Story of Padres pitcher reads like a fairy tale

April 07, 1991|By T. J. Simers | T. J. Simers,Los Angeles Times

SAN DIEGO -- You wonder what it is like to have it handed t you all your life like Andy Benes.

He's got it all. He's tall, dark and handsome, a once-upon-a-time pre-med student with a 94 mph fastball, who now, at age 23 with a loving wife and cute little boy, finds himself on the brink of becoming another one of those baseball millionaires.

Crank up that arm, consider his youth and he becomes the San Diego Padres' poster child for happy days are here again.

But you know what? Every once in awhile Prince Charming likes to roll in the mud.

"Are you going to put this in the paper?" said Karen Benes, Andy's mother.

It's either that or the life and times of Andy Benes will read like a resume for knighthood.

"OK," Karen Benes said, "But as you can imagine, we were not real happy with what happened as parents."

So noted.

The first time the good-natured, All-American Andy Benes started at quarterback, that's right, quarterback, for the University of Evansville, he got thrown out of the game. That's right, thrown out of the game.

"The first play of the game, we're on our own 1-yard line and the coach sends in a running play and I'm not going to go with a running play so I change it to a pass," Benes said. "I took a three-step drop and a guy hit me from behind and I thought I broke my right arm. I was really scared. I fumbled and they scored a touchdown.

"This same guy is hitting me late on plays as the game goes on, but I threw about four or five touchdown passes by halftime and we're clobbering them. In the third quarter, I threw an interception, but there's a penalty for interference. I was going to run over and tackle the guy who intercepted the ball, but I stopped because of the penalty and this same guy comes up and smacks me from behind.

"I got up and threw him to the ground, jumped on him, tore off his helmet and ripped into him. So they ejected me from the game. I think everybody on the team liked me going after that guy, but the coach wasn't too happy. He had to send in our second-string fullback to play quarterback the rest of the game."

You see there. There have been rough times for this 6-foot-6, 238-pound athletic wunderkind with the unflagging fastball and unflappable look.

"Rough times?" said Bill Baumeyer, Benes' American Legion baseball coach. "This was a kid nobody wanted. Baseball was his weakest sport. Hell, I picked him up to play catcher for me.

"But he broke his arm and I developed a couple of other kids at catcher and told him when he came back he'd have to pitch. To show you how smart I am, if he hadn't broken his arm, I'd have kept him at catcher and today he'd be catching for some slo-pitch softball team."

But you watch Benes at work and it looks like it all comes so easy. You meet him and you think him calm, cool and collected and yet his best friend is Shawn Abner, the wackiest of the Padres.

You think him born to be a superstar, and yet he was told as a freshman in high school that he would never pitch again. You think of him as a fastball pitcher, and he will talk to you about his changeup.

Just when you think you know Andy Benes, you don't.

"I didn't know anything about the guy and I'm trying to find a film of him playing football when I pick up the paper and read where he's scored 42 points in a sectional basketball game," former Evansville football coach Dave Moore said. "This is Indiana, and anybody who can score 42 points in a basketball game is a good enough athlete to go to Evansville.

"The baseball coach wasn't too fired up about recruiting him, so to be honest we gave him more money to come and play football than baseball. You want to know what kind of athlete he was? He was the seventh of seven quarterbacks on our roster and by his sophomore season he was starting."

"I remember it's our third game of the year and we've got 45 seconds to play and we're down by two points and we need Andy to drive the ball into position for the winning field goal. So he carries us all the way to the 4-yard line. But to show you the kind of mistake I make as a coach, I send in our regular field-goal kicker. He misses.

"I should have let Benes kick it. He was our third-team kicker, too. If you know Benes, he wouldn't have let us lose."

If you knew Andy Benes way back when, you knew he was a winner, but come on. He was the third pitcher in a three-man rotation on his high school baseball team. He could throw a football and shoot a basketball, but when it came to running, glaciers moved faster.

After his freshman year in high school, he developed elbow problems. A doctor told his parents he was finished as a pitcher. He didn't take the mound his sophomore season.

"We had the arm X-rayed again and the doctor said this is a miracle, and I said no it isn't, because I've been praying for a year," Karen Benes said. "His arm just healed and he's never had a problem with the elbow since."

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