BREMERTON — Olympic College freshman Ben Koler has a batting average of .419, currently fifth in the Northwest Athletic Conference.
But that number doesn’t mean much to Koler, a Federal Way product who wasn’t sure if he would find himself on the diamond ever again after shoulder surgery last year. No, Koler is more interested in the numbers in the win-loss column for the Rangers baseball team.
“That’s the most important part to me,” Koler said. “I don’t really care about how I (do) or whatever. At the end the day if we get the W that’s what matters.”
Koler’s road to Bremerton began in Federal Way and included a detour in Ontario, Oregon.
While playing football his sophomore season, Koler, a safety, dislocated his right shoulder, which also happened to be his throwing arm. He popped it back in, but the injury never healed. Kolar played both baseball and football despite the discomfort through his senior season.
“That’s when the tear started in my labrum,” Koler said, adding he knew it was bad but kept hoping for the best.
Koler, who had signed to play football at Western Oregon, knew his shoulder wouldn’t hold up to the rigors of football. Kolar shifted his focus back to baseball and headed to Treasure Valley in Ontario last season. Eventually, the pain became too much and Koler chose surgery knowing it would take him out for at least a year if not more.
“It was kind of one of those you’re screwed if you do, screwed if you don’t,” he said with a shake of his head. “I knew I wasn’t playing my best at Treasure Valley. I was a long, long way from home and it just wasn’t the right fit for me.”
Following surgery Koler was in a sling for six weeks then underwent four months of rehab. It was during that time that one of his best friends and former Federal Way teammate and current Ranger Jeffrey Cochran told Koler he should join him at Olympic.
It didn’t take long for Koler to make up his mind considering how much he still wanted to play.
“That’s half the reason I came here was to get back to having fun,” he said.
Olympic College coach Ryan Parker is glad Koler approached his second opportunity with the same doggedness and all-in attitude he brings to the Rangers every day.
“He’s a guy that goes about his business,” Parker said. “He’s a mature kid. Sometimes when you go through what he went through, (and) being at another school, maybe that humbles you and matures you a little bit. I think it has with him. It’s been big.”
Parker and the coaching staff wasn’t sure what they would get with Koler and his repaired shoulder. He was unable to play during the fall season and didn’t start taking swings and practicing until the start of spring practice.
Oh, but that first game back. Kolar will remember that one for a while.
“I was really excited to get back out there,” he said. “It was just under two years that I played in a full game. It was a big moment for me and kind of put an exclamation point on my rehab. I closed that chapter on my life and opened a new one.’
What the Rangers (4-3 North Region, 13-12 overall) did get is a player with a football mentality.
“That was kind of needed here,” Parker said.
Koler is fast on the base paths and has proven his worth as the Rangers’ leadoff hitter. His toughness shows in his quality at-bats.
“Guys feed off his energy and hustle,” Parker added. “He just goes out and plays carefree.”
Koler is thankful Parker took a chance on him and is repaying him each time he steps to the plate, by arriving at practice on time or tracking down a fly ball in left field.
“Coach Parker went out on a limb for me and I’m thankful for that,” he said.
While there might be some players that have flashier numbers, Parker agreed not many players will out-work or out-hustle Koler.
Koler is more interested in getting the third-place Rangers back into the postseason.
“I can’t get too far ahead and we’ve got a lot more to do as a team,” Koler said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without them. It’s tough to come off an injury by yourself and you just can’t go through all this and all the emotions, and all the ups and down with the surgery, without having people have your back. These group of guys, they’re amazing.”