Sports

Shawn Jansen: Natural -- Merced's Bennett changed sports at Davis without skipping a beat

Shawn Jansen
Shawn Jansen

It seems all the news we hear these days are about doom and gloom.

The economy is in the toilet.

Friends and family are being laid off.

Why not an uplifting story this morning?

Adam Bennett's story definitely fits that category.

You might remember the name.

Bennett was a water polo star for Merced.

After graduating in 2004, he went on to star at U.C. Davis, where he led the Aggies with 54 goals last year during his senior season.

Bennett was just a few units shy of graduating.

"Once water polo was done, I had 23 hours a week that I didn't know what I'd do with myself," Bennett said.

So in December, Bennett phoned his friends Thomas Eager and Eddie Gamboa and told him about his plan to try to walk-on the Davis baseball team.

Walk-ons work their way onto college teams in just about every sport every year.

What makes Bennett's story unique is he hadn't played baseball since his junior year of high school.

That was six years ago.

No bats.

No balls.

No gloves since.

Now all of a sudden Bennett wanted to play Division I baseball?

And get this: As a pitcher.

"I've never been a pitcher before," Bennett said. "I've done everything but pitch, but I figured that was my best shot to make the team.

"I've been throwing a water polo ball the last four years. It's a little different, but I've been throwing something."

Bennett played catcher at Merced.

Former Merced coach Scott Winton believes Bennett might have been No. 7 or 8 on the pitching depth chart his junior year at Merced.

Bennett went to work.

Remember his friends Eager and Gamboa.

File that under the category of knowing the right people.

It just so happens Bennett's two buddies are former Merced pitchers, who went on to play Division I baseball.

Eager pitched at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and is now playing minor league baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Gamboa was the ace at Davis and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles last year.

Oh yeah, Bennett's bullpen catcher just happened to be former Buhach Colony star Jake Jefferies, who played with Gamboa at Davis and was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays last year.

"I'm pretty lucky that I have close friends like that," Bennett said. "It just so happens that two of my close friends are minor league pitchers.

"Jake Jefferies caught my bullpens and gave me a lot of feedback too."

Eager and Gamboa started from scratch with Bennett, who always had a great arm.

Eager would take his video camera and they would dissect his bullpen sessions on his computer.

"He's a quick learner," Eager said. "Eddie or I would tell him something and he'd pick it up right away.

"Once he got on the mound and got a feel for his body he just kept getting better and better.

"Eddie and I wouldn't tell him too much. Our goal was to keep it simple."

Bennett kept throwing harder and harder with more control.

By the time he tried out for the team he was topping out at 90 mph with a good slider.

The Aggies coaching staff liked what they saw and three days before Davis opened the season at UCLA, Bennett was told he made the team.

"I dropped Adam off at practice that morning and Eddie and I were in the weight room," Eager said. "Adam walks in with this big smile on his face.

"He said he didn't make the team. I said, 'Why are you smiling then?'

"He said, 'I made the team and I'm traveling.'

"I think Eddie and I were more excited than he was. He put in the effort. He's the one that got me up early every morning."

Bennett made two appearances during the UCLA series and he pitched four scoreless innings.

He hasn't slowed down.

Bennett is 1-1 with a 3.68 ERA out of the bullpen.

"It's starting to sink in," Bennett said. "For four years, I was known as a water polo player on campus. People are starting to recognize me as a baseball guy now.

"It's kind of like that movie 'Rudy.' I'm out there with nothing to lose."

The only question is what's next?

Golf?

Maybe Bennett knows Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson.

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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