By Scott Winfree
GORDONSVILLE — From the time Jeff Bennett was five years old, his goal was to play Major League Baseball. Throwing a ball with his dad, Sherrill Bennett, was a daily routine — even before church on Sunday mornings causing much aggravation to his mother, Beverly. Call it the beginnings of what best describes Jeff Bennett — unquestioned drive and determination. Those qualities, evident back then in the mid-80’s as a five-year-old, are still inherently with him today. That early goal of playing in the Major Leagues became a reality for the Gordonsville High alum and former resident of Brush Creek here in Smith County. Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1998, he was acquired by the Milwaukee Brewers in December of 2003 and made his Major League pitching debut April 6, 2004 against the St. Louis Cardinals facing Albert Pujols. During his professional career, though, Bennett has had to draw from that inner drive and determination — qualities that still has him pursuing his passion. First was the successful comeback from Tommy John surgery which led to pitching performances with the Atlanta Braves from 2007-2009 and the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010. Then in August 2010 he faced and overcame surgery once again from a torn labrum that today has the hard-throwing right hander attempting to make a comeback to the Major Leagues. Here in 2011, Bennett’s comeback attempt included hurling for the Triple-A Reno Aces of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization in addition to the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. Currently he is playing in Venezuela for La Guaira Sharks BBC. “People see baseball players on TV and think it is all great and wonderful, but it is a hard life,” notes Bennett’s mother, Beverly. “Living out of a suitcase, working out to stay in shape and trying to eat right is a continuous thing. The hardest part is being away from his wife, Rachel, and three precious little girls and his family.” “Like most players, Jeff has had his ups and downs, but he has always been so determined,” she continued. “We didn’t know if he would be able to pitch again after the shoulder surgery, but God has truly blessed him with a miracle and his daddy says he is pitching better than ever. Yes, he is still catching him!” Bennett and his wife currently reside in nearby Lebanon. They have three daughters: Alivia Grace, age 6; Elliston Elizabeth, age 4 and Ivy June, 8 months. In addition to his parents, Sherrill and Beverly Bennett of Brush Creek, Jeff’s grandparents from the same community in southern Smith County are Mutt and Sue Pritchett and Howard Bennett and the late Florrie Bennett who passed away in 2006. By the way, he made good on a promise to his grandparents — telling them that when he grew up he was going to play Major League Baseball. He said, “I’m going to have a big limousine pick you up and take you to my game.” Jeff kept his promise when he was with Milwaukee and playing the Atlanta Braves — he had them picked up and taken to Turner Field. Just another classic example of Jeff Bennett’s drive and determination.
Jeff Bennett Timeline
u His selection as a 12-year-old to the local Smith County All-Star team that placed third in the state was only the beginning of a career path toward baseball.
u Pitched in two Babe Ruth World Series and in 1997 played in the National Amateur All-Star Baseball Tournament (NAABT) at Comiskey Park, Chicago, IL where his team won the championship.
u A multi-sport athlete while at Gordonsville High from 1994-1998, Bennett excelled at the sport of baseball for the Tigers — even expressing his goal of playing Major League Baseball when choosing a career path.
u 4-Year Starter Gordonsville Baseball
u Member of the 1997 District 8A Championship Team
u All-District 1996, 1997, 1998
u Pitched 55 innings, 94 Ks, and 20 BB
u Gordonsville’s All-Time Career Homerun Leader
u 1998 First Team All-State
u 1998 First Team All-Midstate
Professional Baseball Timeline
u In 1998 Bennett graduates from Gordonsville High and turns 18 years old, and is drafted by the Pittsburg Pirates and leaves home headed to Bradenton, FL to begin his career in Rookie Camp.
u June 2, 1998: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 19th round of the 1998 amateur draft
u December 15, 2003: Milwaukee Brewers acquire Bennett in Rule V draft from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
u April 6, 2004: Makes Major League pitching debut against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Memorial Stadium facing Albert Pujols as the first batter. Allows 2 hits in 1 1/3 innings.
u With Milwaukee, Bennett, well-known for keeping the brim of his cap almost completely flat and wearing it so low that the bill was slightly above his eyes, went 1-5 with a 4.79 ERA in 60 appearances for the Brewers.
u December 21, 2005: Granted Free Agency.
u November 13, 2006: Signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Braves.
u During 2006: undergoes successful Tommy John surgery
u September 20, 2007: Bennett makes his first career start and his first appearance with the Atlanta Braves facing the Milwaukee Brewers. Hurls 5 2/3 innings while striking out 8, earning the win.
u September 25, 2007: Bennett earns a win in relief against the Philadelphia Phillies. He finished the season 2-1 with a 3.46 ERA.
u May 24, 2008: In a relief appearance against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Bennett records his first Major League hit in the fifth inning against pitcher Randy Johnson.
u 2008: Appears in 72 games for Atlanta, posting a 3.70 ERA.
u May 20, 2009: Bennett hits an RBI in his first at-bat with the Atlanta Braves — driving in Jeff Francoeur against the Colorado Rockies.
u July 30, 2009: Released by the Atlanta Braves
u August 1, 2009: Signed as a Free Agent with the Tampa Bay Rays
u December 7, 2009: Granted Free Agency
u December 11, 2009: Signed as Free Agent with the Tampa Bay Rays
u May 13, 2010: Released by the Tampa Bay Rays
u May 25, 2010: Signed as Free Agent with the Milwaukee Brewers.
u August 2010: Successfully undergoes surgery on torn labrum
u November 6, 2010: Granted Free Agency
u Year 2011: Bennett attempts comeback to the Major Leagues
u April 30, 2011: In first outing after returning from torn labrum, Bennett strikes out two batters in a scoreless inning for the Lancaster Barnstormers.
u June 15, 2011: Signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks and assigned to the Triple-A Reno Aces. Bennett pitches 35.2 innings with a 4.29 ERA. Records show his last 10 games (18.1 innings) resulted in a 2.45 ERA.
u August 30, 2011: Released from Reno Aces after they secured the Pacific Coast League Western Division Championship.
u Bennett returns to the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball — ending the 2011 season pitching 33 innings in 21 games with a 4-0 record and .082 ERA.
u Bennett currently playing in Venezuela for La Guaira Sharks BBC.
u Career Professional Major League statistics: 8-17 record, 4.30 ERA, appeared in 179 games, pitched 228.1 innings, 154 Strikeouts.
The Link below will give you more information about Jeff and his stats.
By Scott Winfree
GORDONSVILLE — I remember as a youngster back in the 1960’s and early 1970’s choosing my favorite major league baseball team. To me, this was something that just had to be decided upon and finalized — carrying with it a weight of importance back then. You see, my dad Odell Winfree and his brothers, who as youth from New Middleton had their own community baseball team back in the 1930s and 40s, grew up loving the game of baseball. Told of always being competitive and loving sports (I get it honestly), each had their very own favorite major league baseball teams. My dad’s was the Philadelphia Phillies. Three of his five brothers and their favorite teams that readily come to my mind include: Clyde - the Pittsburgh Pirates, Glen - the St. Louis Cardinals and Esker - the New York Yankees. All six brothers had their own team. I, then, had to have my own team to follow. I remember well choosing the Detroit Tigers. For starters, I was able to find WJR (760 AM) radio station from Detroit, Michigan that carried the Tigers’ games in the 70s — even though the signal never came in until after dark and required constant adjusting of my handheld transistor while sitting in my front porch swing on Cloverdale Street in Hickman. Listening to Ernie Harwell’s broadcasts of greats such as Al Kaline, Norm Cash and Jim Northrup later evolved into listening and following such stars as Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Lance Parrish, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris. Yes, Detroit has been and continues to be my major league baseball team. What actually cemented my choice, though, was learning from my dad that a very own New Middleton native and Gordonsville High player, who was some 10-12 years his senior in age, played professional baseball for Detroit back in the 30s and 40s. And he played it well. That player was Tommy Bridges. He pitched in World Series games and was one of the game’s best pitchers during his time I was told. Had a curveball that was literally second to none. No statistics ever came my way, though, simply because of the times. All many of us knew was that a sign was erected at Gordonsville’s Ivy Agee Park’s tennis courts in recognition of the hometown native Bridges. Only days now from my 50th birthday, those of you similar in age and older can relate with me when I say that having access to statistics and information was hard to come by in those days — as opposed to the current state of being able now to find anything via online or cable television where sports is available 24/7. For years my dad had Nashville’s afternoon paper, the Nashville Banner, delivered to our home for one single reason — it had the late night baseball games, boxscores and up-to-date standings in each issue. There was just no other way — no television sports channels, no internet — to get this information. That lack of access to information back then was why my dad and those his age that I was acquainted with never could provide hard stats and information about the baseball player Tommy Bridges. And New Middleton and Gordonsville, Tennessee is, as they used to say back in the day, “a far piece” from Detroit, Michigan. Imagine how that distance seemed back then. To this day I regret not learning information that could have been told by Charlie Gwaltney — my good friend who has passed but for years was my neighbor on Cloverdale Street with only four houses separating our homes. Charlie was the catcher for Bridges during their Gordonsville High playing days. Fast-forward, however, to today . . . and the wealth of information that can be readily shared and is available. How else would many of us from Smith County have ever known just how successful one of our very own, from tiny New Middleton, had been while playing professional baseball? A couple of hints . . . he appeared in 4 World Series and two of the first three batters he pitched to were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. I offer you, as well, to read an informative and poignant article written by Ken Beck, recently published in the Wilson Post newspaper, about Bridges — accessed via ballcharts.com/gordonsvillebaseball and then clicking on the link Pro Tigers. He has family that lives in nearby Lebanon: granddaughter Vicki Lowe, great-grandson Duane Lowe (who teaches and coaches at Friendship Christian) and son-in-law Wilburn Smith. I commend Gordonsville School recognizing / honoring Bridges and his diamond exploits. You’ll see, from the information below, it is well-deserved and long, long overdue. I only regret not realizing sooner this athlete’s storied career. For me, though, it just further cements my choice of becoming a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan was a good one.
Tommy Bridges PROFILE
u Born December 28, 1906 in New Middleton
u 1921-1925: Played baseball for Gordonsville High School
u 1927-1929: Played baseball for University of Tennessee; Captain in 1929
u 1930-1946: Played Major League Baseball for the Detroit Tigers
u 6-time American League All-Star — 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1939, 1940 (missing 1938 due to an injury)
u Pitched in 4 World Series
u Bridges and Hank Greenberg are the only players in Detroit Tigers history to play in 4 World Series for the team
u 2-time World Series Champion for Detroit — 1935, 1945
u Helped Detroit to first World Series title — winning 2 games in 1935 World Series
u Won 194 Games for Detroit Tigers
u 1,647 Career Strikeouts
u 3 Consecutive 20-plus win seasons
u August 13, 1930: made initial Major League appearance as a relief pitcher — first facing baseball legend Babe Ruth who grounded out on the first pitch. Two batters later Bridges struck out another baseball legend, Lou Gehrig.
u August 5, 1931: Was one out from pitching a perfect game against the Washington Senators — retiring 26 batters before the 27th spoiled the bid.
u 1933: Tossed 3 one-hitters
u 1934: Won 22 Games; Detroit won AL pennant but lost to St. Louis in ‘34 World Series; during year gave up Babe Ruth’s 700th career home run
u 1935: Won 21 Games; Led American League in Strikeouts; Detroit won AL pennant; Won 2 Games in 1935 World Series helping Detroit beat the Chicago Cubs
u 1936: Won 23 Games; Led American League in Strikeouts with 175
u 1941: Set Detroit’s Career Strikeout Record. His franchise mark was broken by Hal Newhouser in 1951 and remained tops for a right-hander until Jack Morris broke it in 1988
u Ranked among Top 3 in American League in Strikeouts Per 9 Innings Pitched on 7 occasions
u He was among the leaders in ERA (earned run average) 10 times — including a career-low 2.39 ERA in 1943 - the year prior to his entering the Army
u Served the U.S. Army during World War II — missing the entire 1944 season and came back for 1 start in 1945
u Member of Detroit’s 1945 World Series championship team, his 4th World Series, making a relief appearance in Game 6
u At time of retirement, Bridge’s 1,674 career strikeouts was then-8th highest total in American League history
u Career Record for Detroit: 194-138 with a 3.57 ERA
u Member of Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame
u Member of Michigan Sports Hall of Fame
u 1968: Passed away in Nashville at age 61
Follow the link to view Tommy Bridges biography and career stats
Tommy Bridges article in the Wilson Post Tommy Bridges Article
Part 2 Tommy Bridges Article