Fay: Red Sox rookie Andrew Benintendi is still a Madeira hometown boy

CINCINNATI -- Andrew Benintendi spent his off day at his old school in Madeira.

"Character check," said Jonny Gomes, the former Red and current Red Sox television analyst. "What does he do? He spends his whole day with his community. He gives back that way. There's not many guys who would do that.

"It says a lot about the guy."

Benintendi, Madeira class of 2013, is thriving in the epicenter of big-time baseball as a rookie with the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox are in town for a three-game series to close the Reds' home season.

Attendance will get a Benintendi bump. His uncle bought 1,000 seats in the bleachers.

"I don't know anybody who's not coming," Benintendi said.

Benintendi was the favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year until Aaron Judge happened, but Benintendi has still been solid. He's hitting .278 with a .357 on-base percentage with 19 home runs. 87 RBI and 19 stolen bases.

Benintendi, 23, hasn't wilted from the pressure.

"This dude is hitting where Jim Rice hit, where (Carl Yastrzemski) hit, where Manny Ramirez hit, where David Ortiz hit," Gomes said. "He's hitting third in the AL East for the first-place team.

"When you're a rookie and you're going to break with the team, you want to hide them. This dude hasn't been."

And the dude has been clutch. Benintendi has four game-winning RBI in the extra innings this year, the most by a Red Sox since 1951. He leads the American League with a .356 average with runners in scoring.

Benintendi wanted to keep the trip low-key. He was reluctant to have an Andrew Benintendi Day in Madeira, but in the end, he was glad he did. 

"It was awesome," he said. "It seemed like the whole town was there. I'm not one for that kind of stuff. It was put together really well. To see everybody, it was awesome. I saw people I haven't seen in a long time."

One of his friends made a video that was played for the students. Benintendi spoke. Then they went out to the field where a "Home of Andrew Benintendi" banner was hung.

The highlight: The fourth-grade choir sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and "Sweet Caroline," the unofficial Red Sox theme song.

Benintendi grew up a Reds fan. Like most kids of his age, his favorite player was Ken Griffey Jr. He got to four or five games a years -- often in the diamond seats.

"I pictured myself out there," Benintendi said before going 0-for-3 with a walk Friday night. "It's crazy that I'm playing here."

Benintendi could have ended up playing at Great American for the Reds. He was drafted by the Reds  in the 31st round in '13. Benintendi hit .564 with 12 home runs and 57 RBI as a senior at Madeira. He also averaged 25.5 points in basketball.

But he went to the University of Arkansas instead of signing with the Reds.

"Once it got past the second round, I was going to school," he said. "It was probably one of the better decisions I've ever made. I don't think I was ready out of high school. It's such a long season. My body wasn't mature enough. I had to learn how to lift and eat right in college.

"It was awesome to be able to say I was drafted by the Reds out of high school, but there was never any thought of signing."

Benintendi's lasting impression from going to Great American as a kid was how big the players were.

"I remember seeing guys who were massive," he said. "Guys like Adam Dunn. . . I was 5-6, 115 at the time."

He was so-so as a freshman at Arkansas, but he skipped summer ball after the season and worked on filling out his 5-foot-10 frame to 170 pounds. He hit .380 with 18 home runs as a draft-eligible sophomore and was named the college player of the year.

The Red Sox picked him seventh overall in 2015. He was in the big leagues by August of last year.

He went into this season as the No. 1 rated prospect in all of baseball.

Gomes says it's more than talent that sets Benintendi apart.

"If you're in the big leagues at that age, you're good," Gomes said. "Flat out, any ballclub. But let's go to the next level. Let's go to ‘Does he have what it takes to deal with failure? Does he have what it takes to earn the respect of teammates and his manager?'"

Gomes says Benentendi checks off all those boxes, and he plays the game like he's 33, not 23.

"He's one of few dudes I've seen that you would never know that's he's a rookie," Gomes said. "When something bad happens, you never bring it up because of the way he carries himself, the way he acts, the way he goes about his business.

"As a rookie, night in and night out, he erases that label."

Benentendi enjoyed the homecoming, but this is a business trip.

"It's good to be back here," he said. "This late in the season, these games are important."

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