Bentz continues to inspire

Posted: Friday, November 12, 2010

Chad Bentz has led a storied life. Just ask him. He'll tell you.

Born with just a left hand, Bentz starred on the diamond and gridiron for the Juneau-Douglas baseball and football teams before graduating in 1999.

He went on to college at Long Beach State for a couple of years to continue his pitching career. In 2004, he became the second player in Major League Baseball history to make it to the big leagues without one of his hands, the other being his mentor, Jim Abbott.

At 30 years old, Bentz tried something new this year - Div. III college football in Vermont. And he's done quite well.

No, as a 6-foot-2, 265-pound fullback, he didn't put up huge numbers. But he did score three touchdowns, two rushing and one receiving, and he had a blast doing it.

"I coached the head football coach's son and I went in to say hello and I asked how his club was doing," Bentz explained as to how he ended up on the team. "I always said that I wanted to play and he said, 'Why don't you?'

"I said, 'Well, OK.'"

Bentz said he went out and ran around a bit to see if he had anything left in his legs.

"I was surprised I was still quick and had some speed left - not much," he laughed. "But I was going to school anyway so I thought I'd play a little football."

Bentz is studying physical education, and he has three more years of eligibility, though he doesn't plan to use them all.

"This is my last year, no matter what," he said before changing his tune. "Well, I don't know. I say that now but hopefully, I won't be in school much longer. I want to get done and start teaching."

Bentz has been doing some recruiting for the Castleton State football team -¿which finished its season Saturday with a 5-4 record - of late, and if some kids from his hometown end up playing there, he said he'll give it another go.

"If we had some Juneau kids come out to play here next fall, I would play again," he said. "That would be really cool."

After learning of Crimson Bears coach Rich Sjoroos' day of practice in full pads with the team after a playoff win over Chugiak this year, Bentz had an invitation for the head man at Juneau-Douglas.

"Come play with me over here at Castleton," he said laughing. "It would be fun. Just head east and keep coming."

And when it comes to jokes, Bentz said his teammates at Castleton were full of them.

"Those guys are fun," he said. "I always hear the lovely comments all the time, like 'old man' and 'gramps.'"

But Castleton coach Rich Alercio said having Bentz around has been a blessing to him and his players.

"He brings great maturity and a great, positive attitude. Chad's one of those guys who looks at the world through rose-colored glasses," he said. "Everything is great, everything is wonderful and if something bad happens, he's got a positive spin to put on it.

"He's great in the locker room, especially here because this is only the second year we've been a college football program, so most of our guys are still teenagers. We don't even have many 21-year-olds, so he brings great maturity to a very young locker room."

Bentz even met one of his biggest fans this football season, a 16-year-old high school junior from Texas, Alex Crossman. Crossman was born without thumb and radial bones in his right hand, and he looks up to Bentz for what he's been able to accomplish.

"His mom contacted me after a game when I was driving to a friend's house for dinner. She explained her son's situation and I said maybe we could video chat or talk on the Internet," Bentz explained. "She said, 'Well, I was thinking maybe we could come see you.' So I said absolutely."

The school put Crossman up and he led the team on to the field carrying the team flag before its game against Becker.

Bentz also hopes to pitch in the Majors again, and he plans to give it another shot in the spring.

"I need to minus that playing weight by about 30 pounds or so," he joked. "If things work out, I'd like to give it one last hurrah and maybe get a year or two in. Who knows? Basically, I have nothing to lose so I might as well try."

Besides, it's already been a storybook life for Chad Bentz. Just ask him.

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