What had been a routine pregame briefing shifted Friday afternoon when Red Sox manager Alex Cora was asked about Andrew Benintendi making his return to Fenway Park.
“I love that kid,” Cora said. “That kid, at 7:05, it was fun to see him walking in front of me and saying, ‘Let’s kick butt’ — in another way.
“Prepared, great athlete, in tune with the game, in tune with his teammates. Quiet. Some people took that in a different way … I really enjoyed managing him. He was ready to compete.”
Cora went on for another two minutes, extolling Benintendi as a person and a player.
A few hours later, the fans at Fenway Park had their say when Benintendi came to the plate leading off the second inning.
After a tribute video loaded with clips of the 2018 season, Benintendi received what was more warm applause from the crowd than any sort of ovation.
There was no cause to tip his cap. Benintendi then swung at the first pitch from Nate Eovaldi and popped to left field.
The anticlimactic moment over, Benintendi jogged back to the dugout. He surely didn’t mind the lack of fuss.
“It’s just another baseball game, but glad to be back here,” he said before a game the Red Sox won, 3-2, in 10 innings. Tommy Pham, the new Red Sox left fielder, delivered a walkoff single.
The lack of emotion wasn’t a surprise. Benintendi’s personality when the clubhouse doors are closed to outsiders has always been different than what he shows the public.
Benintendi is that rare 28-year-old professional athlete with no interest in social media or how he’s perceived. His brand is to be bland.
“Bruegger’s Bagels,” Benintendi said when asked if he visited any favorite spots when the Yankees had a day off in town on Thursday.
Not Abe & Louie’s, Giacomo’s, or Yvonne’s. He went with a bagel chain with locations in 22 states. That’s Benny.
But he’s also the same guy who FaceTimed Cora in 2020 when he was rehired as manager after being suspended and was chugging a beer at the time.
“He was excited that I was coming back,” Cora said. “It was a special phone call. He was one of the first ones who called me. I love that kid. I love him.”
The feeling is mutual. Benintendi excelled under Cora in 2018, hitting second in a loaded lineup. He batted .290 with an .830 OPS, 63 extra-base hits and 21 stolen bases.
“Playing for AC was great. Obviously, the connections I have with all those guys over there go beyond just baseball,” Benintendi said. “To come back, be able to see a lot of familiar faces that I’ve seen in the past and playing against former teammates, I’m looking forward to it.”
In 2018, Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts looked like a modern version of Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, and Dwight Evans. They were homegrown outfielders with skill and flair, the best combo in the game.
They went from riding in a championship parade to playing on different teams within 27 months.
Betts was traded to the Dodgers in 2020 and Benintendi was shipped to the Royals in 2021 as part of a three-team, seven-player deal.
Bradley left as a free agent following the 2020 season. He was reacquired via trade before this season then released earlier this month. He has since signed with Toronto.
The Killer B’s won the World Series, then played together only one more season.
“Maybe a little bit,” Benintendi said when asked if that seemed strange. “But I don’t think about it too much.”
The Yankees traded for Benintendi to give them a better option in left field than overmatched Joey Gallo. They feel his lefthanded swing will play well at Yankee Stadium.
It hasn’t happened so far — Benintendi was 1 for 4 Friday and is 8 for 44 with nine walks in his first 14 games — but the Yankees have a player who has performed well under pressure in the past. He handled Boston and he can handle New York.
As he talked to reporters before the game, Benintendi was clean-shaven and sporting a short haircut, a perfect Yankee. The championship aside, the Sox are now just a step he took along the way.
Benintendi talked for a few more minutes then retreated to the clubhouse. 2018 seemed like a long time ago.