Benintendi feels the love in return home

Benintendi feels the love in return home

CINCINNATI -- They spanned three entire sections of bleachers in left field, starting near the foul pole and stretching toward left-center. They were mostly from Ohio, but nearly all of them wore Red Sox shirts and hats.

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It was quite a crowd that gathered on Friday night for the purpose of giving Andrew Benintendi the warmest welcome possible in his return home to Cincinnati.

The kid from an Ohio suburb called Madeira -- which is about 12 miles from Great American Ball Park -- was in town to play left field for the Red Sox, and it was a big event for his many supporters.

Brian and Bob Benintendi -- Andrew's uncles on his father's side of the family -- orchestrated the massive reunion. Brian wore a shirt that he had custom made to commemorate the event, with the caption, "Benny Baseball's Bleacher Bash, 9/22/17."

"When I put the bleacher idea together, my goal was 200 tickets," said Brian Benintendi.

Bobby and Brian Benintendi (right) organized the large cheering section at Great American Ball Park.

The block of tickets Brian and Bob set aside through the Reds grew from 200 to 1,000 based on demand, and more than 85 percent of the block wound up being sold.

"The Reds were stunned," said Brian Benintendi. "They said that's one of the largest groups they've ever had."

When Andrew Benintendi came to the plate for the first time in the top of the first, his cheering sections roared with approval. He wound up walking.

In the bottom of the first, when Benintendi ran out to left field, they all stood and cheered again. Ever so discreetly, Benintendi gave a thumbs up to acknowledge his family and friends.

Though the low-key rookie isn't one for nostalgia, Benintendi acknowledged the emotions of coming home.

"I probably got down here four-five times a year and would sit in the Diamond seats," Benintendi said. "I remember watching the guys play and picturing myself out there. It's crazy that I'm here now."

"I just remember sitting in those stands and seeing some guys that were massive. Guys like Adam Dunn. I remember the bigger Upton brother was here playing, and I was thinking, 'God, these guys are huge.' I was 5-foot-6, 115 [pounds] at the time. That's probably what I remember the most."

Amy Benintendi -- Andrew's aunt and Brian's wife -- couldn't believe that the ring bearer from her wedding was in town to bat third and play left for the Red Sox.

"It's so exciting. I've known him since he was 6 [years old]," Amy Benintendi said. "He's such a down-to-earth kid. And especially to see him play here because we always came here to watch the Reds, so to him playing here at Great American [Ball Park], that's pretty cool."

Andrew's father, Chris, and mom, Jill, watched the game in a suite behind home plate with their parents.

"Just for his grandparents to be able to see him play, it's special for them to go to their hometown to see their grandson play," Chris Benintendi said. "They're over 80, and it's a real special time for them to see this."

Once the game started, Brian and Bob Benintendi joked about which one was Andrew's favorite uncle. And they remembered that baseball wasn't the only sport Andrew was known for growing up.

"He was the player we all wanted to be," Bob Benintendi said.

The diminutive Andrew never dunked, did he?

"No," said Brian Benintendi. "But it didn't matter, because [three-pointers] are worth more points than a dunk."

As they recalled the past and enjoyed the present, it was a night nobody in the Benintendi family will forget.

"For him to play in Cincinnati, the Red Sox never play here, this is only the third time they've been here since the 1975 World Series, so for him to be here in his rookie year, that's like a fantasy," said Brian Benintendi.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.