CINCINNATI -- As the baseball season begins, it’s fair to say that no one in the majors faces the expectations that Andrew Benintendi does.
Benintendi is the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, according mlb.com and ESPN. And he plays for the Boston Red Sox, whose fans are either avid or nuts, depending on your point of view.
The Madeira High School product got a taste of the Fenway Park treatment last year after his Aug. 2 call-up.
“I knew about it from growing up, but it was something to actually experience,” Benintendi said. “They love it when you’re doing well, and they let you know when you’re doing bad. I can’t imagine the frenzy right now with the Patriots. It has to be pretty exciting. They love sports in the city.”
Benintendi, 22, acquitted himself well in his short time with the Red Sox. He hit .295/.359/.476 with two home runs and 14 RBI in 105 at-bats.
If he puts up those kind of numbers regularly, he’ll be a huge hit in New England. But Fenway is notoriously rough on players on who struggle. Even Ted Williams heard it.
Bronson Arroyo tells the story of his first appearance in Boston. He was warming up the bullpen. The faithful were encouraging him. But as he left to go into the game, he got a lot of “Don’t mess it up, Arroyo!” And they didn’t use the word “mess.”
Benintendi endeared himself to Red Sox Nation by hitting a home run in his first postseason at-bat in Cleveland.
“We have had so many good times,” his father Chris said. “The best, in my opinion, came when he hit the home run against Cleveland in the playoffs. Not because it was a home run but because both sets of grandparents were there to witness it. The joy and happiness all four showed at that moment will always be with me.”
The homer and Benintendi’s success after the call-up raised expectations.
But if he does what he did at every stop in the minors -- hit with that smooth left-handed swing -- he’ll be fine. Benintendi hit .351, .290, .295, .341 in his four stops before getting the call to Boston.
He headed to Fort Myers for spring training last weekend to get ready for spring training. He spent part of the offseason in St. Louis working out with some former teammates at the University of Arkansas, where he played two seasons.
“I mostly worked on gaining some weight and getting stronger,” he said.
Benintendi goes into spring at 185 pounds. That’s up 25 pounds or so from his playing weight at Madeira. The Reds picked Benintendi in the 31st round in 2013.
He went to Arkansas instead.
“I think it was the right decision,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to play pro ball out of high school. The Reds threw me a bone by drafting me, which was cool. But we never even got to an offer.”
The other big decision Benintendi made was not playing summer ball after his freshman year with the Razorbacks. He stayed on campus and worked on his swing and getting stronger after hitting .276 with one home run as a freshman.
“Not playing summer ball was part of getting over some injuries,” he said. “It was hard not to play, but I’m not complaining. It turned out pretty well.”
Yes, it did. In 2015, he hit .380 with 19 home runs and won the Golden Spikes Award as college baseball’s top player. The Red Sox made him the seventh pick in the 2015 draft.
A little over a year later, he was in the big leagues.
Benintendi is part of Boston’s talented young outfield with Jackie Bradley Jr. in center, Mookie Betts in right and Benintendi in left.
“I have some personal goals," Benintendi said. “But I really want to do my part to help the team win. We’ve got a great group. Hopefully we can get to the World Series.”
Benintendi will have a September homecoming of sorts. The Red Sox come to Great American Ball Park Sept. 22-24.
“I’ve been going to Reds games my whole life,” he said. “It will be great to get to play there in front of at least 100 family and friends. I’ve already got people asking me about tickets, even though it’s not until September. I'm sure it will feel like it’s here pretty quick.”
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org