By RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY
PDT Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG — The Wheelersburg Little League kicked off its 52nd season last week with a little help from local baseball legend Gene Bennett.
Bennett was honored as this year’s Wheelersburg Little League grand marshal, riding in his Cincinnati Reds field cart Friday evening in the ceremonial parade from Wheelersburg School to the nearby Gene Bennett Little League Fields on Dogwood Ridge. Once at the field, Bennett flipped the switch to turn on the new field lights installed this year.
League President Matt Collier said they purchased the lights with private donations and sponsors to help their kids play games later in the evening. The league installed 61 lights on six poles around the field.
After signing as a player in 1952, Bennett began scouting in 1958 and was promoted to scouting supervisor in 1975. His notable signings include Reds Hall of Famers Don Gullett, Barry Larkin and Chris Sabo along with Jeff Russell, Charlie Leibrandt and Paul O’Neill.
Bennett received the Topps Scout of the Month Award 12 times and in 1988 received the Topps All-Star Scout Award. In 1996, he was elected to the Middle Atlantic Major League Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame. In January 2009, Bennett received the Legends In Scouting Award from the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, and at the December 2009 Winter Meetings he received the Midwest Scout of the Year Award.
Bennett was a senior special assistant to the Reds’ general manager from October 1992 until he retired from the Cincinnati Reds front office in 2011, ending 58 seasons with the organization.
“I’ve got about every award there is in Major League Baseball — the Hall of Fame and all of them — but to have those fields and throw those lights is right at the top,” Bennett said.
Bennett remembers when the league started many years ago, with only 50 boys playing on a field where the Porter Township Fire Station now sits. He said every foul ball went into the creek. Over the years the field has moved around the township several times — once where Lowe’s now sits, then where McDonald’s is today, and finally at its present location. This year, he said, more than 600 boys and girls have signed up for Wheelersburg Little League.
“It was a dream come true seeing him out there,” Collier said. “Very monumental for our community. We have been wanting to get lights for years, and now we’ve finally been able to get them. It makes the park that much more attractive for tournaments and we can use it for a lot more things to get people into town.”
Ryan Scott Ottney can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 235, or firstname.lastname@example.org.