Aiming for excellence
Former Yaks baseball player returns to lead program
Ben Krueger seemed destined to become a college baseball coach. Baseball was his only sport growing up, a passion that eventually led him to become the third generation on his father’s side of the family to play college baseball.
“I walked on my freshman year at Yakima Valley College and credit that year for preparing me for my entire adult life,” said Krueger, who this spring is in his first season helming the Yaks baseball team.
Yet while he treasured playing for the Yaks and then continued his career for two seasons at Oregon Institute of Technology, Krueger recognized his playing years were numbered. During winter breaks and summers while in college, he had the opportunity to return to his hometown of Seattle and coach the travel team that he played for growing up.
“Being close in age built trust and fostered commonalities with the players I worked with,” Krueger said. “I wanted to absorb as much as possible from as many different people and places to one day start my own program and eventually lead at the college level.”
Upon graduating from Oregon Tech with his bachelor’s degree in management/marketing, Krueger initially channeled his energies into starting a career in sales and technology. While it was exciting to start climbing the corporate ladder, not being connected to the game he loved left Krueger feeling unfulfilled.
“The way I grew in Yakima was by pushing guys who were better than me and doing everything to help the team win.” — Ben Krueger, head baseball coach
In 2017, he sought to fill that gap by founding the Mercedes-Benz of Seattle Baseball Club, a non-profit, year-round training program to help young players advance both on the field and in the classroom. While for a time Krueger led the Benz program while also pulling long hours at his day job, it became clear there wasn’t enough time to do both up to the standard he set.
“I quit my corporate job to launch the Cascade Collegiate League in 2018 and have been blessed to do what I love since then,” Krueger said.
That’s included stints as an assistant coach for two other NWAC schools — at Everett Community College from 2018-21, serving as the Trojans’ associate head coach and outfield coach, and at Shoreline Community College from 2017-18, where he was the recruiting coordinator. In the meantime, Krueger has continued to serve as program director and head coach of the Benz program and commissioner of the Cascade Collegiate League (CCL).
Krueger said his time playing for the Yaks under co-head coaches Marcus McKimmy and Ken Wilson was invaluable to preparing him for embarking on a career in coaching.
“What I took away the most was having attention to detail,” he said. “Our on-field success came from setting standards far and above where others were willing to go.”
He noted that YVC’s baseball team has been an incubator of future coaches who’ve gone on to lead other college baseball programs across the region.
“You knew right away playing for Marcus and Willy, that their eyes were set on excellence and nothing less,” Krueger said. “I was hardly a contributor on the stat sheet here. The way I grew in Yakima was by pushing guys who were better than me and doing everything to help the team win.”
Also crucial to his growth, Krueger said, was the support of former YVC head coach Kyle Krustangel and assistant coach Cash Ulrich, who hosted the Benz program during the fall and sent members of the Yaks to play in the CCL every summer.
“I pursued growth opportunities to keep building my coaching resume and was ecstatic when they invited me to join their staff in 2021,” he said. “It was surreal to return to Yakima. Putting the jersey on again and competing as an alum brought back a lot of emotions.”
As Krueger begins his first season as head coach, he’s focused on bringing consistency and continuity to the Yaks baseball program. He and assistant coach Kelly Fitzpatrick are focused on instilling a set of qualities that Yaks players and coaches share that goes by the acronym “HERD.” That’s short for “hard-nosed,” “even-tempered,” “relentless” and “dedicated.”
“We talk often about tradition and honoring those who came before us,” Krueger said. “This program has an incredible place in the hearts of so many who support it in our community. We will honor anyone who has ever played or coached for the Yaks and those who have or will ever see us play.”