The Dartmouth sat down with men’s baseball alumnus and top Yankees prospect Ben Rice ’22. A catcher in the Yankees’ minor league system, Rice was a 12th-round draft pick in 2021. In his freshman season as a catcher at Dartmouth, Rice posted six multi-hit games in 18 starts and threw out more than half of the base runners that attempted to steal against him. His sophomore season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, and his junior season was canceled entirely. Rice reflected on how his time at Dartmouth made him grow as a player and discussed a potential move to first base, as well as his hopes for the upcoming baseball season.
It’s not all that common for Ivy League players to end up in the Major Leagues. What made you decide to play at Dartmouth?
BR: I grew up in Massachusetts, so I wasn’t too far away from Dartmouth. I had always heard of it. I knew some people from my high school who had gone on to Dartmouth to play different sports. I knew I really valued academics, and to be honest, I didn’t really have many opportunities at all at the Division I level, other than some Ivy League schools.
I decided to go to Dartmouth just because I felt pretty familiar with it, and I knew they had a great baseball program.
What went into your decision to finish your Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology even though you were busy working your way up the minor league ladder?
BR: I went to Dartmouth for a reason. I really valued academics and getting a degree from a really good school if I had the opportunity to, so it was something that I wasn’t just going to leave on the table and save for a later date.
I was instead just looking to try and get my degree done with as soon as I possibly could because I didn’t really want it hanging over my head while I was trying to pursue my professional baseball career. Getting it out of the way early as quick as I possibly could over [the fall of 2021 and 2022] was the best option for me.
Was it challenging to balance being a Dartmouth student with your aspirations of becoming a professional baseball player? BR: Yeah, it was — it was pretty difficult. I think, honestly, it was a little bit more manageable to balance the two during COVID than when I was actually on the team just because I had fewer time commitments to the team. My baseball work that I was getting in was really on my own time, so I was able to get my batting practice, my lifts, catching, all that stuff in on my own time whenever I needed to, rather than being held to the baseball team schedule.
As you said, you had a shortened sophomore season and missed your junior season of collegiate baseball because of the COVID-19 pandemic. How did you find ways to improve your skills during those years?
BR: It was tough — missing basically two full seasons of college baseball — to be honest. Getting better for me ended up being a lot of work in the weight room while I was at home and getting stronger physically.
Also, just doing things like taking batting practice with my dad every day. Just not knowing when the next opportunity to play was going to be, but being ready for that opportunity whenever it was going to come. A lot of that involves just taking batting practice. Maybe setting up live at bats with local pitchers. Me and some other Ivy League guys — Dartmouth, Harvard University guys, some University of Massachusetts players, we organized some scrimmages in the fall of 2020. We were able to get live competition during some times of year that were typically characterized by not playing as much. So, I was able to get opportunities during that.
And yeah, like I said, just kind of always being focused on getting ready for that next opportunity — whenever that was going to come.
What do you think was the most valuable lesson you learned at Dartmouth?
BR: I would say just that you can really earn your way into getting better. I think I showed up at Dartmouth my freshman year, and I was kind of at the bottom of the depth chart in the fall and early on in the season as a catcher. But given the few opportunities that I had early in the year, I was able to capitalize on those and really work my way into a starting role and put myself in a good position for the following seasons.
So, I guess that whole process of working my way up into more regular playing time really showed me that you can really make improvement, and it pays off. The hard work will pay off.
You’re a catcher for the Somerset Patriots, but I’ve heard some discussion of a possible move to first base for you. How are you feeling about this potential change?
BR: I think my first base experience is pretty limited overall. I’ve played only a handful of games at the professional level of it. I never played any games in college at first base.
But, that being said, if they need me over there, I’m going to be ready to do it. And I’m always up for the challenge. I’ve played infield before, not first base. When I was a little bit of a smaller guy in early high school and a little before that, I played a lot of second base. So, the ability to play infield is there. It just comes down to getting more reps and becoming more confident over at that corner.
What are your overall goals for the season?
BR: I would just say to continue to grow. Just continue to get better as a hitter and continue to get better as a catcher.
I know that’s a pretty vague answer, but for me, that’s what it's all about. It’s all about just finding little ways to get better and finding little ways to improve the whole time.