Former Dartmouth catcher Ben Rice finds a kindred spirit in the Yankees’ dugout

New York Yankees' Ben Rice reacts to fans cheering for him after flying out to Baltimore Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Pamela Smith)

New York Yankees' Ben Rice reacts to fans cheering for him after flying out to Baltimore Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Pamela Smith) Pamela Smith

Fans attempt to get autographs from New York Yankees' Ben Rice at the dugout after the team's baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Tuesday, June 18, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Pamela Smith)

Fans attempt to get autographs from New York Yankees' Ben Rice at the dugout after the team's baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Tuesday, June 18, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Pamela Smith) ap photographs — Pamela Smith

By GARY PHILLIPS

New York Daily News (TNS)

Published: 06-20-2024 3:53 PM

When the New York Yankees spent a 12th-round draft pick on Ben Rice in 2021, Brad Ausmus texted Brian Cashman from the beach near his home in San Diego.

Like Rice, Ausmus graduated from Dartmouth College, made his money as a catcher and was drafted by the Yankees.

Though Ausmus never played for the Bombers, he wanted to note the similarities. According to the Gold Glover, Cashman proceeded to inform the Yankees’ war room that Rice was the first Big Green catcher the club had picked since Ausmus.

However, the links between Rice and Ausmus go beyond their natural positions, Ivy League educations and ties to the Yankees.

They’ve known each other for about four years. Ausmus’ longtime agent, Pete Mrowka, coached Rice’s travel teams in middle school and high school. Mrowka’s son, Buddy, is one of Rice’s closest friends.

“I’ve kind of known who Brad was for a long time,” Rice said Tuesday. “He’s a bit of a role model for me.”

Rice shared that sentiment after going 1-for-4 in his major league debut, a 4-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles that was heavily attended by family and friends from Dartmouth. Ausmus, now the Yankees’ bench coach, coincidentally began the game as the Yankees’ acting manager with Aaron Boone attending his son’s high school graduation.

“It’s always exciting to see a young guy come up and make their major league debut,” Ausmus said. “But certainly, this one’s a little bit closer to my heart just because of the connections.”

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Added Rice: “To actually have him on the bench and being in place of Boone for those first few innings was pretty cool.”

Other notable Yankees to attend Dartmouth include Depression Era infielder Red Rolfe and pitcher Jim Beattie, who won a ring with the pinstripers in 1978.

While Rice is a catcher by trade — Ausmus played the position for 18 years — the Yankees will use him at first base with Anthony Rizzo sidelined by an arm fracture. Rice has played just 56 professional games at first, including his debut.

While Ausmus knows Rice’s defense is “a work in progress,” the Yankees believe the sweet-swinging prospect can handle the assignment.

“There’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve, and it’s going to happen at the major league level,” Ausmus said.

“But we certainly have confidence in him right now.”

Ausmus first saw Rice play in the Cape Cod League in 2021. He got another chance to see him up close this spring, as Rice earned an invitation to major league spring after breaking out season at Double-A last year.

The 25-year-old immediately impressed Yankees coaches and players with his skills and process.

“The work ethic was outstanding. You can tell he puts not only a lot of work in, but a lot of thought into his work,” Ausmus said before cracking a joke. “He’s a Dartmouth grad. He’s an intelligent guy.”