If you’re looking for a baseball story about a determined man who overcame a significant obstacle, this story is for you.On April 7, 2004, Chad Bentz, currently a resident of West Rutland, made his major league debut against the Florida Marlins. A member of the Montreal Expos at the time, Bentz came into the game with one out in the seventh inning.
His first pitch in the majors was a pinpoint accurate strike to Abraham Nunez. He eventually got Nunez to ground out. Bentz then gave up a base hit to Juan Pierre before getting Luis Castillo to ground out, ending the inning.
Bentz had finally made a lifelong dream come true. He was a major league pitcher.
Bentz grew up in Juneau, Alaska. When he was ten years old, a childhood friend suggested that Bentz join a little league team with him. Bentz agreed, starting his long, successful career as a baseball player.
For the most part, Bentz was like the other serious ballplayers his age: talented, hard working, and driven to succeed. Where he differed from the others was his “birthmark.”
Bentz was born with a deformed right hand.
While most people in Bentz’s situation would never try to play baseball, Bentz was just the opposite.
“I never thought that I couldn’t do anything without my hand. I could pretty much do everything anybody else could,” said Bentz. “Other people made more of it than I ever did. I never thought of myself as different.”
Although some teammates made fun of him for his “birthmark,” Bentz continued to play the field and improve.
“I think that I wanted to prove to everybody that I could do it,” said Bentz
While Bentz is now a pitcher, that was not always the case. “I was a junior in [high school] and I hit 90 plus mph [on the radar gun] and a scout came up to me and told me that it would easily be an option to play [in the majors as a pitcher] if I wanted to.”
Sure enough, Bentz was drafted by the New York Yankees out of high school in the 34th round in 1999, but he turned them down, electing instead to attend Long Beach State University to hone his skills and prepare for a life after baseball.
While Bentz was attending Long Beach, he met his hero, Jim Abbott, the first pitcher ever to pitch in the major leagues without the use of both of his hands.
“It was absolutely amazing to see [Abbott] walk up. It was a dream come true. I wish every person could have that feeling I did when I got to shake his hand,” recalled Bentz.
Abbott became a mentor to Bentz, teaching him all he could about baseball. Abbot was the inspiration that drove Bentz to become a major league pitcher.
In 2001, after two years of college, Bentz was again drafted by a major league club, the Montreal Expos. Bentz accepted and signed that year.
After three years with the Expos, Bentz made the major league roster during spring training in 2004.
Bentz appeared in 36 games that year, pitching 27.7 innings with a 5.86 ERA and a win/loss record of 0-3.
When asked about his favorite memory, Bentz laughed and said, “We were in Seattle playing the Mariners. I had about 100 plus people from Juneau there. I came into the game and struck out Ichiro. Seattle is like Alaska’s team. That was pretty cool.”
After appearing in four games for the Marlins in 2005, Bentz has spent the last few years in the minor and independent leagues, trying to get another chance with a big league club.
Bentz has focused not only on that goal but also on the goals of any other young pitchers that he can help along, including those at Castleton State College
“I work with the pitchers at [Castleton]. Coach Shipley has a great program and he is very dedicated to the players,” said Bentz. “I love working with anybody who wants to get better. I do private pitching lessons for anybody at any age.”
Earlier this year, Bentz tried out with the Colorado Rockies, who eventually played the World Series; but unfortunately, he was not picked up.
He is currently playing for the Bridgeport Bluefish, a Connecticut team managed by legendary former major league pitcher Tommy John. However, Bentz is determined to return to the major leagues.
“I definitely think and know I will pitch in the majors again, hopefully this coming season. All it’s going to take is a lot of sweat and drive. I will be back up there!”
Chad Bentz is not one to let an obstacle get in the way.