When any person close to us passes, the questions always arise.
How do we go on? How do we continue to push forward and be better today than we were yesterday?
With the passing of Gene Bennett back on Aug. 16 of last year, those questions were amplified because the veteran of Wheelersburg and Cincinnati Reds lore — a lore that lasted 58 years with the latter and a lifetime with the former — was no longer around to present locals with the wisdom that many had sought out, and that Gene had graciously provided.
But as the saying always goes, the show is one that must go one.
And if one were to have seen the show, it couldn’t have been scripted much better.
Portsmouth Post 23 and Ashland Post 76, which are revered as two of the most legendary American Legion baseball programs in the entire region, went a combined 11-2 over the Ninth Annual Gene Bennett Baseball Classic, with the former reaching the GBBC Tournament’s Championship Game. Cathy Bennett Jennings gave away free copies of Gene Bennett’s well-known book, “Gene Bennett: My 58 Years with the Cincinnati Reds.” And last but not least, the Great Lakes Canadians, a team that Gene had helped introduce to the tournament field back in 2014, took home all the marbles over Post 23 by a 5-4 tally in a well-played title bout.
So, was the tournament successful? Resoundingly so.
“From top to bottom, we all knew that it was important to continue on with the Gene Bennett Classic,” Shawnee State head baseball coach and GBBC Tournament Director Chris Moore said. “It was especially important to us to continue on because Gene’s legacy is such that it transcends how we look at, and respect the game of baseball today both in this region and across the country. It was only natural that we continued on.”
The way that Post 23 and Post 76 played throughout the tournament certainly would’ve pleased the former Cincinnati Reds’ minor leaguer and scout.
Overall, the duo combined to outscore their opposition by an astounding count of 103-44 en route to posting the 11-2 mark. Post 76’s long journey, which resulted in a semifinal, was only ended by a 9-7 loss to Post 23, and Portsmouth Post 23 only trailed three times over the entire tournament — including two times in the title game, where Post 23 overcame a 1-0 deficit en route to taking a 4-1 advantage before giving up four unanswered runs to end the bout.
“I truly believe in my heart that Gene would’ve been proud of the way that all the teams played in the tournament, but most certainly our local teams, such as Post 23, which features mainly Scioto County and Southern Ohio kids, and Post 76, who features the Ashland and Eastern Kentucky kids. Those kids showed an unbelievable amount of ability and grit across the four-day stretch. It’s been a tough four days. There’s been a lot of games over that stretch in a ton of heat, and they did an unbelievable job. I believe that Gene would’ve been very, very happy with what took place this weekend.”
Post 23’s work, which was led by third-year coach Matt Miller, was especially impressive considering the short time that Cole Dyer and Kyle Gammon had to get acclimated to the unit. Gammon, in particular, had only five days to mentally prepare himself for play after Greenup County was knocked out by Hazard in the KHSAA State Baseball Tournament, but followed by notching a team-high 11 RBI over seven games. Dyer, by himself, drove in seven RBI for the tournament. Both won the Larry Hisle Hustle Award and the Al Oliver Offensive Player Award as a result of their play.
“Cole has an opportunity to be a special hitter,” Moore said. “He’s a big, strong kid who has power in his arsenal. He’s in a category that is different from most other players and is a guy that, once he gets to Rio Grande, becomes a part of their program, and gets into their weight program and sees some college-level pitching, will be interesting to see what he can do as he makes adjustments to his game. I believe he’ll make Al Oliver very proud.”
“We’re unbelievably thrilled that Kyle is coming to Shawnee State,” Moore continued. “His athleticism, the speed at which he plays the game, and his offensive and defensive abilities, along with his ability on the mound, separates him from most players at this level. He’s able to perform in a litany of different areas, and does them all better than the vast majority of players that he plays against. If he’s able to make the adjustments moving forward going into college, he’s got the opportunity to not only be productive for four years, but be a starter for four years. He’s a type of guy who can be a very special player. I’m thrilled that he’s going to be playing in Portsmouth, a place where Larry Hisle starred at, and am looking forward to seeing if he can replicate what Larry did way back when.”
As special as the play was on the field, the off-field exploits were just as wonderful to witness.
Alongside Gene’s daughter, Cathy Bennett Jennings, and trusted family friend, Richard Roe, the Wheelersburg girls soccer program controlled the pace in the concession stand. The Shawnee State University baseball program had everyone ready to play seven innings with their work on the field in between games at Branch Rickey Park. And there sat the very frame that had Gene’s No. 61 jersey in a frame with pictures reminiscing on the memories of yesteryear.
It all exemplified hard work, dedication, and passion — three qualities that made Gene Bennett the respected baseball mind, and friend, that he will always be remembered as.
“This is my opinion, but I believe that there are no better caretakers of Gene’s legacy than Cathy (Bennett Jennings) and Richard Roe,” Moore said. “From the start, everything that they do and what they are about comes down to Gene and what he would’ve wanted. They certainly speak to the values and for the qualities that would’ve been important to Gene. As far as promoting the legacy of Gene Bennett in our area, there are no better caretakers than Cathy and Rich. From giving away books to having Gene’s chair there that he would sit in with his jacket and that old hat that it looks like he would’ve worn the last 50 years, it shows that Gene is the reason why we are all here. Both of them did an unbelievable job.”