By: Cole Bradley
ORLEANS, Mass- On arguably the most important day of his life, Donovan Benoit (Tulane) decided to pull a prank.
Surrounded by his family, the towering right-hander sat on the couch in his Pensacola, Florida home waiting for his name to be called on day two of the 2021 MLB Draft. As the end of the ninth round drew near, he got a call that put him on the edge of his seat.
“I got a call from my advisor saying, ‘Hey, it might happen,’ but with the draft you can never be too certain,” Benoit said.
After receiving an overwhelming amount of calls over the course of the afternoon, the next was the one every young ballplayer has dreamed of answering.
“All of a sudden I get another phone call from him and he says, ‘Hey, you’re gonna be a Cincinnati Red,’” Benoit said. “It was a really cool moment for the whole family. Overall it was a great day, I got to be with the family and I got picked by a great organization.”
While Benoit was aware of his fate in the current moment, the rest of his family was not — they stared into his face as he took the life-altering call, hoping for him to show some sort of reaction. Instead, he played it off, sitting back down on the couch to patiently await the official selection.
Right before the Reds pick was revealed in the 10th round no. 300 overall, Benoit stood up.
“Right before they announced the Reds’ pick, I was like, ‘Alright make sure everyone is recording,’ and they were caught by surprise,” Benoit said. “It was a really cool moment. I thought it would be nice for me to surprise them like that.”
People familiar with Benoit know that he’s loose, easy-going and charismatic, so it’s no wonder he pulled a trick on his family during the most pivotal moment of his baseball career.
Though his career itself to this point has been anything but easygoing and he’s experienced his fair share of ups and downs, Benoit’s finally reached a new pinnacle as he prepares to enter the professional sphere.
The former Orleans Firebird has suited up for three different schools over his collegiate years, moving from a highly touted SEC powerhouse to an American Athletic Conference headliner. He’s moved all over the country since he was a child, gone from position player to pitcher almost overnight and experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
But he wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world because he now gets the chance to chase his big league aspirations.
“It was definitely a rollercoaster of emotions because every call could be one that gets you drafted,” Benoit said. “It’s been quite a journey, and I have a lot of people to thank. My parents and all my coaches, my advisors that are always behind the scenes and don’t get enough credit, couldn’t have done it without them.”
Following his commitment to the University of Tennessee before his junior year of high school, Benoit hit .355 at the plate and set a Pensacola Catholic High School record with an impressive 0.55 ERA in 51 innings of work. It was then that he realized his future in baseball wasn’t just a dream, but one that had the potential to become reality.
However, it wasn’t long before he came face to face with adversity.
A few months before Benoit began his freshman year at Tennessee, the staff that recruited him was replaced by current Volunteer skipper Tony Vitello and a new crew of assistant coaches. While it wasn’t ideal for him, Benoit still played through his first season, racking up 21 innings out of the pen against mostly SEC competition.
“It was a lot of waiting in the dark,” Benoit said. “I had to move to Knoxville and I asked, ‘Do I really want to decommit and find somewhere else to play without knowing the coaches,’ so I stuck with it.”
Despite the personnel challenges, Benoit’s stint with Tennessee did help him zero in on pitching, a skill he didn’t refine until coming to Knoxville after being labeled as a two-way athlete.
“I went to Tennessee mostly to hit so I kinda had to transform everything I did,” Benoit said. “That whole year I worked on my mechanics. I had a bunch of people telling me that they thought my arm was better than my bat. I look on TV and I throw just as hard as some of these guys with breaking balls I try to emulate.”
His up-and-down freshman campaign eventually led back home to Florida, where he spent a year at Santa Fe College in Gainesville before landing in Tulane with the Green Wave. That same summer led him to the Cape, where he first broke out with the Firebirds.
He made the most of his two weeks in Orleans before heading to summer school, pitching 5.2 innings out of the bullpen without allowing a run. Along with bettering his craft, he got the chance to build a relationship with Field Manager Kelly Nicholson, Pitching Coach Mathew Troupe and the rest of the coaching staff.
The all-time Firebirds moment that sticks out for Benoit is when he pitched at Fenway Park, taking the same field that his beloved Red Sox had so many times before.
“I left for the summer after I pitched at Fenway, which was the coolest experience of my life,” Benoit said. “My dad and I were huge Red Sox fans, so pitching there was awesome.”
“At first I was kinda hesitant coming out to the Cape, I didn’t know the whole summer ball scene. One of the things coach Kelly said that stood out was that the Cape is basically like the Minor Leagues. It was a great experience, one of my favorite times playing baseball was up in the Cape.”