BY DENNIS CHASE
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Marcus Nidiffer is a coach on the field.
He's also a pitcher's best friend.
That's part of his job description as the catcher for the Traverse City Beach Bums.
Nidiffer had a rock solid season in 2012, guiding a pitching staff that had the lowest ERA in the Frontier League at 3.52 and held opponents to a league-low .226 average.
"It's nice to have a guy behind the plate that you have all the faith in," Beach Bums manager Gregg Langbehn said. "He's really good at what he does. He takes a lot of pride in it. We're pretty fortunate to have somebody of his caliber be our everyday guy."
Everyday is about right, too. Nidiffer proved a workhorse last season, becoming just the third catcher in team history to play 70 or more games behind the plate. That number illustrates his importance to the team.
A new year, though, brings a new challenge so Nidiffer's quickly immersed himself the past two weeks in "getting to know" the 2013 staff. What's he looking for?
"How they throw, how they pitch, how they want their games called," he said. "You have to spend as much time as you can with them. You have to pick their brains and know what they want when they go out there. If you're not on the same page, it doesn't flow right. The good thing is we have a good core back and I know how those guys pitch. I know what they want and they know what I like. It flows together."
Each pitcher has his own idiosyncrasies. Take three examples from last season.
"Reed (Kelly) always liked to set up hitters for the strikeout," Nidiffer said. "He had a power arm.
"Jacob Clem was a more of a contact guy. I wanted to get swings as early as I could out of the batters. That way we were in and out and he didn't run his pitch count up.
"Scott Dunn, the good thing with him is that no matter what I put down, he threw it and threw it for a strike. He's a bulldog. I'm glad he's back."
Building those relationships with the pitchers is one of the more behind-the-scenes keys that can make a difference between success and failure.
"Familiarity, that's a big part of it, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of every pitcher. and how they tick," Langbehn said. "You can look at any major league team and the ones that have stability behind the plate probably have a pretty good pitching staff. The greatest example I can think of currently is St. Louis with (Yadier) Molina behind the plate. I'm certainly not making comparisons, but the catcher-pitcher relationship plays a huge part in determining a team's success."
Clem, for one, appreciates his catcher's talent. He said Nidiffer's return brings a comfort level to the staff.
"Marcus is awesome," he said. "He works with you. If you're not on, he'll get you going. He'll do whatever he can to help you out.
"Plus, he throws guys out. He does everything you ask of a catcher and then some. Having him back is a big deal. I'm sure all our pitchers are ecstatic about it."
Nidiffer, who played his college ball at the University of Kentucky, said his goal in camp has been to "catch as many new guys as I can."
"I try to keep track of who's been throwing to him," Langbehn said, "just to make sure he's familiar with everybody."
At the plate, the right-hander provided some punch by hitting .241 with nine homers and 38 RBIs out of the eighth slot.