Stepping up to the plate: Denny Bentley returns to pitch in Challenger League game

After spending the summer in Florida pitching in the Minnesota Twins rookie league, Bentley returned to Williamstown

Denny Bentley pitches to Kaylee Fairweather at the Challenger League game on Sept. 22. (ANTHONY J. MAZZIOTTI III/The Sun)

Back in June, Denny Bentley’s life changed for the better — he was selected in the 33rd round of the MLB draft by the Minnesota Twins. Three months later, he returned to the town he calls home to give back to baseball players in his community.

The Challenger League, a baseball league for children with disabilities, is in the midst of its fall ball season. With a game scheduled for Sept. 22, Bentley saw this as a perfect opportunity to spend time with kids who want nothing more than to play ball.

“It’s the coolest thing ever,” Coach Heather Brown said of Bentley coming back to pitch to the kids. “When are they ever going to have that opportunity again? To have a pro ball player come to them, it’s really an amazing thing.”

Left: Denny Bentley pitches to Sarah Brown at the Challenger League game on Sept. 22. Right: Denny Bentley pitches to Robby Cox at the Challenger League game on Sept. 22 (ANTHONY J. MAZZIOTTI III/The Sun)

Brown originally tried to keep Bentley’s homecoming game a secret, but said the Monroe Township Little League shared the news on its Facebook page.

“The parents probably appreciate it more than the kids,” Brown added. “The littler ones thought it was just a cool kid from town coming to play. Which I think is kind of neat too because he’s a kid from town who happens to play on a minor league team.”

Bentley was honored to be a part of the game — he wanted to help create memories for the kids just like he did on the same diamond a few years ago.

Kyle Parks helps his nephew Brayden Gillen hit at the Challenger League game on Sept. 22. (ANTHONY J. MAZZIOTTI III/The Sun)

“It means a lot,” he said. “It’s great helping out people. I love baseball. I’ll play with anyone, volunteer — help kids. It was a great time.”

Bentley, a pitcher, finished the summer league with an earned run average of 2.60 with 21 strikeouts over 17.1 innings. When he took the mound on Sept. 22 for the Challenger League, he was only worried about having fun.

“They lit me up on the mound pretty good,” he said with a smile. “Robby [Cox] was a monster. He was cracking balls everywhere.”

When it was Cox’ turn to take the field, he assumed first base and had a catch with Bentley. The throw from first to the pitcher’s mound was too easy so he backed it up to about 65 feet. From there he set up like a pitcher, shook off Bentley’s sign, and sent a fastball right into Bentley’s waiting glove.

The life of a baseball player can be busy and hectic. Nobody knows that quite like Bentley’s parents, Denny Sr. and Celeste.

“We’re a close-knit family,” Celeste said. “We don’t get to spend a lot of time with him.”

Left: Kyle Parks leads his nephew Brayden Gillen across home plate while Sarah Brown follows behind on Robby Cox’s bases clearing hit on Sept. 22. Right: Robby Cox ropes one of Denny Bentley’s pitches to left field at the Challenger League game on Sept. 22. (ANTHONY J. MAZZIOTTI III/The Sun)

Even though they haven’t seen much of him for a few months, Denny’s parents are very proud that he is giving back in this way.

“I’m proud of my son for wanting to give back today, ” Celeste said. “Putting a smile on their face, it means a lot to me and I think it means a lot to the children as well.”

Denny Sr. said Williamstown has that small-town feel that makes the actions on the 22nd even more valuable. By returning home and giving back to the Challenger League Bentley is sending a message to the kids that anything is possible — he is a living, breathing testimony of what hard work can do. In addition, it shows he’s proud of where he grew up. The Williamstown Little League laid the foundation for Bentley to become a professional baseball player. Giving back in this way makes a lot of sense.

“It’s great to be involved,” Bentley said. “I love the kids.”