Story by Rutland Herald.
Castleton State College football coach Rich Alercio calls Chad Bentz “our version of Fridge from 1985.”
The reference is to William “Refrigerator” Perry, the gigantic lineman who was called on to crash into the end zone on short yardage situations for the Chicago Bears.
Saturday against Utica, the 30-year-old, 285-pound Bentz lived up to the billing. Twice on third and short he slammed into the line for the first down and another time he bulled over for a touchdown.
His stature, age and role are hardly the most unique facets to Bentz. He is a former major league pitcher with one hand whose 18 strikeouts include Ken Griffey Jr., Ichiro Suzuki and Jim Tome. He actually whiffed Tome four times.
Now, he is a free agent who has not given up on returning to the majors, but whose athletic career has unexpectedly turned to football.
Not that football wasn’t in the picture while growing up in Alaska. He was recruited by many of the PAC-10 schools and loved football and baseball equally.
He began getting recruiting letters and noticed the envelopes were most often adorned with football helmets.
But he felt his future was in baseball because he was left-handed.
He went to Long Beach State and was drafted by the Yankees. His wound up with the Montreal Expos and one of his minor league stops was in Burlington. He did make it to the majors: stints with the Montreal Expos in 2004 and the Florida Marlins in 2005.
Out of baseball, he stayed in touch with the game by coaching the Rutland Town seventh- and eighth-grade team, where one of his players was Jake Alercio.
He stopped in Jake’s father’s office one day at Castleton State as he often does on his first day of classes. He is majoring in physical education at the school.
“I wanted to be a physical education teacher since I was in the second grade,” Bentz said.
“When I woke up that day playing football was the furthest thing from my mind. I just stopped into his office to shoot the bull like I normally do.”
He said to Alercio that he wished he could play college football. It was just a throw-away line, but Alercio said, “Why don’t you?”
“I must have responded about 400 times, ‘Are you serious?’” said Bentz.
He was and Bentz became serious enough to go home and ask his wife Christie for her permission to try it out.
“She was all for it,” Bentz said.
“I still can’t believe I’m playing.”
Bentz pitched the same way that former major league one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott did in the 1980s and early 1990s. He fields and throws with his left hand. Bentz met Abbott when he was a freshman in college and Abbott became his mentor.
Now, he carries the football for the Spartans in his left hand.
“His left hand is so strong from pitching that he might have the best ball security on the team,” Alercio said.
Alercio actually saw Bentz on TV years ago, but it wasn’t on a baseball field. NFL Films was shooting a show about high school football in Alaska and Bentz was shown in the segment picking up rocks on the field so his team could practice.
He is going to bring that film to be shown on the team bus on the road trip to Washington, D.C., when the Spartans play Gallaudet in their next game.
Alercio said Bentz adds a very important element to Castleton’s second-year football program.
“One of our problems has been that we are 18-year-olds playing against 21-year-olds,” Alercio said. “He is a 30-year-old playing against 21-year-olds. He is not an every-down back yet, but when we put him in he is virtually unstoppable. We have a personnel package just for him”.
Bentz has also fit right in.
“He has a great personality, The kids love him,” Alercio said.
“It’s been great. Sometimes I feels a little older,” Bentz said.
There’s been the matter of getting a baseball body readjusted to football. Bentz said he wakes up with aches and pains.
The first time in practice I lined up aaginst Dustin (Young) and we hit each other as hard as we could. I thought I had broken my shoulder,” Bentz said. “I learned not to go against him.”
Castleton’s no-huddle offense is also something new since he played football.
“There are a lot of hand signals with the no huddle. That scared me at first,” Bentz said.
It’s doubtful that someone who overcame being born with a deformed hand, and growing up in the desolation of Alaska to make the major leagues is going to be scared by much.
College football is another chapter to a unique athletic career for Chad Bentz. And he has already become a fan favorite at Spartan Stadium.
Former MLB Pitcher, Castleton's Bentz blooming at Vermont
Story by Rutland Herald.