By STEVE KRAH
Players chosen for the 2022 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series were honored at a banquet Friday, June 24 and will continue to be celebrated as three games are played June 25-26 at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion — two Saturday beginning at noon and one Sunday at 1 p.m.
As keynote speaker at Friday’s banquet, where Brebeuf Jesuit’s Andrew Dutkanych IV was revealed as the 2022 IHSBCA Player of the Year, IWU head baseball coach Rich Benjamin offered a message on honor and thankfulness to a group including many teenagers who are about to embark on the college baseball experience.
“We define the word honor as looking for the strengths and abilities of another without tripping over their perceived shortcomings,” said Benjamin. “It’s really preferences.
“This happens on a baseball team. You’re with each other every single day. Right? You go to college and it becomes this 9- to 10-month journey, where you see somebody six, seven days a week. There’s going to be preferences.
“Your coach will have preferences. A 6 a.m. lift is not a hard issue. It’s a preference. What can happen is in any environment that you’re in, there is a danger of getting so wrapped up in the preferences that you miss the strengths of the environment.”
Benjamin challenged the All-Stars to enter into the relationship created by being on a college team by looking for the strengths and abilities in others and not tripping over their perceived shortcomings.
The coach with more than 500 career victories offered a personal example.
“My dad’s a good dad,” said Benjamin. “I think I was a pretty good son. But for 6 1/2 years we didn’t talk.
“The reason why we didn’t talk is because the relationship got wrapped up and perceived weaknesses and preferences. Maybe what he wished I was and maybe what I wished he was.”
Then somebody sat Benjamin down to discuss honor. He went home that night, went to his kitchen table and began to write down all his father’s strengths.
A few weeks later, his stepmother reached out. She wanted her husband and stepson to have a great relationship.
“For the first time in 6 1/2 years, I was able to respond from a place of honor,” said Benjamin. “Instead of responding from the perceived weaknesses that I saw in my father, instead I responded from one of his strengths. I said my dad is the hardest-working man I’ve ever known.”
The son also wanted the father to work at their relationship.
A few more weeks go by and the father went to see the son coach at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where Benjamin led the baseball program from 2008-15.
“It was a monumental weekend,” said Benjamin. “It was like Win No. 200 or 300. And during that game, he looked over at my stepmom and he said, ‘You know what? He’s a good man.’ I’d never heard my dad say that. Not a day in my life. And he was a good dad. But he didn’t use those words.
“What set the foundation for that entire situation? It wasn’t the ability to change the other person in the room. I had no control over that. It was the ability to go ahead and just live from a place of honor.”
Benjamin coached in Tennessee and Illinois before coming to Indiana in 2016.
“I don’t know of another high school organization that puts as much effort into the all-star recognition in the state of Indiana to have a banquet in your honor and have a practice day as well with photos, uniforms — the whole thing. They do a tremendous job of honoring you guys this weekend.”
Benjamin knows that players like things a certain way. Are the pants tight or loose enough? Is the cap my size? Will I get to wear my favorite number?
“You’re allowed to have preferences,” said Benjamin. “And you’re allowed to express those preferences and your coaches and the people in your life they’re allowed to love and serve to the best of their ability to go ahead and fulfill those preferences.
“But not all preferences can be changed. And so when you’re done exposing or expressing your preferences, just say, ‘man, what are the strengths and the opportunities right here in this room?’ The strength and the opportunity is that entire weekend was created to honor you.”
Benjamin’s mother is a three-time cancer survivor who has also come away from two highway accidents that could have been fatal.
Her response to her son about learning she was cancer-free?
“She said, ‘The Lord taught me how to praise him in a valley this weekend,’” said Benjamin. “That’s thankfulness. To be able to get to a place of thankfulness and praise in the middle of the valley.
“You’ll be able to do that on a mountaintop and many of you will have to reach your place of thankfulness at 6 a.m. when you’re on limited sleep and you’re on pace to get the first B of your entire life or you’re in an intrasquad and your one at-bat the whole day is against top-five-rounder and he’s working on a slider that day and you won’t see any heaters. Right then you’re gonna have to enter a place of thankfulness.”