Despite having an exceptional athletic resume, Fabricio Benitez, a former pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, has found ways of using his baseball knowledge that go beyond his own MLB glory. Benitez—who goes by “Benny”—is the founder of NY Sluggers, a non-profit baseball academy that serves to support local kids throughout New York City both on and off the field.
“I used to help out with other organizations… [And] as a professional player, I noticed that there was a difference between how I used to practice as a kid and how kids are practicing now,” Benitez explains. “I wasn’t happy with the fact that teams were only having one practice a week. I know that’s not enough time to really improve.”
Now in its third official year of operation, NY Sluggers has spawned nine baseball teams for children between the ages of 9-15, as well as programs for younger children and college prospects.
“For the past 2.5 years I’ve gotten a lot of interest in the program,” Benitez says. “I found that, because of my professional career, and the way I work with kids, people have begun to follow my lead.”
Although one of the primary goals of NY Sluggers is to help players develop their skills on the field, Benitez also emphasizes the importance of the academic and social skills that the program fosters. Growing up in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, inspired Benitez to put a tremendous effort into getting players from all backgrounds and neighborhoods on the field together.
“I want kids from downtown Manhattan to meet and get along with players from the Bronx,” Benitez says. “It gives them the chance to learn about culture and make new friends. The kids themselves really like the diversity as well. They want something different and they all get along.”
As a non-profit organization, NY Sluggers also makes a concrete effort to help families that are facing hard times financially. The donations that NY Sluggers receives go towards various causes, like uniforms, equipment, and even travel expenses.
Benitez also stresses the importance of academics beginning with even his youngest players: “We have meetings every couple of months and I have the kids bring their report cards,” he explains. “If the kids want to eventually play baseball in college, they need to keep their grades up. Unfortunately, if their scores aren’t good they have to take the season off.”
One factor that influences Benitez as a coach is his role as a father and stepfather. He has a 3-year old son, Benny, as well as two stepchildren, Alex and Alexi. “Becoming a father has definitely helped me more patient when I’m working with the kids on the field,” Benitez says. “My son has a lot of energy at his age, so I’m always on-the-go.”
Although Benitez has 10 years of pitching for the Red Sox, one year for the Orioles, and time spent on both the Japanese and Mexican national teams under his belt, he’s happy to be currently harnessing his passion to make a difference right here in his own community. “I do miss the challenge of playing professionally,” Benitez admits. “But would I want to go back? No, I enjoy working with the kids too much.”
To learn more about NY Sluggers, visit nysluggers.net.