Progress rarely occurs in a straight line. No one understands that better than Logan Bender.
Bender’s journey is a unique one. From becoming a standout at Triton High School, to undergoing Tommy John surgery his first year at Campbell University, coming back as a Freshman All-American the next year, only to transfer to Catawba Valley Community College and become a Junior College All-American, it’s been a long road for Bender. And now he’s set to tackle a whole new challenge at North Carolina State University.
“My experience is a little bit different,” Bender said. “Going from a D1 school to community college, that’s not something a lot of guys do. But I’ve enjoyed the experience and I think I’ve grown from it, and I’m excited to take the next step.”
Bender has had success at every level of his career. But it’s never been easy. He recalls struggling to even find the strike zone in his first three years at Triton. One ball may spike the dirt in front of the plate. The next might go halfway up the backstop. And the next might land in the batter’s rib cage.
But even as Bender had his difficulties, he still had his moments of brilliance. Triton coach Joey Miriello says Bender always had the best stuff of any pitcher he ever coached.
“The physical side was always there with Logan,” Miriello said. “It was the mental side he had to improve. But one thing I’ll say is that he never shied away from the big moments. When things got nerve-wracking and the pressure was on, he wanted the ball. As a coach, you like that bulldog mentality, and he continued to get better and better every year.”
Going into his senior year at Triton in 2016, Bender’s dad found a podcast called “The Best Mental Game of Pitching Program Ever Made” by Brian Cain. He told Bender to just give it a listen.
“It just talked about the importance of understanding you can’t control everything,” Bender said. “Things like the umpire making a bad call or a teammate making error. Before [I listened to the podcast], small things would build up and I would just explode. But now I’ve learned to accept that I can’t control everything, but I can control how I respond. I can make the next pitch, get the next out.”
That shift in mentality seemed to do the trick for Bender. He started getting ahead in the count. And as Miriello put it, “Once he got ahead of you, you were pretty much out.”
He had some big-time performances, including a no-hitter against Lee County in the first round of the NCHSAA state playoffs.
Bender carried that momentum with him 20 minutes down the road from his home into his first year at Campbell, where he expected to make an impact right away. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance as he had to have Tommy John surgery after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament.
Any kind of surgery can be nerve-wracking, but Bender said he understood that it’s become a pretty standard procedure for modern pitchers, and the success rate is high.
“It was a weird experience, but I tried to spin it as a positive,” Bender said. “I tried to use it as an opportunity to observe other pitchers and continue to improve the mental side of my game.”
The surgery was a huge success. Bender came back as a redshirt freshman in 2018 and made a team-high 29 appearances. He compiled a 5-2 record and three saves while posting a 3.42 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 47.1 innings, leading the team with 12.17 strikeouts per nine innings. He held Big South opponents to a .127 batting average and posted a 0.87 ERA in league play. He was named the Big South Freshman of the Year, and voted a Freshman All-American by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.
After a stellar year, Bender looked poise for success as a Camel. But after some philosophical differences, he opted to transfer to Catawba Valley Community College.
It was a new experience for Bender. For the first time he was truly away from home, about a three-hour drive from his parents. But once he got acclimated to the area, Bender quickly made his presence known.
In his one season at Catawba Valley, Bender posted a perfect 7-0 record while leading all National Junior College Athletic Association Division II pitchers in ERA (0.78) and finishing second in strikeouts (114), earning him NJCAA All-American honors. The highlight of his year came on May 4, when he racked up a program-record 18 strikeouts against Fayetteville Tech.
“I consider myself a strikeout pitcher,” Bender said. “I don’t believe in pitching to contact. I don’t want to give them the opportunity to get a hit.”
Bender said he considers himself more of a breaking ball pitcher and feels like he can throw his slider for a strike in any count. That’s a far cry from the kid at Triton who could hardly find the strike zone.
“I’ve definitely come a long way,” Bender said. “I’ve grown and matured. I’ve learned the importance of patience, both in pitching and life.”
And now he’s getting ready to take on a whole new challenge, as he’ll transfer to play at N.C. State next season.
Miriello said he believes Bender will find success with the Wolfpack, just as he has at every other level. And he thinks Bender has what it takes to go even further.
“You could see Logan pitching in the Major Leagues one day,” Miriello said. “He’s that good. We try to use players like Logan as an example, to show them what hard work can get you. It wasn’t given to him. The sky’s the limit for Logan, but he’s had to work for everything he’s got.”
The allure of playing professional baseball is tantalizing for Bender. But he says he understands that his journey isn’t finished yet.
“There’s still a lot of work left to do,” Bender said. “Right now I’m just trying to keep a positive outlook and keep building on the success I’ve had, keep continuing to see results from all the work I’ve put in.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to pitch at State and compete against some of the best teams in the country on a regular basis. I know it isn’t going to be easy, and I know I’m going to have to bring it every time I step on the mound. But I’m ready for the challenge.”