MONTPELIER — Dakota Benner has never worried about playing baseball for anything other than fun.
Before each game he received a good luck text from his mother, but one in particular from early in his career stood out.
“Make sure you’re playing baseball for that little kid inside of us all,” Benner recalled. “As we get older, we focus on the awards and stuff, and we forget about what the game was about. I tried making sure the younger kids were having fun and enjoying the game for what baseball is.”
He certainly had a lot of fun this year, as he helped lead Montpelier to the district finals and an 18-5 record. He threw 47 2/3 innings on the mound and posted a 2.05 ERA. He struck out 62, walked just 16 and allowed only 14 earned runs. At the plate, He batted .324 with a .448 on-base percentage. He also had 16 RBIs and 22 hits as he was named the Bryan Times Baseball Player of The Year.
“It’s a great honor, honestly,” Benner said. “It’s something I never really thought I’d be able to get, or even accomplish. I’m overjoyed with it.”
He was the ace on the mound for the Locomotives, as he led the team in innings pitched by 17 2/3. His .944 WHIP on the team was second only to Blake Altaffer, who finished with a .767.
Benner said he never thought about the awards, and instead was only focused about team success.
“It was never my main priority to work for the first team or work for BBC Player of The Year,” Benner said. “I’ve always just kind of worked to be the best I can be and to make sure I’m bettering not only myself, but the team.”
His performance did better the team, as he went 7-1 on the mound in 11 games pitched this season. But whenever Montpelier lost, he heard about it from coach Toby Hutchison.
Benner works for Hutch’s Towing in Holiday City — and works for his coach.
“When we’d lose a game, I’d hear about it for three hours the next day,” Benner said with a laugh. “Anytime he saw me, he’d bring up the game and what we can do better. As I was working, he’d come out and start talking about the game again. I always heard about the game, or the game plan, or who was pitching first.”
Still, Hutchison viewed Benner as a reliable leader and presence on the field, someone he could count on day in and day out.
As for the rest of the team, there wasn’t a drop-off in effort anywhere on the roster. That’s what, Benner said, made the team so special.
“Everyone always went out there and gave their 100 percent the best they could, day in and day out,” he said. “For practices, for games, we just had some good fun. We stayed focused and we just enjoyed the whole season, enjoyed the ride we were on.”
A member of the Napoleon River Bandits this summer, Benner will finish his baseball career during the next few months.
But, the memories he’ll have with him aren’t individual moments, or even the moments with team success.
Benner wasn’t focused on the results, he was just having fun.
“Probably the district finals game, that will be the game that always sticks with me,” Benner said. “We lost, we didn’t play the best, but we were still doing it as a team.”