Cincinnati Reds first base coach Freddie Benavides
CINCINNATI -- Over the long course of 162 Reds games, no one spends more time in uniform on the field than this guy. Only one other Red can hope to even tie him, and that Red gets far less face time on TV.
First base coach Freddie Benavides of the Cincinnati Reds poses for a portait during an MLB photo day at Goodyear Ballpark on Feb. 18, 2017 in Goodyear, Arizona.
But very few fans know this ubiquitous fellow by name.
Reds manager Bryan Price initially countered that, saying, "Real Reds fans know exactly who he is." But a moment later, Price implicitly conceded he meant true diehards more than all real fans.
"To many fans, yes, I think the position is one of almost complete and total anonymity," Price said.
No more guessing.
He's first-base coach, one Freddie Benavides. Only he and Billy Hatcher are always on the field when the team is at bat, but Hatcher, as third-base coach, garners far greater public recognition. He's the guy charged with making sure runners waved around third get home safe and with making sure the brakes aren't applied on someone who, in hindsight, would have scored. He catches a lot of heat when he's seen to be mistaken, and this role far trumps the fact that TV fans see Benavides on screen whenever a Red reaches first.
So how relatively anonymous is Benavides? Among 25 self-professed Reds fans randomly queried before a recent home game, more than half could identify Hatcher. The number with an ID on Benavides, however, was exactly one. And the sample included a significant number sitting in the lower stands on the first-base line, where Benavides is inevitably seen but rarely noticed.
"Third base can be almost a thankless job," said Price. "You get lots of blame and very little credit. At first (base), you don't take as much crap."
But third is where the excitement is. First is where you "(hold) the equipment the runner hands you and give him some knuckles," joked Reds TV analyst Chris Welsh, mocking a congratulatory fist bump. "That's not really true, but that's what Freddie and those other guys at first get kidded about."
So who is Freddie Benavides, really? And what does he do that's actually important?
WCPO Insiders can learn exactly what Benavides does at first -- besides holding runners' equipment -- who he is, and what he fears most in his job at first base.
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The answers to question one start with him being a former major league infielder, albeit not a prominent one. Now 51, the Laredo, Texas native was drafted by the Reds out of Texas Christian University in 1987 and went on to play in 219 MLB games over four seasons (1991-94), including 98 with Cincinnati. His last game as a player was with Montreal in '94, and he's now in his 19th year as a coach in the Reds system.
Benavides has managed 406 games with Reds Class A affiliates, including the 2000 season as the inaugural pilot of the Dayton Dragons, and he led one club into the playoffs. He joined the major league coaching staff in 2014, when Price took over as manager and named him infield coach. He was named first-base coach for 2016, when Hatcher moved from first into an opening at third, and he still serves as infield coach.
Besides coaching first base, the Reds' Freddie Benavides is on the field every day for early work on ground balls with the infielders.
So Freddie knows the game inside out.
"I get good tips every day from Freddie," said base-running terror Billy Hamilton, the Cincinnati center fielder. "He knows every pitcher's timing, to the plate and with the pick-off move, and he knows their little tricks that can catch you if you don't play smart. He helps me with the back-picks (knowing which catchers try the most to pick runners off), and he helps with the signs from the third-base coach, in case you didn't totally pick them up. And he lets you know if you've got two (a chance for a double). Billy (Hatcher) may be 'the man' with the fans, but to me, both coaches are involved just the same."
Benavides conceded that the unchanging No. 1 entry on his duty sheet age is utterly simple. It's the same thing your first-base coaching buddy does for you on the softball field.
"Know the number of outs, that's the most important."
But your softball buddy isn't watching the positioning of the outfielders, taking signs regarding steals or hit-and-runs, or trying to keep an unwitting runner from telegraphing those signs to the opponent. And your buddy's only dealing with you, not a roster of the pressured and pedigreed who sometimes need their heads screwed back straight to continue performing at the game's highest level.
"You're a psychologist, too," Benavides said. "Sometimes guys get (to first) in bad moods. Maybe they only got there on a fielder's choice, and they haven't had a hit in the last few days. They'll say, 'I don't have any luck,' or 'The shift is working against me.' You've just got to make sure they stay with the program and keep them pumped up."
It's a drill that doesn't go the same with every runner.
"Some guys don't like to talk much, and some will right away tell you a lot of stuff," Benavides said. "With the first group, you mostly just stay quiet beyond the very basics. It's just, 'Give me the (batting) helmet and let's go.' Other guys need and want a little more from you.
"You know the guys, and you know the moment, and you've been in the game long enough that your instincts take over. You just know what to say and what not to say."
Welsh, the former pitcher now in the TV booth, noted that if a batter strikes a potential extra-base blow but has a slow runner ahead of him at first, it may be Benavides' job to disappoint the batter by throwing on the brakes. "Freddie sees the guy on first isn't going to make it to third, so the hitter can't be thinking two, even though he probably could have made it with the bases clear."
"A lot happens daily," said Price. "The coach has to find his own unique way to best deliver the messages to each player. He also has to anticipate. Even before Freddie gets a sign from me or Billy (Hatcher), he might say, 'Hey, get ready, this could be a good time to hit-and-run.' Or, 'Bryan might want you to run here, to get in scoring position with two outs.' If Hamilton's on second and Cozart's on first, he might tell Zack, 'If Billy goes, just hold tight. Bryan wants you to stay.' Because if the priority is to get Billy to third, you don't want to give them the chance to get Zack at second on the back end of a double steal."
Asked if first-base coaches aspire to go to third base, as Hatcher did, Price said only that he wouldn't question the motivation of one who didn't have such a goal.
"Freddie's got a ton of responsibility," Price said. "He organizes and runs spring training. He does all the infield stuff. He does the defensive positioning, all of it. He's out there for early work on ground balls with all of our infielders every day. And he's coaching first. I would not think for a second he would be feeling under-appreciated, or not stimulated or challenged enough."
Regarding a future move to third, Benavides was deadpan, saying he'll let things develop as they develop. But regarding his 2016 return to the field for the first time since his final pro at-bat in 1996 in the minors, he was delighted, even if few seem to notice.
"It feels like I'm back in the action," he said. "I love it."
Well, almost all of it.
"When (Scott) Schebler comes up, I'm way, way back out of that (coaching) box," he said with a grin. "Got to get ready then for some line drives. When those big left-handed hitters come up … you're close."