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MLB legend Johnny Bench visits WKU for Hilltopper Baseball’s ‘First Pitch Banquet’

Adin Parks
Johnny Bench sits back to watch his friend and songwriter Lee Thomas Miller sing live at “A Night With Baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Bench”, WKU’s Baseball’s First Pitch Banquet in the Diddle Arena on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Cincinnati Reds legend and Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer Johnny Bench made his way to Bowling Green on Saturday, headlining WKU baseball’s First Pitch banquet. 

Bench visited the hill for an event that featured a private meet-and-greet with fans, speeches by Bench, WKU Athletic Director Todd Stewart, WKU Baseball Head Coach Marc Rardin and dinner.  

“Bowling Green has been one of the great supporters of the Cincinnati Reds,” Bench said, “ but more than that, it’s a great University…….. and it was just an opportunity for me to come and have some fun.”

The event held a silent auction that included Johnny Bench signed memorabilia, WKU Baseball gear, and other items. Each guest paid to attend the event and all proceeds of the event went to WKU Baseball. 

The event brought a large crowd to Diddle Arena that featured many Cincinnati Reds and Johnny Bench fans. 

Terry Cole, a lifelong Reds and Johnny Bench supporter, made the trip to Diddle Arena from Russellville, Kentucky with his family.

“My grandsons are with me, my son, my daughter and their spouses, they surprised me at Christmas with this and it kind of brought me to tears.” Cole said. “I’ve always wanted to see him off the ball field.”

Athletic Director Todd Stewart and WKU worked to bring in someone who changed the game of baseball to both raise money for WKU’s Baseball team and to talk to the team about having a strong 2024 season.

Stewart felt the best way of conveying how influential Bench was to the game of baseball was through a quote by former NBC announcer and MLB player Joe Garagiola. 

“He said if you took the best player in the history of baseball at every position across the field and then you took the second best player in the history of baseball in every single position, the biggest gap between the first place player and the second place to play in any positions would be in catcher between Johnny Bench and whoever’s in second.”

Bench spoke to the WKU squad about “being the best individual you can be”.

Rardin and Stewart also went into detail about the improvements WKU Baseball saw from the 2022 season to the 2023 season. The team went from winning 18 games in 2022 to 33 games in 2023.

The 2023 season marked Rardin’s first year on the hill. Expectations for the 2023 team were not very high as Stewart viewed Rardin’s first year as “year zero” and planned on viewing the 2024 season as his first season. However, Rardin led the Hilltoppers to a winning record, leading to high expectations for the 2024 Hilltopper squad.

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