LEWISTON — Poland Regional High School senior pitcher Ben Bernier wanted to be respectful to his new coach when Charlie Pray took over his alma mater’s baseball program. But he also wanted Pray to know who he wanted to see behind the plate whenever he took the mound in the spring.

“It was more of, like, ‘This is the guy that I want calling my pitches in big situations, because I trust him with my career and with my arm. I trust that he’s going to call the correct pitches in the correct situations,” Bernier said. “This is my guy.”

Bernier’s guy is fellow senior Jake Wiseman. Both are in their fourth year on the Poland varsity, third as starters, and they make up one of the top pitcher-catcher batteries in the Western Maine Conference. 

Bernier has pitched to Wiseman since they were in sixth grade. Both have been around long enough to know that how well they work together is not only a key to their success, but the team’s success.

“That confidence in each other rubs off on the rest of the team,” Wiseman said. “The pitcher and catcher really set the tone for the rest of the team.”

That’s why Pray was pleased to hear how strongly he believed in Wiseman.

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“It’s huge for the pitcher to be able to have a catcher that he trusts,” Pray said. “The catcher is going to be the one that puts down the sign and that pitcher’s got to believe in that. I tell my pitchers all the time we have to throw pitches with confidence. A bad pitch thrown with confidence is better than a good pitch thrown without it.”

“I think the big part between having a good pitcher-catcher relationship is being able to trust the other guy,” Bernier said. “If there’s no trust in that relationship, it’s not going to be a good tandem. Aside from the skill aspect, it has to be having a lot of confidence in the other guy to get the job done.”

A big part of that job for some high school catchers is calling pitches. Pray allows Wiseman to make most of the calls in a game because of his experience and because he can see opposing hitters’ swings from his vantage point behind the plate better than the coach can from the dugout.

Once again, trust is a big factor for Bernier when he is looking in for the sign.

“I’m rarely shaking him off because I trust that if he’s calling that pitch in that situation, he knows that I can get it done,” Bernier said. “Just knowing that he has that confidence in me to make that pitch boosts my confidence a lot. And just knowing that if I make mistake he’s going to be able to pick me up after that also boosts my confidence and lets me kind of let it all hang out.”

Besides trusting that he’s throwing the right pitch for the situation, the pitcher has to believe his catcher can turn a pitch just off the corner into a strike, or keep a pitch thrown into the dirt from going to the backstop.

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For Lewiston pitcher Gordon Beckwith, fellow junior Brock Belanger is that guy.

“I know he’s going to frame it well,” Beckwith said. “I know if I throw it in the dirt, he’s going to block it and keep it in front. I have a lot of trust when I throw my curve ball into the dirt. I’m trying to get (the hitter) to swing out in front and I know he’s going to stop it every time.”

Because of their catchers’ unique vantage point, coaches count on them to be a combination of pitching coach and psychiatrist, as well as an extension of the coaching staff on the field. 

“The big thing is the catcher can see all of (the pitcher’s) emotions. He can see his mechanics. He can see where his release point is,” Lewiston coach Will Emerson said. “So he has to be communicating with his pitcher throughout the whole game, what looks good, what doesn’t look good. That way they’re on the same page.”

Belanger is so attuned to Beckwith that the latter’s body language will signal that a visit to the mound is in order long before Beckwith calls him out.

“When you see him put his head down, you know he’s getting kind of frustrated. You just have to go out there and calm him down,” Belanger said . 

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“He knows me, so if he sees me getting flustered he’ll come out and say ‘Gordon, what are you doing?'” Beckwith said. “I trust him behind the plate. I shook him off once (in Thursday’s 9-5 win over Edward Little) and it was a hit, so…”

As critical as it is to help a pitcher through his struggles, a good catcher knows it’s just as important to keep his pitcher in a good rhythm once he’s found it on the mound.

“When his tempo gets going, you just throw the ball right back to him. He’s back on the rubber real quick. You can tell he’s in a groove,” Wiseman said. “He’s getting a lot of guys out, and at that point, I don’t want to do anything. I want to let him go and just let him keep doing his thing.”

It helps the batteries in both Lewiston and Poland that they’ve been playing together for a long time and are good friends off the field, as well.

“It means a lot more coming from him and it resonates a lot more since we’re friends off the field than just a guy that’s my catcher,” Bernier said.

Regardless of how friendly a catcher is, he always has to adjust his mound-side manner based on who is toeing the rubber. A catcher will often have to take a different approach with someone he has little experience catching.

“It changes what I do,” Wiseman said. “If it’s somebody else, you can’t be quite as blunt. With (Bernier), I can be pretty real.”

Lewiston catcher Brock Belanger, left, confers with pitcher Ben Bossie on the mound during a recent game against Edward Little.

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