Call him 'Senator' Bentz

Juneau's Chad Bentz makes his debut with Class AA Harrisburg

Posted: Monday, April 07, 2003

HARRISBURG, Pa. - You hear about his abilities through the coaches.

You read into his successes through the statistics.

You know he is, by the accounts of the scouts, on his way to the major leagues.

Yet, you watch Chad Bentz of Juneau throw a baseball and you almost miss the obvious.

The left-handed relief pitcher with the 90-mph fastball and nasty slider is missing most of his right hand.

"No one even notices, do they?" Brent Strom, the Montreal Expos' minor-league pitching coordinator, asked rhetorically after watching Bentz throw another shutout inning in spring training last week in Florida.

For those in the Harrisburg Senators' camp who did not already know of Bentz's gnarled hand, Harrisburg manager Dave Machemer provided a quick introduction.

"The first day of camp, Mac calls me, 'Righty,'" Bentz said with a smile. "I thought, 'Oh, good, here we go.'"

When the Senators opened the Class AA Eastern League season Thursday night, Bentz was their first player with a physical disability since Curtis Pride played here in 1993.

All the hard-working Pride did that season was hit .356 with 15 homers in only 50 games for the Senators en route to becoming the major leagues' first deaf player since Cincinnati outfielder Dick Sipek in 1945.

Bentz saw his first action for the Senators in Friday night's game, throwing two innings of scoreless relief in a 13-2 victory over the Bowie (Md.) Bay Sox. During spring training, Bentz got to dress with the Expos' major league team for a game against the Florida Marlins on March 24, but he didn't get into the game.

The Expos project Bentz to reach the majors, where he would be the first one-handed pitcher since Jim Abbott won 87 games from 1989-99.

No coincidence either that Abbott - "He's an inspiration to me, by far" - has been Bentz's role model.

"When I was younger, I didn't like baseball," said Bentz, 22. "People would say, 'What are you doing? Get off the field.' I thought, 'Screw this.'

"Then I saw [Abbott] and I thought, 'What the heck, if he's up there in the big leagues, I can at least try.'"

Bentz, who first met Abbott during his collegiate career at Long Beach State, did not play baseball until he was 9. Even then, he had to be coaxed into playing by a friend during a tryout for a youth team.

"Well," Bentz said of that first game, "I threw a no-hitter and I didn't even know what that was. They said, 'Hey, you threw a no-hitter!' I said, 'What are you talking about? They hit the ball a couple of times.'

"I still have that ball."

Bentz eventually starred both in baseball and football at Alaska's Juneau-Douglas High School, playing well enough at fullback and linebacker to receive football scholarship offers from schools in the Big Ten and Pac-10.

Even more impressive was setting Juneau-Douglas' career record in baseball with 23 homers between his sophomore and senior seasons.

The 6-2, 215-pound Bentz was recruited as a pitcher by Long Beach State, where the Expos saw him and selected him in the seventh round of the 2001 amateur draft.

"He may be the best left-handed reliever in the whole system," said Adam Wogan, the Expos' director of player development.

"He has outstanding stuff. He's competitive. He's willing to pitch inside. He has the confidence to throw any pitch at any time. He's probably going to be pitch in the big leagues for awhile and he could be a very good pitcher. Of course, Abbott was, too."

As the left-handed Abbott did during his remarkable career, Bentz cradles his glove in his truncated right hand, delivers his pitch and then deftly slips the glove onto his left hand.

"Last spring in live BP," Wogan said, "he didn't have a screen in front of him and snatched a line drive right back at him. A bunch of guys said they couldn't have made that play, and those guys don't have to make the transfer with the glove."

Bentz is more modest when talking about his fielding.

"I do screw up," he said. "Every once in a while, my finger will hit the outside of the glove. Every time I do that, there seems like there's a comebacker to me."

Always, there are the one-liners at him.

In a sport where nicknames tend to consist of adding an "ie" or "ey" to the end of a name, Bentz has nicknames directly reflecting on his misformed right hand.

"There's been Sebastian, the crab from 'The Little Mermaid,'" Bentz said, "and they've called me Nub.

"I know people are just fooling around. Even if they're making fun of me, it doesn't matter. If I listened to people, I'd still be going to school and not even playing sports. I like proving people wrong. It gives me a boost."

As easy going as Bentz is off the field, he is as serious on the mound.

"He has that look of wanting to be a big-leaguer," Strom said. "[Spring training] is not a game for him; he's a guy on the move. I have a few people like that, but not enough."

Pitching last summer with nerve damage in his left foot, Bentz posted a 3.64 earned-run average and five saves for Class A Brevard County (Fla.) before the injury ended his season after 23 appearances.

The summer before, his first in pro baseball, Bentz started eight games for short-season, Class A Vermont, going 1-3 with a 4.91 ERA.

Bentz prefers the bullpen to starting. Easy choice, he said.

"I have a mentality for it," Bentz said. "I like to go out and attack the hitter. I don't like to fool around and set people up. I feel that if I make my pitch where I want to make it, I can get anybody out. And that includes Barry Bonds."

One day, perhaps soon, Bentz may get the chance to test that theory in the majors.



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