Over the course of the current decade, the Gene Bennett Baseball Classic has rapidly grown from an upstart showcase to a massive four-day event that is one of the best travel ball showcases in the country — because it showcases the best young talent that there is in the game of baseball.
While this year will arguably be the toughest of all to get through — especially considering that the classic’s namesake is now in a better place — Shawnee State head baseball coach and Gene Bennett Baseball Classic Tournament Director Chris Moore believes that Gene would want the show to go on.
And so it will.
In all, 15 of the best travel ball programs across the local, regional, and national scene — including Post 23, Ashland Post 76, the Huntington Hounds’ 16U unit, and the Great Lakes Canadians, will all be competing in the annual four-day showcase, which will be entering its ninth consecutive season in 2018.
“It’s a best-case scenario for us to be able to bring in top-flight amateur talent from places across the region and the country to compete against our local kids here in the Tri-State Area,” Moore said. “It’s fun for the fans to be able to watch and it’s fun for the kids that are participating in the Gene Bennett Baseball Classic.”
The classic, which was founded in 2010 by Wheelersburg native Jeff Brown, famed Ohio Warhawks head coach and fellow Wheelersburg native Ron Slusher, and former SSU head coach/GBBC Tournament Director Ted Tom, was founded to honor Bennett’s contributions to baseball over a career that spanned nearly six full decades with the Cincinnati Reds’ baseball organization, either as a player in the minor leagues, a scout, or as a special assistant to the general manager.
Bennett, who retired from the Reds organization in 2011, ultimately was responsible in the drafting and signing of Don Gullett, Barry Larkin, Paul O’Neill, and Chris Sabo, who were all critical in three of the Reds’ five World Series titles (1975 and 1976 for the former and 1990 for the latter trio) and each of the last five National League Pennants that Cincinnati has taken home. His efforts in the scouting department have earned him several accolades, including inductions into the Middle Atlantic Major League Baseball Scouts (1996) and the Wheelersburg High School Athletics Hall of Fame (2001). He was also given the Legends of Scouting Award for his six loyal decades of work with the Reds in January 2009.
The awards that Bennett earned in a legendary career, however, were only second to his golden personality.
“There’s going to be a huge hole there this year,” Moore said. “However, to be able to continue on with it is terrific, and I believe that’s the right way to honor Gene, who dedicated so much of his life to amateur baseball, baseball in the Tri-State Area, and baseball in general. He provided tremendous gifts for all of us to enjoy from his presence to his sunny disposition. He always talked to every team that came down, so we’re certainly going to miss that. I’ll miss watching him talk to each individual on each team, and I’ll miss the amount of time that he took for everybody who wanted to speak with him.”
Bennett, however, would be thrilled with the layout of this year’s GBBC.
While the classic doesn’t have the Midland Redskins or the Ohio Warhawks as part of the field for the first time since the inception of the GBBC in 2010, the great history is still evident from the local units from Post 23 — which features athletic middle infielders in Kyle Gammon and Tanner Kimbler, as well as Ethan Lauder, Darius Jordan, Nathan McCormick, and Reid Shultz, with the latter quartet each starring on a Minford unit that won the first outright SOC II title in baseball in half a century — and Ashland Post 76 to the Huntington Hounds 16U program, which has Clay’s Reece Whitley on the unit among other locals and the Great Lakes Canadians, who hail from Dorchester, Ontario and are a highly-regarded North American travel baseball program.
”The baseball traditions that are present in Southern Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, and Western West Virginia all go hand-in-hand, so reaching out and expanding in that direction is big for us,” Moore said. “Tim Martin, Dean Schuler, and Richard Roe were each huge in organizing our volunteers, getting people together, and meeting early on in the year so that we could try to expand a little bit and do different things. It takes a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people involved.”
Regardless of the young talent that will be on display, however, the tournament will take on quite a bit of extra meaning — because of a man who gave so much back through the game of baseball.
“I’m proud to have known Gene for the short period of time that I did,” Moore said. “He was, by a long shot, the most gracious man that I have met in baseball. That’s not hyperbole, either: that’s the God’s honest truth. I don’t know many people who were as gracious with their time and knowledge like Gene was. I wish that I would’ve talked to him a lot earlier in my lifetime. Keeping the classic going is an honor for us. The Gene Bennett Baseball Classic is important in Southern Ohio, it’s important in Scioto County, and it’s important in Ashland and in the surrounding areas.”
A complete schedule of the GBBC will be listed in its entirety online and in Wednesday’s edition of the Daily Times. For more information about the Gene Bennett Baseball Classic, visit http://www.shawnee.edu/gene-bennett-classic/.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT