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Hammond graduate Ben Miller, right, talks to his players as head coach of the 2019 Washington Pony League World Series team. The team will compete for a world championship in Washington, Pennsylvania, between Aug. 9-15.
Hammond graduate Ben Miller, right, talks to his players as head coach of the 2019 Washington Pony League World Series team. The team will compete for a world championship in Washington, Pennsylvania, between Aug. 9-15. (Photo courtesy of Dave Johnson)

Every summer, about 150 of the best 13-14-year-old baseball players in the world travel to a small town in Pennsylvania for the Pony League World Series.

Like the Little League World Series in quality, but unlike it in popularity, the Pony League World Series is a 10-team tournament held annually in Washington, Pa.

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This season, a Howard County native hopes to make his mark on the worldwide tournament.

Ben Miller, a 2013 Hammond graduate, is coaching the Washington Pony League World Series team, which consists of the top players from Washington County, Pa.

“This is my first team and summer as a head coach,” said Miller, who was a two-time first-team All-County catcher for the Golden Bears. “This is brand new to me. It’s an exciting opportunity, but it’s kind of a nerve-racking one as well.”

Miller, 24, previously served as a volunteer assistant at his college alma mater Waynesburg University, a hitting instructor at Top Prospects — a training facility in Morgantown, W.V. — and now works at Baseball Factory in Columbia.

“I’m thankful for Baseball Factory allowing me to work remotely this summer as I coach the team out here,” Miller said.

The team receives an automatic bid to the Pony League World Series, which originated in 1952, due to the town hosting the tournament at Lew Hays Field — the first-ever Pony field in the world. Pony diamonds are larger than Little League fields but smaller than the standard Major League dimensions, as they feature a 54-foot mound and 80-foot basepaths.

Rick Herrnberger, president of Washington Youth Baseball, said Miller was chosen for the coaching job because of his preparedness and excitement to work with young athletes. So far Herrnberger said Miller has proven to be the right person for the job.

“The feedback from the players is really positive,” Herrnberger said. “They’re learning a lot, and the parents wrote a letter to me expressing their joy and their pleasure about what he was doing with the kids and how he communicated well with everybody and how those kids are learning a lot more than they do in their (recreation) program.”

The team started preparing for the World Series in late June. Miller said he’s enjoyed combining his knowledge of psychology and his love for baseball. Miller earned a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Waynesburg University in May.

“My biggest thing that I want to strive for this summer was instilling confidence in young men,” Miller said. “A lot of people believe in tough love, but what that does a lot of the time is create a barrier and the kids don’t respond. The brain responds better to a positive reward system than it does a negative punishment system.”

The Pony League World Series games sometimes draw around 3,000 people, which Miller said increases the pressure for the young players. The host team last won the title in 1955, while Chinese Taipei has won three of the last four years.

“This is the event of the year in Washington,” he said. “There’s enough external pressure on these kids as the host team. They don’t need (pressure) from me. At the end of the day, it’s a baseball game. If you let that external pressure ruin the fun of this game, it defeats the purpose of playing in the first place.”

The double-elimination tournament features 10 teams — three international squads and seven from the U.S., including one from Puerto Rico — and runs Aug. 9-15. The team’s first game was Aug. 10 against London, who is representing the European Zone.

“Obviously the goal is to win the World Series,” Miller said. “In recent years, we haven’t had a ton of success. The one thing I’ll say about my team is we’re going to hit. We’re going to score some runs. If we make routine plays in the field, I think we can surprise some people.”

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