Andy Benish's favorite player is Andy Benes.
It's a little tough to comprehend at first, isn't it?
Just imagine, however, if Benish's grandfather hadn't changed his family's
name over 60 years ago.
"My family's last name used to be Benes," says the Las Vegas-based fan
of the retired hurler. "I grew up in Yuma, Arizona where the Padres used to hold their spring training. Ive been a big Padres
fan my whole life. I'm sure you could imagine my excitement when they drafted a player named Andy Benes in 1988. I was only
12, but he immediately became my favorite player."
Benish's first instinct was to write to the up-and-coming pitcher.
And when the tall righthander responded with a handwritten letter, a special bond was forged.
"He sent me a letter and an autographed picture of him with the 1988
gold medal Olympic team," he says. "I was hooked from that moment on and I've been collecting ever since."
Through eBay, fellow hobbyists and card shops, the Benes enthusiast has
accumulated more than 500 pieces of the 14-year major league veteran's memorabilia.
"I started with cards and photos and tried to get one of each," he says.
"I have about 500 different cards and about 50 other items that have something to do with him."
His card collection boasts six one-of-a-kind Benes cards, but there are
still more that he would like to get his hands on.
"I want to get one of every card ever made, especially one of one cards,"
Over the years, the Padres fanatic has also amassed more than 20 autographed
items, including cards, photos and programs. Recently, he has concentrated on amassing game-used items.
"I have about seven Benes jerseys, and seven other game-used items, including
cleats, pants, hats, and bats," he says.
His two favorite jerseys are a 1988 U.S. Olympic Team jersey and a 1993
Padres all-star jersey (the righty's only appearance in the mid-season showcase).
"These jerseys are special because they represent two of his biggest
accomplishments," says Benish.
But it's the first letter that the longtime collector received from his
baseball hero that ranks as his most cherished possession.
"The game-used jerseys are special, but the letter was the first thing
I ever received and I feel grateful that he took the time to write me," he says.
The ardent fan has only met Benes once, but it was an experience that
he'll never forget. The meeting occurred in a parking garage after a game in Phoenix.
"I approached him and told him I was Andy Benish and I had written letters
to him in the past," he recounts. "He said that he remembered me and the letters, and turned to a friend to tell him
that we had the same name...I asked for a picture and he said, 'No problem'...I was super nervous, but he was as nice as I
would have imagined."
The devoted collector still searches for Benes items every day, but he
says the number of cards being produced has dwindled since the former all-star's retirement at the end of last season. As
a result, Benish has shifted his focus to collecting game-used pieces.
"I would like to obtain a jersey from every team he ever played for.
I have Wichita, San Diego, St. Louis, and Arizona, but I still need Las Vegas, Seattle, and any unique throwback or special
jerseys he wore," he says.
The former Padre's No. 1 fan would also like to meet the object of his
collection again at some point.
"I would like to show him my collection and see if he would want any
of the items," he says.