expect it to be this good,” Orr said. “I realize injuries can happen out of nowhere so I’m trying to make the most out of this.”