Bob Bennett went by to see his memories the other day. You have no idea how good it was to see them again.
He walked past the Pete Beiden statue behind the third-base side, visiting his bronzed mentor for the first time since packing up his 1,302 wins and calling it a career 14 years ago.
Bennett took the steps down into the Fresno State clubhouse, where he could still see Terance Frazier double-knotting his laces and Lance Shebelut adjusting his dirt-filthy ballcap.
See that guy on the mound? It’s Mark Gardner coloring corners and Jeff Weaver firing earth-torched fastballs. Bryan Marsoobian is at the plate, turning on a game-winning triple down the line. There’s Josh Labandeira turning two with a brick of a scowl.
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Eighty-three years spent, and the old ball coach still remembers it all.
“It seems like it was only yesterday,” Bennett said. “It went by so fast. Tons of memories there …”
Saturday night, Bennett goes from long-ago throwback to present-day fixture at Fresno State. The school is adding his name to the home field he built – Bob Bennett Stadium – before Mike Batesole’s Bulldogs play San Diego State in the evening breeze.
Such are the eventual rewards of being the seventh NCAA baseball coach to win 1,300 games, an emphatic topper to 26 straight winning seasons, 17 conference titles, two College World Series appointments and a national Coach of the Year plaque.
Bennett will tip his old cap and want to cry, because of course he will. Yesteryear’s players will surround him, today’s players from both benches will honor him and the crowd is going to get on its feet for him.
“This is where he belongs,” said Gardner, now the San Francisco Giants bullpen coach and the last Bennett disciple standing in the big leagues. “He shaped and molded a lot of men. To name the stadium after him, it’s well deserved.”
It’s a big deal for me and my family. It’s huge.
Ex-Fresno State coach Bob Bennett ahead of the renaming of the school’s ballpark to Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium
What Bennett would give, though, to throw some batting practice. Or, swing a fungo bat. No one could hit a can of corn like Bennett from the infield grass before a game.
“I don’t throw as hard as I used to,” Bennett said, “but I’m still fairly good with the fungo bat.”
What Bennett lacks is the staying energy. He retired with Parkinson’s disease and buys a few good hours at a time with his medication. But, when he’s tired, he’s catnap tired, so there is only so much go in him these days.
He still authors books – his catalog is up to 15 since he retired. Woodworking remains a hobby. He has yet to miss a College World Series, including when Fresno State won the 2008 trophy.
Bennett helps local baseball coaches when asked and gives private lessons to high school kids. He still likes to work and gets irritated as all get-out that he gets so tired so fast.
Remember that if he looks emotionally winded after Saturday’s pregame ceremony. This is still all a bit much for him after 14 years of nothing.
1,302 victories for Bob Bennett, still just one of 20 to reach the 1,300-win plateau at the NCAA level
Bennett was overwhelmed when the alumni suggested the change to the school administration, and again when the school bear-hugged the big idea. He couldn’t believe the Fresno State president would give him a personal call when the stadium name was approved.
Remember, Bennett had not been back to Beiden Field in 14 years. He hadn’t missed a day’s work there in 34 years before that as a coach or in four seasons as a catcher. He was the Hall of Fame coach local time had forgotten.
No more. He returned April 2 to meet the team and call the game on radio – why it took so long, no one wants to say; they’re just relieved it has finally happened. Bennett came by a second time to do a few more radio innings.
Saturday has been crowned Bob Bennett Day, prehumously, which is the best way to do these sorts of things.
“It’s a big deal for me and my family,” Bennett said. “It’s huge.
“Who would have thought a little Okie kid would have his name on the ballpark?”
Bob Bennett Stadium Dedication
- The matchup: Fresno State vs. San Diego State in Game 2 of a Mountain West Conference series
- The schedule: 5:55-6:05 p.m., on-field ceremony; 6:06 p.m., ceremonial first pitch; 6:12 p.m., Bulldogs take field; 6:15 p.m., first pitch
- Of note: Ballpark’s new official name will be Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium. … It originally was called Varsity Park before being renamed in 1972 in honor of Beiden, like Bennett a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.