Major-leaguer Benes has a blast with “new” team

WOODBRIDGE — St. Louis veteran pitcher Andy Benes was wearing his Cardinals uniform on Monday afternoon in a rehab start with the Potomac Cannons because the team couldn’t find a jersey big enough for the towering right-hander.

Maybe management should have looked harder for one because the 6-foot-6 Benes fit in quite well with the suddenly surging Cannons. Despite finishing his outing poorly — he failed to record an out against five batters in the eighth inning — Benes was a hit in the clubhouse.

“It’s a neat experience,” Potomac catcher Dan Moylan said. “I think for all of us. Not just me being the catcher because I have that one-on-one relationship, but everybody. Having a guy who’s pitched as long as he has in the big leagues, people just tried to soak up what he had to say.”

“I think he’s a great guy, a good pitcher,” center fielder Christopher Morris said. “I wish he could just stay here all year. Just keep getting us [victory] pizza, stuff like that.”

The feeling was mutual.

“The guys have been real nice to me, of course I’m a lot older than most of the guys,” laughed Benes, who stuck around for the Cannons’ 8-7 come-from-behind victory. “I’ve got all the guys by about 11 or 12 years, but I have enjoyed it.”

It’s been a surreal week for the 34-year-old Benes and his arthritic knee. Because the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds are on their all-star break, Benes made his second trip in five years down Prince William Parkway for a rehab start with Potomac.

As a member of the Redbirds, Benes faced his younger brother Alan last week in Iowa City for the first time in his 12-year career. It was a feeling he didn’t exactly relish. Alan gave up six runs, four unearned, in an 8-5 loss to Andy and the Redbirds. Big brother just wanted to see his little brother succeed.

“I was just hoping he’d [Alan] get everybody out and wasn’t as concerned with the result,” Benes said. “I think he was out there [saying] ‘I just want to beat him.'”

Benes said it has been an enjoyable month in the minors and says that every major leaguer should come back to the minors one time for an ego check.

“When they talked to me about rehabbing with Memphis, I said I’d like to go there, just be with the guys instead of just going in, flying in, pitching and leaving,” Benes said. “I wanted to feel like I was part of the team. I have enjoyed it: the 3:30 wakeup call in the morning for a 4 o’clock bus to the airport for a six o’clock flight. Guys didn’t like it but I thought it was kind of cool because I hadn’t done that for 13 years.”

Benes doesn’t know what his role will be with St. Louis when his rehab stint ends next week. He just wants to get healthy and have a chance.

The Cardinals have gotten solid seasons from starters Matt Morris, rookie Jason Simontacchi and Woody Williams. However, starters Bud Smith and Travis Smith have struggled, posting just two wins in seven decisions combined. And with veteran starter Darryl Kile tragically dying on June 22, Benes hopes he’s the tonic the team needs in the rotation.

“I think I have seven or eight days left in my rehab, so we’ll see what they [Cardinals management] decide to do,” Benes said. “The whole time I really haven’t looked at it as ‘this is my timetable’. I am going out to pitch and continue to progress [while] trying to build up my stamina and get people out. If they decide that’s good enough, then that’s good enough. If they don’t, then they don’t. But I just leave that in their hands.”

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