Will Andrew Benintendi try to hit the season's first pitch for a home run?

Rob Bradford
March 28, 2019 - 7:46 am

SEATTLE -- It was just an innocuous spring training game. But perhaps it was also a case of practicing making perfect. Six days prior to the beginning of the 2019 regular season Andrew Benintendi hit the first pitch he saw against the Twins out of Hammond Stadium.

"It was just a fluke," said Benintendi after the Red Sox' workout at T-Mobile Park Wednesday afternoon. "But we'll see (Thursday)."

There aren't a lot of occasions where attempting to hit a home run on the very first pitch you see is a thing. Yet Opening Day, that would seem to be one of those occasions. Just ask the Cubs' Ian Happ, who managed the feat kicking off his team's 2018 campaign. Or Mookie Betts, the then-Sox leadoff hitter who jumped on a Chris Archer fastball and launched it 408 feet from home plate, just a few feet short of the Tropicana Field center field fence.

"I decided (to take a shot at hitting a home run on the first pitch) a few days before after AC (Alex Cora) brought it up," Betts said.

"It would be cool to say that," said Benintendi regarding the idea of going deep on the season's first pitch. "If there was ever a time to take a shot at it I guess it would be the first at-bat."

There is a precedent for a Red Sox player to actually pull off the feat. 

It was April 7, 1986 when Dwight Evans was asked by then-manager John McNamara to serve as the Red Sox' leadoff hitter against Detroit ace Jack Morris. For his career, Evans would face the future Hall of Famer more than any other pitcher, getting 103 plate appearances against the righty. One, however, undoubtedly separated itself from the rest.

"As sure as I’m sitting here I had a dream (about hitting a home run)," Evans said. "I absolutely had a dream. I told my wife about it. I told my Marty Barrett about it. I told (then-Red Sox hitting coach) Walt Hriniak who said, ‘I don’t want you thinking about home runs!’ So, we’re in Detroit and the National Anthem is being played and I’ve got butterflies. Not that I was nervous but I was just anxious. I came to the plate over 10,000 times and there wasn’t one time I had butterflies, but Opening Day, leading off …

"Walt is coming up to me and saying, ‘What are you going to do? What are you going to do?’ I go, ‘Walter, ‘I’m hitting line-drive to right-center field.’ He yells, ‘Dynamite!’ Now I’m on deck and there are 55,000 people and Morris is on the mound. I said, ‘He’s not throwing a forkball or slider. He’s going to try and get that first pitch over and get these people cheering.’ I slam the donut down, look at Marty and said, ‘I’m going deep on the first pitch.’"

For the 1986 season Morris would ultimately allow just four hits to the 35 first batters he faced. Evans supplied the most compelling of the four. Swinging at the first pitch on Opening Day can do that.

"I’m rounding the bases and I’m just thanking God for the moment," the former Red Sox outfielder remembered. "We talk about it now and it still gives me goosebumps. I can’t believe I did that."

So, what are the chances we get a repeat performance 33 years later?

Benintendi hasn't led off a season since his freshman year at the University of Arkansas. He's not one who puts a ton of first pitches in play, having done so on just 67 of his 579 at-bats in 2018. He has five career home runs on the first pitch of an at-bat. Last season there were three at-bats he used the first pitch he saw in a game to swing at and put in play. (Last year's leadoff hitter Betts did it seven times without a hit to show for any of the occasions.)

Nine times last season opposing hitters offered at the first pitch thrown by pitcher Benintendi will be facing Thursday Marco Gonzales, five of which were put in play (all outs). The Red Sox lefty hitter has faced the Mariners southpaw three times, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout.

The stage has been set. So, why not take a shot at it?

"I don’t what other pitch it could be other than a fastball. That would be something to start off a season with a curveball," said Benintendi, guessing what the somewhat-soft-throwing Gonzales might start with. "It depends on the pitcher. I don’t change it. I could go up there four at-bats in a game and if the first pitch is there every single time I’ll swing at it. If everything is perfect I’ll swing. ... We'll see."