Nobody fits the bill of a Juneau hometown hero quite like former Major League Baseball pitcher Chad Bentz. Bentz earned varsity letters in football, baseball and track at Juneau-Douglas High School, then pitched for Long Beach State before being drafted by the Montreal Expos. He played two seasons in the bigs for the Expos and Marlins, becoming the second player born without one of his hands to ever to pitch in an MLB game.
He was recently honored by the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame during the 2016 induction.
Now the athletic director at JDHS, Bentz spoke with the Empire about his career.
How does it feel to be recognized by the Hall of Fame?
I was honestly very surprised. I got a letter from ASAA (Alaska School Activities Association) and I read it and was like “Ah, that’s great!” … I am honored, and it was a real unexpected surprise.
You were drafted by the New York Yankees out of high school, but you chose to go to Long Beach State to play college baseball. What was behind that decision?
I just wasn’t ready to start my career professionally at that time. Talking it out with my folks at that point, we just decided that Long Beach State was a good route to go because I could get some school out of the way. They had the best pitching coach in the country in Dave Snow, so I really wanted to go and basically fine-tune my mechanics, and I was fortunate enough to have another opportunity to get drafted and cross that bridge when I got to it.
After college you were drafted by the Expos in 2001 and sent to Vermont to play in the New York-Penn League, what was that transition like as a Juneau kid?
The biggest transition I would say was just playing with a bunch of different people with different backgrounds, you know — Dominicans, Venezuelans, Puerto Ricans, people from the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia — just all these different players from all over the world, just playing the game and trying to make it to the next level. Learning how to do things the right way and be a professional, that was a lot of fun. … You’re not getting paid much, not in the minor leagues, but you’re still getting paid to play a boy’s game.
You met Jim Abbot in 2001 (the only other MLB pitcher born with only one hand) what did Abbot mean to you as a role model?
Everybody has their favorite player, Jim was so much more than that. He gave me confidence as a person. … He was a total inspiration to me and so many others. … One of the best things that I got to experience in my career was that I got to meet so many different people who were missing something. Really small, young kids to older people in their 80s. … You see them look at me, and there’s no better feeling than that. … If I gave somebody confidence and they didn’t have it before, I can’t explain just how great that feels, and Jim gave that to me. Behind my daughter being born, my wedding day, meeting Jim was top three for me.
You struck out Jim Thome (a 22-year MLB veteran with 612 career home runs).
Yeah, I struck him out four times, all fastballs. … After the third time I struck him out, he sent over one of his bats and had wrote some stuff on it and signed it. Just a classy guy. For some reason, I don’t know what it was, but he couldn’t read the ball off my hand very well and I was fortunate to get him out.
What do you hope to instill in your players as a coach and as an athletic director?
Hard work will always pay off. You might not get that goal specifically, but something else will happen. … You want to be a professional anything — baseball, football, hockey, whatever — you can do it, I am living proof. … After my freshmen year, I went to Michigan and realized I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. I started working out and I never stopped. I was gonna play the game until somebody told me to stop. … People say “Hey, how can I throw hard?” You can give them the magic formula and say, “Do this, that and the other thing,” but you still have to do this, that and the other thing.
What’s next for you? What are your goals as an athletic director and coach?
One of my goals is to get the baseball and softball fields turfed. It’s going to take some time, probably a lot of time, but we’re going to figure that out, we have to. Sitka has the best field in the state, and that’s insane. We just have to brainstorm and do a lot of fundraising for a couple years, but that’s gonna happen. … When people hear that they’re playing JDHS and the Bears, they think that they’re going to play a team that is extremely respectful and well-coached, but gets after it when the lights turn on. We want to win, but we’re going to win in the right way and we’re going to lose in the right way.”
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.