Benintendi brings acclaim to Hogs

By: Bob Holt
Published: Sunday, November 4, 2018
Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., left, and left fielder Andrew Benintendi take the field for the first inning of Game 2 of a baseball American League Division Series against the New York Yankees, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., left, and left fielder Andrew Benintendi take the field for the first inning of Game 2 of a baseball American League Division Series against the New York Yankees, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

FAYETTEVILLE -- For the second consecutive season a former University of Arkansas baseball player is a World Series champion.

Last year it was Houston Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel. This year it's Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi.

"It's awesome," Razorbacks Coach Dave Van Horn said. "For them individually it's great, and for their families and their teams.

"But for us, being here at Arkansas and our baseball program, it brings a little bit of attention to us. Then you break it down to just SEC players, there's a lot."

Boston's playoff roster included seven players from six SEC schools.

In addition to Benintendi, the SEC Red Sox are Jackie Bradley Jr. and World Series MVP Steve Pearce from South Carolina; David Price from Vanderbilt; Mitch Moreland from Mississippi State; Ian Kinsler from Missouri; and Drew Pomeranz from Ole Miss.

There were 75 former SEC players representing all 14 schools on Major League rosters to open the season.

"It says a lot about our league and the development of our league and how good of talent we get in our league," Van Horn said. "These kids come to school, they can play in the big leagues pretty quick, and they make a good living.

"It helps us probably retain some guys, keep them from signing that contract right out of high school."

Benintendi played center field at Arkansas and led the Razorbacks to the College World Series in 2015 when he was the SEC and national player of the year.

In Boston, Benintendi has moved to left field, an iconic position for the Red Sox where Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice played.

"It's definitely a position there's been some superstars in," Van Horn said. "Time will tell where [Benintendi] figures in there.

"In a couple of years, they're going to have to pay him, because right now he's getting what most of the young guys get, which is a lot, but not a lot compared to the other guys."

Benintendi, 24, had a salary of $620,500 for the 2018 season when he batted .290 with 16 home runs, 41 doubles, 87 RBI, 103 runs scored and 21 stolen bases. He also led American League outfielders with 11 assists. He'll be eligible for arbitration in 2020 and free agency in 2023.

"There will be some other teams taking a shot at him," Van Horn said. "But I imagine Boston will try to keep him, so it'll be fun to watch to see how that develops."

Benintendi batted .333 (6 for 18) and scored 6 runs in the World Series when the Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-1, but it was his catch in Game 2 in Fenway Park that drew the most attention.

The Boston Herald compared the image of Benintendi's leaping catch to hockey superstar Bobby Orr going airborne as he scored the winning goal in overtime for the Boston Bruins when they beat the St. Louis Blues to win the 1970 Stanley Cup.

"Pretty special, because that fence, that's a little scary out there," Van Horn said of Benintendi's catch in front of Fenway Park's left-field wall known as "The Green Monster," which also is part of the facility's scoreboard. "There's no padding, and there's numbers and light bulbs and all kinds of things sticking out on that thing, and it's a little spooky.

"He's learned how to play it pretty well."

Benintendi made what might have been a more impressive catch for the final out in Boston's 8-6 victory at Houston in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series that the Red Sox took 4-1.

After the Astros loaded the bases against Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Alex Bregman -- who played at LSU -- hit a sinking line drive that Benintendi dove for and caught.

"I'm glad he caught it," Van Horn said. "If he didn't catch it, they were going to lose because that ball would have gone to the fence and [the Astros] would have scored three on it. That was a great play.

"Andrew's really a smart player. He felt like he could get there and he did. It was just an incredible catch."

Benintendi made his debut with the Red Sox on Aug. 10, 2016 -- barely a year after his last game at Arkansas -- and became the regular left fielder in 2017 when he batted .271 with 20 home runs and 90 RBI.

"You can't project that or predict that because some guys leave college and it's not the same in pro ball, even though they were great at this level," Van Horn said of Benintendi's quick ascension to Boston. "But what carries him is he's just good at everything when it comes to being on a baseball field.

"He can run the bases, he can bunt, he can hit, he can throw. He's accurate. He can hit for a little bit of power. The average is starting to get there a little bit.

"So that moves you through the minor leagues. We felt like he would move pretty good. Did we think he'd get to the big leagues that quickly? Probably not."

Van Horn said he and Benintendi texted back and forth during the World Series.

"He's obviously extremely excited," Van Horn said. "He texted me back within an hour [after] Games 4 and 5, which I didn't expect.

"But I'm leaving him alone a little bit. I'll probably talk to him in the next few days, let him get over all that hype and move on."

Sports on 11/04/2018


Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.