Gene Bennett Classic begins Thursday in Portsmouth

Published 12:48 am Thursday, June 11, 2015

Staff Report

 

PORTSMOUTH – The Sixth Annual Gene Bennett Baseball Classic, which will be sponsored by Shawnee State University for the fourth year in a row, will be held from Thursday to Sunday.

The classic, which honors Gene Bennett and his overall contributions to the game of baseball, will pit 21 elite travel teams against one another over the four-day classic, with teams coming from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and West Virginia.

Bennett, who is a Scioto County native, graduated from Wheelersburg High School in 1946 and began his foray into baseball lore in 1952 when he joined the Cincinnati Reds’ farm system as a player after being signed to a professional contract.

Following the conclusion of the 1957 season, Bennett hung up his baseball cleats for good after having reoccurring shoulder problems and was forced to pursue another professional route in the game of baseball as a result.

After a well-documented conversation with fellow baseball legend and area native Branch Rickey, Bennett decided to accept an offer from the Reds to become a part-time scout beginning with the following year.

From 1958 forward, Bennett would move into a part-time scouting position for Cincinnati and would proceed to continue to progress through the scouting ranks before being promoted to a scouting supervisor by the Reds in the 1975 season – the heart of the “Big Red Machine” years when the Cincinnati Reds franchise accomplished its greatest success.

In his time as a scout with the Reds, Bennett signed many notable players, including Barry Larkin, who spent his entire career with Cincinnati. Larkin, who became one of the greatest middle infielders in the game of baseball, racked up a series of accolades, including a World Series championship in 1990 and the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1995, with those aforementioned accolades ultimately leading to his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012.

Additionally, Bennett also signed area native Don Gullett, who starred for McKell High School (consolidated with Wurtland High School to form Greenup County High School) in South Shore, Ky. Gullett, who finished his major league career with an overall record of 109-50 and a 3.11 ERA, won two World Series rings with the Reds and two more with the New York Yankees to give Gullett four consecutive titles from 1975 to 1978.

By the time Bennett made the decision to retire in 2011, the Wheelersburg native had spent 58 seasons with the Reds as a player and a scout and had been a part of three of the organization’s five World Series championships.

These aforementioned accomplishments fueled Bennett’s induction into the Middle Atlantic Major League Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame in 1996, the Wheelersburg High School Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001, and earned him the Legends of Scouting Award in January 2009.

In addition to honoring one of the greatest baseball scouts in the history of Major League Baseball, the classic also serves as a way to elevate and inspire youth, promote community development and bring baseball back to the Tri-State area.

As a result, the contests encompassing the classic will again be played at seven different sites around the region for the second year in a row. This includes the home of the Shawnee State Bears baseball program, Branch Rickey Park, as well as the baseball facilities at Portsmouth High School, Greenup County High School, Lucasville Valley High School, Minford High School, Portsmouth West High School and Wheelersburg High School.

Teams involved in the tournament include the three-time winners and the defending champion of the Gene Bennett Baseball Classic in the Midland Redskins, former Gene Bennett Baseball Classic Champions in the Ohio Warhawks and the Huntington Hounds, and other perennial powers such as the Midwest Prospects and the Cincinnati Baseball Club.

The classic will consist of games throughout the day on Thursday and Friday, while Saturday and Sunday will consist of the tournament format.

Opening ceremonies for the Gene Bennett Baseball Classic are scheduled to start at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 11th at Branch Rickey Park between the Redskins and Warhawks. The tournament’s championship game will be played at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 14th, and will also be held at Branch Rickey Park. Admission is free to all of the contests throughout the four-day classic.

For game schedules and directions to the fields, visit the Gene Bennett Baseball Classic’s website at www.shawnee.edu/gene-bennett-classic or follow updates of the classic through Facebook at Gene Bennett Baseball Classic or Twitter @GBBClassic.