BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Just more than a week before two of his sons were selected in the Major League Baseball amateur draft, Bob Anderson laughed while watching Shenendehowa practice.
What prompted the reaction?
A question about if his twins, seniors Ian Anderson and Ben Anderson, had ever gone to a private instructor for pitching help.
“Nope,” a smiling Bob Anderson answered. “Never paid a dime.”
Instead, the pitching futures of Ian Anderson and Ben Anderson — the third and 792nd overall MLB draft selections this year, respectively — were entrusted to Keith Lansley, Shenendehowa’s varsity assistant and lead pitching coach.
“Keith could easily be a college pitching coach,” said Plainsmen head coach Greg Christodulu, whose program won its first state championship earlier this month.
“I always had a good arm,” Ian Anderson said, “but [Lansley] taught me the ins and outs of pitching.”
Lansley — an all-conference pitcher for the College of Saint Rose who threw a perfect game in the 1994 sectional championship game for Shenendehowa — has been one of the key figures in the Plainsmen’s recent run of success, which includes sectional championships in three of the last four years. During that time, Lansley’s pitchers have won one league award after another while dominating the Suburban Council.
“He’s maximized [our] players’ performances,” Christodulu said.
This year was likely Lansley’s best work. In 179 innings of play, Shenendehowa pitchers allowed a total of 45 earned runs while striking out 173 batters with the Andersons and senior Nik Malachowski leading the way.
But that trio was expected to be great this season. Where Lansley did his best work in 2016 was with non-seniors such as junior Kurt Forsell and sophomore Brandon Roberts, pitchers without varsity experience prior to this year who ended up with much larger roles than expected because of Ian Anderson’s mostly-missed April due to injury and illness.
Originally, Forsell was supposed to be a spot starter for the Plainsmen and Roberts was supposed to spend the year on the junior varsity. Instead, that duo combined to throw 40 effective innings, helping to keep the Plainsmen charging forward until their top pitcher returned for the stretch run.
“They both filled it and did a really admirable job for us,” Lansley said of his pitching staff’s likely aces for next year. “But we knew those guys were capable and ready. It was just a matter of plugging them in.”
Forsell and Roberts were ready because Lansley worked with them the same way he did his MLB prospects, the Andersons. That work’s textbook is a 15-page pitching manual Lansley devised, a small book given to each Plainsmen pitcher which outlines everything from the team’s pitching philosophy to how to take care of a pitching arm between starts.
“He’s really dedicated to the team and the game,” Ben Anderson said. “He’s always looking to help us get better.”
Lansley, though, is not interested in receiving credit. His pitchers, he said, deserve the praise.
“It’s really up to them if they want to believe in [what I teach] and buy into it,” Lansley said.
The way Lansley approaches his role with the team’s pitchers, Ian Anderson said, is why the Plainsmen’s hurlers never hesitate to trust their coach.
“He’s always trying to learn new thing and trying to get us to think differently,” Ian Anderson said of Lansley, a social studies teacher at Shenendehowa’s Acadia Middle School. “He gives us the freedom to work on things we want to try, too.”
For Ben Anderson, that meant trying to become a pitcher a couple years ago after spending nearly all of his baseball career primarily playing catcher. Now, Ben Anderson is a pitcher signed to pitch next spring for Division I’s Binghamton University unless he elects to sign a professional contract later this month with the Toronto Blue Jays.
One way or another, Lansley’s tutelage helped shape Ben Anderson’s future for the better — like so many of the team’s pitchers.
“I really can’t thank him enough,” Ben Anderson said.