CINCINNATI — Joe Mendy and Cason Bennett have more in common than just being Butler High School baseball teammates who just happened to finish the 2022 season with exactly the same number of at bats and hits and, of course, batting average.
The two former Aviators were among three baseball and two softball players who signed commitments on Monday to move on from high school and the Reds Youth Academy to continue their playing careers in college.
Bennett, a pitcher-infielder, plans to attend NCAA Division III Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. Mendy, a Butler third baseman, is expected to be shifted to middle infield at Wilberforce University, which is planning to revive its baseball program in the fall. The Bulldogs will compete in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Mendy drew interest from a few NCAA Division III schools, but was intrigued by Wilberforce’s efforts.
“They’re bringing it back,” he said after the 45-minute program in the Reds Hall of Fame Theater adjacent to Great American Ball Park. “It’s a fresh start. I wanted to be a part of that.”
Bally Sports Ohio broadcaster Brian Giesenschlag served as master of the ceremonies for the event. Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Reds television analyst Barry Larkin was on hand, along with team President and Chief Executive Officer Phil Castellini and Roosevelt Barnes, a Wilberforce graduate who coaches Cincinnati La Salle High School and also guided the Reds Senior Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Senior Team to a national championship last August. Barnes is taking a leadership role in helping revive the Wilberforce program.
“You are the chosen ones,” Barnes told the five Academy products, who included Lakota West baseball pitcher Dallas Arthur and softball players Alena Campbell, of Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame High School, and Andralyn Brown, of Cincinnati Princeton. “That’s why we celebrate you today.”
“The word for today is encouragement,” said Larkin, who reminded the athletes he uses lessons in everyday life that he learned playing baseball. “It’s going to be tough. You’re going to fail. Batters fail seven out of 10 times. You’ve got to keep your perspective, stay positive and understand that you will make it.”
“Take advantage of your opportunity and keep doing the extra things that got you here,” Castellini advised. "
The day’s experience was scheduled to include a question-and-answer session with Reds pitcher Justin Dunn, currently on the 60-day injured list, and watching Monday’s game from a suite provided by the Reds. Also on hand for the event were team mascots Mr. Red and Gapper.
Arthur described his three-year Academy experience as “like a dream” after moving from New Jersey.
“When I first got here, this was the first team that picked me up,” he said.
Bennett most appreciated the exposure and the chance to try different positions. He spent one season playing mostly catcher, utilizing tips from mother, Evelene, a former college softball catcher.
“We were facing college-level players every day and playing tournaments on the weekend,” he said. “That helped prepare me for what I’m going to see.”
Mendy, the first player to sign with Wilberforce, credited the Academy with making him a better hitter.
“I was always a contact hitter, but now I have more power,” he said. “I got stronger.”
Bennett and Mendy both could have played on last season’s championship team, but Bennett was involved in two-a-days with the Butler football team and Mendy had family commitments. Mendy led Butler with 24 RBIs this past season, while Bennett logged a team-high 14 stolen bases while going 2-0 with a 1.57 ERA over nine pitching appearances. Both players went 37-for-95 to finish with .389 batting averages. Bennett played in 30 games overall. Mendy played in 28.
“When the coach said that at the banquet, we were like, ‘Exactly the same?’” Evelene Bennett said.
“It was friendly, but there’s always a little bit of competition,” Mendy said.
“We were neck-and-neck most of the year,” Cason Bennett said. “It was crazy.”
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