Bob Bennett didn’t really want to talk.
On the day Fresno State officially renamed its baseball venue in his honor, as Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium, the longtime Bulldogs coach pretty much had one goal in mind: Don’t get too emotional.
More than a hundred ex-players, some from as far away as Texas, returned to campus to watch their former coach receive his due Saturday night. Another 200 family members and friends attended, too.
And for every familiar face that came up to congratulate him, Bennett couldn’t help but become overjoyed and honored.
It’s hard to say anything because you almost break down anytime you say a word.
Longtime Fresno State baseball coach Bob Bennett
“It’s hard to say anything because you almost break down anytime you say a word,” Bennett said after he was ushered away from the field following the ceremony, which preceded the Bulldogs’ Mountain West Conference game against San Diego State.
“You look around, and you have 100-something players who thought enough of today to come and see you. I’m honored.”
Representing stretches of the 34 years that Bennett coached at Fresno State, they shared stories of how he influenced lives on and off the field.
Like former All-American Lance Shebelut, who in 1988 set Fresno State season records of 32 home runs and 94 RBIs that still stand.
Bennett had a routine of calling up players one by one to the front of the bus as the team returned from road trips to offer things to work on and other advice.
“ ’Hey Lance, you know, you really need to tighten your at-bats some,’ ” Shebelut recalled Bennett saying.
Surprised by the criticism, Shebelut reminded his coach of his latest performance.
“ ’Coach, I went 14 for 16 with four home runs.’ ”
Bennett then whispered back “Oh, send somebody else up.”
“He always wanted to make you better,” Shebelut said, “and always wanted to keep you on your toes.”
1,302-759-4 Overall record for coach Bob Bennett, who retired in 2002 after 34 years in charge of the Fresno State baseball program
Players also remembered Bennett fighting to build up the school’s ballpark.
“He initiated the process of getting things started, making this a first-class facility,” former All-America pitcher Bobby Jones said. “It’s unbelievable. He belongs to be back on this field.
“Today is probably one of the greatest days in Fresno State baseball history. Two of the greatest names ever to come out of Fresno State baseball – Bob Bennett, Pete Beiden – are names on the field and that stadium.”
Fresno State athletic director Jim Bartko said the idea of renaming the stadium for Bennett had been in the works for about six months.
Bartko had lunch with Bennett shortly after meeting with some former players.
It’s the right thing to do.
Fresno State athletic director Jim Bartko on naming the Bulldogs’ baseball venue after longtime coach Bob Bennett
“It’s the right thing to do,” Bartko said. “What better way than to name the stadium after him for all he’s done for the program.”
Former Fresno State star pitcher Jack Hannah, who played under Beiden and was a teammate of Bennett, was ecstatic for his longtime batterymate.
“It’s long overdue to have Bob’s name enshrined at a baseball program that’s one of the best in the nation,” Hannah said. “He’s one of the greatest fundamentalists in baseball. He’s a great representation of Fresno State baseball and baseball in the Valley.”
SAN DIEGO STATE AT FRESNO STATE
- Sunday: 1:05 p.m. at Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs (31-17, 18-8 Mountain West); Aztecs (14-31, 6-15)
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940)