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TIMEOUT by Joe Flanagan

Albion on path to major leagues?

So, does anyone remember seeing a future major league player compete on Albion’s Legion baseball field?
Are you sure about that?
Although there’s no guarantee, if you were part of the large crowd that watched the Chattahoochee River Rats Junior Legion play a double header at the Albion Sports Complex in 2004, you just may have witnessed a budding professional ball player.
Who’d a thunk it!
To refresh your memory, the River Rats were a group of 14-16 year-olds representing Post 251 of Acworth, GA (a suburb of Atlanta). The impetus for their trip to the midwest was Coach Terry Westenfeld, a native of Albion. Westenfeld used baseball as a means to expose his charges to a different way of life than they’d grown up with.
Westenfeld still talks about the fun his team had, playing games in Norfolk, Battle Creek and Albion, seeing wide-open rural spaces for the first time, experiencing a dairy farm tour and a greased pig chase and attending the College World Series in Omaha. There was a terrific turnout here for a benefit barbeque and baseball doubleheader that culminated the cross-country excursion.
While local fans enjoyed an evening of youth baseball, little did anyone realize they were watching a burgeoning talent they may one day see again on a major league telecast.
Ben Paulson, a slim first baseman for the River Rats, may not have stood out that evening (my article the following week noted Chris Newell, who sparked a victory over Albion as the winning pitcher while going 3-for-4 at the plate with a double and two RBI).
But, boy, has Paulson stood out since!
Following an All-State senior season at Kell High School, Paulson chose to attend Clemson University where his father, Tom Riginios, is the Tiger Associate Head Coach.
Paulson started 46 of 58 games his freshman season, hitting .258., but it was as a sophomore that the sweet-swinging lefty gave a preview of what was to come. In 2008, Paulson hit .310 and drilled 13 home runs, leading the Tigers in runs, hits, doubles, total bases, extra-base hits and slugging percentage (.571).
And that was just a teaser!
Last summer, he competed in the prestigious wood-bat Cape Cod League, batting .290 with eight homers and 33 RBIs in 44 games. He established a league record by handling 408 chances in the field without an error and was named MVP for the Western team in the league All-Star game with a 2-for-4 performance that included a two-run double.
Entering his junior season at Clemson, Paulson was ranked as the #20 prospect in the nation by TheCollegeBaseballBlog.com and #24 by Baseball America. Let’s just say, he didn’t disappoint.
This past spring, Paulson led the Tigers to a 44-22 record, hitting .367 with 13 dingers and 61 RBIs – all team highs.
That performance resulted in his being selected in the third round of the amatuer draft two weeks ago by the Colorado Rockies. Heir to Todd Helton?
Well, that certainly remains to be seen. There’s still a long road for Paulson to travel, from contract negotiations to potential minor league stops in sites as far-flung as Modesto (CA), Asheville (NC) and Casper (WY).
But who wants to bet against the slender teenager we watched in 2004, who has now grown to a strapping 6-3, 195-pounds?
Maybe, just maybe, we can make a road trip to Denver one year in the future and witness, first-hand, the culmination of a dream that included a stop in our small Nebraska town.
It just goes to show, you never know when young athletes entertain us. Keep watching, it’s just possible the next MLB or NFL prospect might be one of our own!