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Spotlight Athlete

TJ Bennett, San Francisco Giants


By: Sam Silver

Spotlight Athlete Archive

“All I want is for my life to point to Jesus; I’ll take whatever journey that I have to take. I don’t care what it looks like as long as it points to Jesus.”

That is the main goal for TJ Bennett, a minor league baseball player for the San Francisco Giants organization. Some may say he has taken the road less travelled to get where he is today. The road has most certainly been different from most.

Cn7Tp1sUAAA210z.jpg-largeTo set the stage and provide some background, there are two things that have been constant for Bennett, God and baseball. He grew up in a Christian home and was raised in the church so he established a faith in Jesus at a very early age. And his dad, Jim, is a professional baseball coach so as far back as he can remember, Bennett knew he was going to play baseball. How he would get there was altogether unknown and unexpected.

After playing little league and club ball as a young kid, high school baseball was the first real opportunity to show his talents. Out of high school, Bennett was one of the best hitters in the state of Arizona and had high hopes of getting drafted, but that didn’t happen.

College baseball was the obvious next step, so on to Division One Oral Roberts University he went where he was a Freshman All-American. After his freshman year, Bennett transferred to Mesa Community College where he had more success and made All-Conference. And yet, another year undrafted passed by. He spent the last two years of college at Division One University of Utah (a PAC-12 baseball program) and thought for sure he would get drafted out of this program. Junior year came and went without being drafter. Senior year came and went leaving Bennett undrafted yet again for the fourth time, and he didn’t even get an offer to sign as a free agent (which basically means that he would sign a minor league contract for free.).

Looking back, Bennett recalls, “All along I was making my own plan. Every time I would get a taste of success, I wanted to build myself up. I went through a huge growing process re-learning what it meant to truly give God my whole heart. I learned firsthand that He will stop at nothing to have our full attention. So the day that I told God he can take away baseball and I would be fine, and actually meant it, was a huge turning point for me.”

vavel-usa-9338123588The first summer after college, Bennett, determined that God has called him to the ministry field of baseball, called as many people as he knew that might have connections for a place to play. He heard about a possible opportunity with an Independent professional baseball team called the Gateway Grizzlies, so he and his dad got in the car and drove over 1,400 miles to a little town outside of St. Louis, Missouri. Bennett walked into the clubhouse and introduced himself to the Manager who offered him a contract on the spot. The following summer in May of 2015, Bennett arrived to Spring Training for his second season with the Gateway Grizzlies and within two weeks got released from the team. With nowhere to play, Bennett started calling all the people he knew to find a new team. About a month later, he signed a contract with another Independent team where he played in one game and got released the next day.

“I asked God why he was doing this and I got to the point where I was going to quit because every door was getting shut. The people closest to me in my life, especially my mom, did not feel peace about my baseball career being over.”

Bennett’s mom, Susi, told him, “Sure you could quit, get a job, and have a nice life, but where does it say that pursuing God’s calling for your life is supposed to be easy?”

Bennett goes on to say, “No one likes the unknown, but God was telling me that He will have something better for me if I just trust Him. From there my mentality shifted yet again. I told myself I am going to be obedient and play baseball.”

Bennett’s baseball journey continued to take unexpected and unpredictable turns. At the end of June 2015, he signed with another Independent team, the Schaumberg Boomers, a Frontier league team out of Illinois. He had a solid season with the Boomers and saw God working and moving. During the off-season, Bennett went to Salt Lake City to volunteer at a church he plugged into while going to college. He intended to spend his off-season in Utah, but once again God had different plans. In late November, a door opened to go to Australia and play baseball. The door, however, was only partially opened as there wasn’t an actual spot on the team, just the possibility of a spot. God called and Bennett responded by getting on a plane and flying to the other side of the world and within the first week, the door opened and he found his way into the lineup for the Brisbane Bandits. Bennett had tremendous success in the Australian Baseball League and got a lot of playing time, got the chance to play in an All-star Game, and helped his team win the ABL Championship. All because he changed his approach into one of obedience to God.

“After I was done playing in Australia, the Giants randomly signed me – although I know it is no accident. This door opened up only because of God, and not for any other reason…which is super humbling. I just remind myself daily that all God wants is my heart.”

This journey as a professional athlete is not easy and everyone has their struggles.

“Most people (celebrities, pro athletes, etc.) want attention on themselves and it is a temptation. Ultimately, I just want the attention on Him. The reality is that every time I’ve gotten released and been passed up, He has always been with me through all of the valleys. So, why would I take the credit when I’m on top?”

Bennett is very fortunate to have great people in his life that help keep him accountable.

“I don’t know where I would be without them walking through all of this with me. Take my mom, for instance. She is so in tune with the Holy Spirit. She had shared a verse with me a few years ago that reminds me of my calling and it is Isaiah 41:20 – I am doing this so that all who see it will understand that it is Yahweh who has done this. My mom is constantly encouraging me and I distinctly remember her saying to me at one point, ‘Your journey is going to look so crazy that people can only point to God.’”

That could not have been a truer statement because Bennett’s journey really does not make a whole lot of sense if looked at with an earthly perspective. All along the way people were telling him to just give it up and move on.

1529LBennett has also come to terms with his purpose and the impact he can have as a baseball player

“I see how much people desperately need God, there is so much missing. We all need God, that’s the truth. What I hope to bring to the table in the world of professional baseball is a lifestyle that looks different day in and day out. I believe God has given me the ability to connect with people that others might struggle to connect with…baseball players, athletes. I believe that just loving on people is so important because even if they don’t realize it, it is God’s love. I just show them love; our job is not to convict, that’s God’s job. And I remember that if others aren’t criticizing or persecuting you, then you probably aren’t living right. ”

Bennett’s family plays a vital role in his life

“I am nothing without my family.”

TJ’s grandfather passed in 2014 and is a former baseball player as well. Bennett was very close to him,

“Every time I’m on the field I think of him. He is one of the most important people to me and inspires me every day. He would always encourage me and a lot of who I am comes from him.”

A phrase that has always stuck with Bennett came from his great grandmother when he was only nine years old. She asked him if he would do her a favor and always “live for Jesus”. Those words have stuck with him ever since.

Bennett is also very close with his sister, Brittany and her husband and kids Keller and Albany, whom Bennett loves being an uncle to. His parents, Jim and Susi Bennett, play huge roles in Bennett’s life as well.

“My dad is my best friend, my agent, and the biggest force in my life in every area; in baseball and even more so spiritually and mentally.”

One of the many passages that hits home for Bennett is Isaiah chapter 43.

“God is saying ‘I have chosen you’ and I find so much identity in that. I have to forget the former mistakes because God will do something new. When the storm rages and the fire gets too big, God will always be with us.”

His journey has been unexpected and unpredictable for sure, but Bennett is the first one to say how amazing it has been to watch God work so clearly as he chooses obedience. Now with the San Francisco Giants organization, Bennett is looking with expectancy to what God has for him next.