He was just 12 when he arrived at the Port of Immigration in Boston. The year was 1906, or maybe 1908; memories blur. He had traveled alone on the passenger boat from Sicily, with a few precious dollars in his pocket, bound for Little Italy in New York, where his father and sister were waiting.
His name was Francesco Benintendi. He became a barber, and raised his family in Brooklyn. His last name, translated from his native tongue, means “good intentions.’’ It is merely an accident of history that Francesco’s port of entry into the United States is the same place his great-grandson Andrew has embarked on his journey into the major leagues.
“The road to victory is paved with good intentions,’’ said Bob Benintendi, Francesco’s son and grandfather to the rookie left-fielder for the Red Sox.
So maybe the original proverb had a different destination in mind, but Bob Benintendi makes no apology for leaving hell out of the equation. He’s having too much fun watching his 22-year-old grandson, a year away from playing baseball at the University of Arkansas and in his first full season of pro ball, doing his part to help the Red Sox advance to the World Series.
Bob [“Everybody calls me Ben”] and his wife, Sally, were in Cleveland’s Progressive Field Thursday night when Benintendi homered in his first at-bat, becoming the youngest player in American League history to go deep in his first postseason plate appearance.
“I’m not surprised by what he does,’’ Bob Benintendi said. “He gets better and better every day.’’
“I don’t think we really appreciated—at least I didn’t—how good he is,’’ Sally Benintendi said.
Bob Benintendi grew up a Yankee fan, but his matching T-shirts with wife Sally show that he’s switched allegiance to his grandson Andrew’s team. (Photo by Gordon Edes)
Maybe it sneaks up on you, when you’ve been watching from the very beginning, like Bob and Sally have. The first time they went to see him play, he was around 5 or 6, and the game was soccer.
“He sat down in his little soccer suit on the sideline and cried,’’ Sally said. “He didn’t want to go in.’’
Bob’s son Chris, Andrew’s father, had been a good athlete growing up. So had Andrew’s mom, Jill. She played basketball, and on one memorable occasion, bloodied the nose of an opponent–Kelly Benintendi, her future sister-in-law.
“The only game I ever walked onto the court for an injury,’’ Bob said.
“They still talk about it a lot,’’ Sally said.
Bob Benintendi, raised in Brooklyn, wound up moving to Georgetown, Ohio, a rural hamlet in Brown County, east of Cincinnati, and became a country doctor. He was an obstetrician-gynecologist, and practiced for 46 years out of the same hospital. No, he said, he didn’t deliver every baby in the county.
“That’s an exaggeration,’’ he said. “I had a few helpers.’’
About eight miles away from Georgetown is the town of Higginsport, on the banks of the Ohio River. That’s where Donald Brookbank, Jill Benintendi’s father, lived with his wife Doris and worked as a crane operator on the river. Everybody calls him Brookie, and while the disability that put him in a wheelchair led them to move to Ripley, he can still watch the boats make their way up and down the river. That’s when he’s not watching Andrew on TV, playing for the Sox.
Donald and Doris Brookbank, parents of Andrew Benintendi’s mother, Jill, were in Cleveland to see their grandson become the youngest American League player to homer in his first postseason at-bat. (Photo by Gordon Edes)
Brookie and Doris were sitting just a few rows behind Bob and Sally when Andrew homered, and were in the same spot for the second game.
“Just amazing,’’ Doris said. “This is one of the highlights of our lives.’’
While Andrew is special to these folks, it’s just as apparent that these folks are special to Andrew. He is the oldest of Bob and Sally’s 18 grandchildren, and one of Brookie and Doris’s 12 grandchildren.
“He’s very close to all of his grandparents,’’ Sally said.
It’s that kind of family. Andrew talks to his father after nearly every game. Bob and Sally drove to Oxford, Miss., and Virginia and Fayetteville to watch Andrew’s college game, though Bob, an energetic 84-year-old, had to cut back on some of his driving after developing blood clots in his legs. Andrew is the family’s pride; the family is his refuge.
“He is a man of few words,’’ Sally said.
“He doesn’t talk much,’’ Bob said, “particularly about himself.’’
Which is what made the Benintendi family gathering this past Christmas such a hoot. Andrew played Santa Claus to the whole clan. Wore the suit, stuffed a few pillows inside, emitted a few ho-ho’s, the whole deal.
“It was a side of Andrew I’ve never seen,’’ Sally said.
“We even asked him to dance,’’ Bob said. “Very funny.’’
Of course, the kids loved seeing Andrew, unplugged.
“He’s the oldest,’’ Sally says, “so he says he has to be a good example to the other kids.’’
Maybe, for Andrew, on the field or in the family room, it’s just a matter of living up to the name.