PDT Sports Contributor
When elite talent appears in any town, it doesn’t take long for word to spread and for individuals to take notice.
However, when that aforementioned elite talent is featured at free admission over a four-day period, the bargain for the casual baseball fan is undeniable.
This is undoubtedly the case with the Sixth Annual Gene Bennett Baseball Classic, as 21 teams – along with a staggering total of 66 Division I prospects – will be participating in the event that has quickly risen in stature not only in the Portsmouth area, the region, and the state, but outside of the state lines as well.
The classic, which will run from Thursday, June 11 to Sunday, June 14, will feature teams from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and West Virginia, including past Gene Bennett Baseball Classic champions in the Midland Redskins, the Ohio Warhawks, and the Huntington Hounds 18U and 17U (18 and under, 17 and under) squads. Together, Midland, Ohio and the Huntington 18U squad will combine for exactly 50 of the 66 Division I prospects that will be playing in the GBBC.
But it’s not just the talent that will be evident in the classic that bears the name of the scouting legend; it’s the local flavor, as well. In addition to the Hounds’ programs, the Ohio RedStorm (also known as Ironton Post 433), Ashland Post 76, and Greenup will also be playing in the tournament as well, with several of the Southern Ohio Conference’s (SOC) familiar faces dotting the lineup cards.
In fact, Minford, Notre Dame, and Wheelersburg will each have at least one player that will be playing in the upcoming Gene Bennett Baseball Classic, as Marshall signee Wade Martin and fellow Wheelersburg teammate Jacob Roe are featured on the 18U Hounds squad while an additional Pirate hand in Kyle Jenkins and Minford standout Eli Daniels will be on the 17U Hounds. Lastly, Ashland Post 76 will also feature an SOC player as Notre Dame’s Chase Rodriguez will suit up for the Sixers, who won an American Legion State Championship last year in Paducah, Kentucky with many of the same members on the squad that are participating in this year’s GBBC.
Overall, the participating teams in the tournament have put out numerous amounts of Major League Baseball talent, including the likes of Barry Larkin, Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter, Zack Greinke, Matt Harvey, Pat Burrell, Brandon Phillips, Brian Roberts, Aaron Hill, and current St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny among many others.
Bennett, whose legendary contributions to baseball have earned him places in the Middle Atlantic Major League Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame (1996), the Wheelersburg High School Athletics Hall of Fame (2001), and a Legends of Scouting Award (2009), enjoyed an illustrious 58-year career with the Cincinnati Reds that included stints as a player, a scout, a regional scouting director before ending his career as a member of the Reds’ front office.
Even though Bennett retired from the Reds before the beginning of the 2011 campaign, he continues to be an active figure in Scioto County. This includes his hometown of Wheelersburg, where Bennett has made contributions to the Wheelersburg Little League among other causes.
In addition to Branch Rickey Park, games will also be held at the baseball fields surrounding the Greenup County, Minford, Portsmouth, Valley, West, and Wheelersburg high school campuses from as early as 9 a.m. to as late as 9 p.m. on Thursday through Sunday.
For more information about the Gene Bennett Baseball Classic, one can follow the latest news about the event @GBBClassic, like the Gene Bennett Baseball Classic page on Facebook, or go to www.shawnee.edu/gene-bennett-classic.