Mom to thank for Paulsen's development as ballplayer

Mom to thank for Paulsen's development as ballplayer

DENVER -- Each time that Rockies first baseman Ben Paulsen coils his 6-foot-4 frame to take in a ground ball, you see a little bit of his mother, Leslie Paulsen. In a sense, every game he plays is a Mother's Day present.

It's known in baseball circles that Paulsen is son of a collegiate coach, Tom Riginos, who recruited him to Clemson and now coaches at Winthrop. But the earliest stages of Paulsen's development into a fine athlete and humble teammate -- one with sound fielding technique -- can be credited to mom.

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Leslie Paulsen had Ben as a single mother on Oct. 27, 1987, in Plymouth, Wisc. She moved to Anniston, Ala., and earned a commission into the U.S. Army by the time Ben was 2, but decided she needed more time with him and took a job with a small insurance company. As Ben grew, he wanted to play ball, so mom -- still in her dress -- rolled the grounders and taught fielding.

"He loved it when I'd roll him grounders," Leslie Paulsen recalled. "He'd get in front and use 'the alligator,' which was our way of teaching using two hands and getting in front of the ball. But we did it because it was fun. It wasn't because I was trying to create a Major League player."

Mom also would play catch with him. Or they'd pull out a basketball and play H-O-R-S-E.

Leslie Paulsen was athletic, having grown up playing basketball, and she came from a family that loved sports -- as Ben experienced when he'd visit his grandparents and his large extended family in Wisconsin during the summers. She just wanted to give him the opportunity to play a sport he loved, without it taking over the family's time or its finances.

So Leslie Paulsen enrolled her son in recreational leagues, rather than high-powered travel ball, and made the sport a family activity.

"Growing up, my mom would coach the Little League teams and help out because she could throw and catch," Ben Paulsen said.

Mom's goal was not to make sure that her son developed the right technique fielding technique, but the correct family values.

"It was important for us to be home, have dinner together and spend time together, not be traveling all the time and getting home at 11 p.m.," Leslie Paulsen said. "We were home at a decent hour, and he could do his school work and go to bed."

That plan didn't hurt her son's development. Riginos encouraged Ben to go as far as he could in the game, but Paulsen grew late and his father was careful to wait until he developed physically before recommending that Clemson head coach Jack Leggett extend a scholarship offer. Paulsen earned the offer and grew close to his father while in college.

Mom continues to be a positive force.

The relationship was never all sports, and it isn't that way today.

"When we get together, we always have breakfast," Leslie Paulsen said. "And then he likes to go sightseeing or take in a movie. It's never all about baseball."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.