Bennett Continues to Power Dogs, Down Apollos
When T.J. Bennett steps out of the box during an at-bat, he often talks to himself like a coach would.
That’s because for the past two seasons, Bennett has been an assistant coach at Illinois State University. And since signing with the Dogs on June 18, Bennett has gained a new perspective on the game that allows him to be honest with himself during an at-bat, reassess the situation and dig back in with an appropriate plan.
Bennett’s plan has worked to near perfection over the past two games, recording six hits in his last eight at-bats. In his most recent trip to the plate, Bennett blasted a two-run home run that secured and 8-2 Dogs win over the Houston Apollos.
K.C. Hobson joined Bennett in the home run department as Hobson belted his seventh of the season. Anfernee Grier kept his hot streak alive, driving in two more runs in a 2-for-4 effort at the plate.
The duo of Jordan Kipper and Jeff Kinley on the mound kept the Houston hitters quiet. Kipper allowed two runs on six hits over seven innings, and Kinley slammed the door with four strikeouts across two shutout innings.
It was Bennett’s third long ball of the season and marked his eighth RBI in 53 at-bats. Bennett reached his bat to the outside corner of the plate and lifted a slider over the left field wall. All three of Bennett’s home runs this season have been to the opposite field, which, to him, isn’t necessarily surprising.
Bennett said his natural swing path hits the ball further to the opposite field, so that is what he has expected early on in the season. But as he gets more and more used to live pitching after taking two years off, he anticipates home runs to all parts of the diamond.
“I have complained to my dad in the past about them and he’s like ‘Dude, if it goes over the fence, it goes over the fence. It doesn’t matter where,’” Bennett said.
Bennett has been named the Impact Player of the Game two nights in a row, but said in his return to the game, it has been important to not get caught up in the results. Bennett has worked to stay true to his simplistic approach at the plate.
In his first two games as a Dog beginning on June 18, Bennett said not overthinking things helped lead to two home runs in two nights. But as games went by, Bennett could sense himself trying to become too fine, too specific with his swing.
Bennett said baseball is a game where you can feel good and have bad results, and sometimes even feel bad and have good results.
“I try to separate myself from the results, good and bad results,” Bennett said. “Because really, the results will just kill you.”
This mentality has led to Bennett enjoying the day-to-day process of the season as much as he ever has. Simple things like arriving to the ballpark each day, talking with his teammates in the clubhouse and working in the batting cage have become more enjoyable for Bennett thanks to a newfound perspective he gained in two years of coaching.
“As a coach, you have to think objectively a lot,” Bennett said. “As a player, you think very emotionally and you’re consumed with what’s going on.”
During his two-year playing hiatus as a coach, Bennett not only changed his perspective on the game, but life in general. As he walks to the plate, talking to himself like a coach would, fans will hear a walk up song that defines Bennett. Throughout Bennett’s career, he has always selected a Christian song to give fans a snippet of who he is.
“Blessings” by Florida Georgia Line is the country tune Bennett walks out to, and is also the song that was playing when he proposed to his wife. Bennett wasn’t married when he last played for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in 2019, and said he has completely different priorities in life since deciding to return as a player.
And while Bennett doesn’t get caught up in the results of the game anymore, he said he wouldn’t be able to endure the grind of a baseball season without the support of his wife cheering him on at each home game.
“I want everyone here to know that she’s my rock,” Bennett said. “She’s the person that’s behind me, and everything I do is with her and for her.”