New to O's block, Bennett is no kid After 8 years of trying, 10-0 Red Wing arrives

July 14, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Joel Bennett was not exactly a wide-eyed rookie pitcher yesterday when he arrived at Camden Yards to begin living a major-league dream with the Orioles.

He had already met Cal Ripken in the fall of 1994 in the Newark, N.J., airport and talked to him for 20 minutes. He played on Michael Jordan's baseball team in the Arizona fall league in 1994. He is friends with Orioles pitchers Doug Johns and Sidney

Ponson. And he pitched for the Boston Red Sox against the Orioles near the end of spring training in 1995.

"Cal said he vaguely remembers talking to me that day," said Bennett. "I was on my way to Arizona to play with Jordan, and Cal and his wife were going on vacation. If you didn't know who Jordan was, you would have thought he was just another player. He took us all out a couple times after games."

But Bennett, 28, said he was still having some trouble fighting off the usual case of nerves.

"This is my dream," said the 6-foot-1, 160-pound right-hander. "And it really hasn't sunk in yet that I'm here. But I'm doing my best just to relax and have fun playing the game. I want to really enjoy the competition between the hitter and the pitcher. In the past, I've done too much thinking before I pitched and got too nervous."

Bennett got the word Sunday night he was being called up from Triple-A Rochester to replace Arthur Rhodes, who was put on the 15-day disabled list. The move to Baltimore ended nearly eight years of frustration for Bennett in his bid to get to the majors.

He was signed as a six-year minor-league free agent by the Orioles on Oct. 7, 1996, after being released by the Red Sox.

"Boston kept pushing other players," said Bennett, who led all minor-league pitchers with 221 strikeouts in 1993. "And I could never get a straight answer out of the Orioles every time I talked to them."

However, this time around the Orioles could no longer deny Bennett his big shot.

He was 10-0 at Rochester, leading the International League in wins, second in strikeouts with 99 and he was the starting and winning pitcher in the Triple-A All-Star Game last Wednesday with two shutout innings.

Also, he had been scheduled to pitch for the Red Wings last night and attempt to tie the record for the best start (11-0) by a pitcher in Rochester history.

Bennett brings outstanding control, an old-fashioned big breaking curveball and consistency to the Orioles.

The knock on him has always been a less-than-impressive fastball that averages around 88 mph.

"Maybe we can catch lightning in a bottle with Bennett," said Orioles manager Ray Miller. "He has learned how to pitch with 1,000 innings and 1,100 strikeouts in the minors. Some guys like that are better than the guys with the strong arms. He reminds me of Bob Tewksbury and Randy Jones. He changes speeds and throws strikes. I remember catching [former Oriole] Scott McGregor and you couldn't tell the difference between his fastball and changeup."

When Bennett was asked who he felt he resembled, he said, "I've been told I'm a lot like Doug Drabek. But I really just want to be myself, do what I can to help this team win games and hopefully stay around the rest of the season."

Pub Date: 7/14/98

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