Born with a deformed right hand, Juneau pitcher Chad Bentz was dismissed his entire life.
Elementary school peers taunted him in gym class and high school opponents did the same when he stepped on the mound.
Through it all, Bentz, a 1999 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate with more Major League appearances than any other Alaskan, turned the insults into inspiration, the mockery into motivation.
“I liked when people said or told me I couldn’t do something,” Bentz said.
The only Alaskan to record a base hit — he was 1 for 2 all-time — Bentz is just the second Big Leaguer to play with only one hand (Jim Abbott was the first). Drafted by the Montreal Expos in 2001, the 6-foot-2 lefty made his MLB debut three years later. Bentz made 40 appearances from 2004-2005 and went 0-3 with a 7.58 ERA. Two of his 18 career strikeouts came against Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki.
Like his hero Abbott, the former Crimson Bear both threw and fielded with his left hand. He became so polished at switching his glove from one hand to the other on his follow through that it once took a scout three innings to notice.
“I’ve talked to so many people with disabilities or deformities and it’s the best part of making it,” Bentz said. “If people see me, or hear me and want to meet me, and if I can give them any type of inspiration or hope or confidence… that’s a good feeling. That’s a feeling that is better than pitching in Yankee Stadium.”
A multi-sports star at Juneau-Douglas High School, Bentz transitioned from baseball to football in 2010, and played one season for Vermont’s Castleton State College, where he scored two touchdowns as a fullback. After earning a Masters Degree, he returned to Juneau to become an athletic director and gym teacher at his alma mater.
– Nolin Ainsworth