By Sterling Pingree
Going to the game was a spur of the moment decision. I was on a week’s vacation from work and plans at camp had devolved into huddling around the wood stove while snow flurries drifted across the pond outside; such is the Maine weather in May. The decision came like most of my best ideas do typically, on about the 5th hole (Kelly Nine) at Bangor Municipal. The idea was to drive to Portland for a Sea Dogs game because prospect du jour, Andrew Benintendi had been called up to Double-A.
One of my favorite things about the Portland Sea Dogs is that early in the season you can feel like a high roller by going up to the box office and say “Give me the best tickets you’ve got” and then sit two rows from the dugout. Which was the scenario on this Wednesday night, myself and two coworkers who were in town for a conference, were right behind the visitors’ dugout. I explained to them that the kid in center field was the reason for my trip; the skinny kid whose last name on the back of his jersey stretches from one elbow to the other while reaching up and touching his neck in the middle. The palpable buzz of each of his at-bats stood out, as did the extra media on hand. Unfortunately on this night, what stood out the most was that Benintendi went 0-4 with 3 strike outs. I had led my co-workers astray as the “Next Big Thing” wore the golden sombrero. I felt like the friend who recommends a restaurant that burns your entrée.
I met a friend after the game who was in Portland picking up his wife at the airport and he wanted to know about Benintendi. I was awoken the next morning to a call from Bryan Stackpole of The Morning Pitch who wanted me to come on to give a report on “Benintendi Live.” On few hours of sleep and my first sips of coffee, I racked my brain for things to report on. After all, not only did “Benny the Bat” take an oh-fer, he also didn’t have a single defensive chance in center field so I couldn’t even wax poetic about his boundless grace and keen instincts in racing after a scorching line drive before making a Tom Brunansky-esque catch that in actuality was probably a routine fly ball. In talking with Dale Duff, I commented on his John Stamos quality hair and compared his game to that of a young Freddie Lynn. After no sleep and a lot of driving, I didn’t regret the 4-hour round trip at all, in fact I started thinking immediately about when I was going to get back to Hadlock to give him another look. (That’s the thing with prospect du jours, they can be an acquired taste sometimes.)
I saw Andrew Benintendi play 3 more times this summer and got to see what made him a first round pick a year ago. The final time I saw Benintendi play was on August 14th, at Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Benintendi continued his hot hitting since his Triple-A skipping promotion and roped a pair of hits including a double. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride that I had seen him in Portland, in 30 degree weather 3 months earlier.
Baseball has endured through the years, and the generations by passing the torch from one star player to another. For the Boston Red Sox, Ted Williams retired in 1960 and in 1961 Carl Yastrzemski debuted. Yaz retired in 1983, the year Wade Boggs won his first batting title and when Boggs left to don pinstripes, Mo Vaughn’s MVP run at the top began. Mo left for Anaheim after one year as Pedro Martinez’s teammate and Pedro left after winning a World Series in 2004 with David Ortiz. Maybe we’ll be talking about these days at the end of the 2016 season when Big Papi was in the autumn of his career and Andrew Benintendi was just starting his run in Boston. One generation feeds the next, your only hope is that the entrée doesn’t come out burnt.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow The Drive on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.