A Closer Look At Virginia's Five Senior Baseball Players
May 9, 2001
Fans are amused as Jack Nicholson’s voice fills the air of UVa’s baseball stadium announcing “Here’s Johnny,” but opposing pitchers hear the introduction of a threat to their ERA as power-hitter Jon Benick enters the batters box. A proven intimidator from either side of the plate, Benick leads the 2001 team in home runs with 17 this season, including four multiple-home run games and one grand slam.
“If you really strive to do what you want to do and you work hard, you will come to that goal,” Benick said, explaining the formula for success that is the power behind his fruitful bat.
His achievements this season have etched his name into the record book as he currently stands second place all-time at UVa for most home runs in a single season. Benick also captured career records in five different categories including second all-time at Virginia with 34 home runs, fourth all-time with 156 RBI, fifth all-time with 359 total bases, seventh all-time with 213 hits and seventh all-time with 677 at-bats.
Benick became a member of the UVa roster as a sophomore, transferring from Auburn University after his freshman year so that he could play in the Atlantic Coast Conference.And play he has, well enough to gather several ACC honors. Benick was named first-team All-ACC in 2000 and a second-team selection in 1999. He was also named to the ACC All-Tournament Team in 2000 after guiding UVa to the ACC Tournament semi-finals.
Benick will graduate from the University in May with a major in Archeology and a reputation as a college powerhouse, which he hopes will lift him to the next level.
“Hopefully, I will get to play baseball for the next couple years,” he said. “I’d like to try to play pro somewhere. If that doesn’t work out, I will probably go and try out for a couple of teams.”
Not without a sense a humor, Benick joked that if all else failed he would go somewhere to play poker, which is the other game in his life and the source of his best times off the field.
The ace of Virginia’s pitching staff, Brandon Creswell has become one of the most successful pitchers in UVa baseball history hurling his way into several categories of Virginia’s pitching record book.
“I am really honored I have been able to play four years here,” he said. “I am just glad I have had the opportunity to come out here and play over and over again and I’m glad the coaching staff has given me that opportunity.”
Creswell has earned first place at Virginia in games started all-time for a career with 47 and first in all-time innings pitched with 332.1. He also ranks second all-time in career wins with 20, third all-time in career strikeouts with 253, and fifth all-time in career appearances at UVa with 68. He has procured two all-time single season records for games started, tying for first place in 2000 with 16 games and tying for fourth in 1999 with 14. In addition, he is third all-time at Virginia in innings pitched in a season with 100, ninth in strikeouts in a season with 86 in 1999 and he is tied for sixth place with seven single season wins.
Creswell named Casey Kennedy, a former UVa teammate as a person he most admired. “Just watching him pitch, he was something else,” Creswell said. “He wasn’t overpowering or anything, he just knew how to pitch.”
Doubtlessly, knowing how to pitch is a skill Creswell himself has also cultivated in his four years of college baseball.He has won the honor of ACC Pitcher of the Week twice during the 2001 season, first on April 2 and again on April 16. He also earned recognition as ACC Co-Pitcher of the Week twice in his career, first on Feb.15, 1999 and again on April 30, 2001.
Creswell says his experiences in four years at Virginia have taught him more than how to be a record-breaking pitcher worthy of conference recognition. “I’ve learned not to get to frustrated with myself because baseball is a game of failure and a lot of times things don’t work out for you,” Creswell said. “You have to take the good with the bad, and you can’t ride a roller coaster, you have to stay at an even keel.”
Creswell is Foreign Affairs major and hopes to continue playing baseball with a team after graduation.
Will Parker’s transition from team trainer to team roster was Virginia baseball’s surprise story of the 2000 season. UVa baseball’s transformation of Parker’s college experience turned out to be the other side of the coin.
“I used to study all the time, and that is something I regret,” he said. “I didn’t enjoy my first couple years like I should have.”
Parker graduated with honors from UVa in 2000 with a B.S. in Sports Medicine. This high school salutatorian chose Virginia not for its athletics, but because he felt it was the best academic school in the state. His focus was absorbed in the diamond shape of his graduation cap and not the diamond shape of a baseball field.
However, as soon as Parker donned the Virginia uniform, he began earning honors on the field to add to his slate of academic successes. He was named ACC Pitcher of the Week on March 13, 2000 and was the only pitcher of the 2000 season to gather the honor for Virginia.
Parker will continue his education next year as he pursues his Master’s in Physical Therapy from Old Dominion University. Although he jokes that graduate school will prove harder since he has relaxed his study habits to include a social life, he is prepared to deal with any problems that arise.
“Baseball is such a frustrating sport, and this year I have really struggled, so it’s a good lesson in how to deal with problems,” he said.
Mark Rueffert has been both a pitchers luxury and a pitchers nightmare. A mainstay behind the plate for Virginia, he has served as a faithful blockade for any pitch thrown his way and has guarded against opponent runs with an accurate pick-off powered by a strong arm. Rueffert has also been a powerful and consistent hitter during his career at Virginia.
“I will never forget my first home run my freshman year against North Carolina,” Rueffert said, recalling the moment that began his solid contribution in the Virginia lineup.
Rueffert entered the Virginia career record book tying teammate Hunter Wyant for ninth place with 203 career hits. He also became the first UVa player since February 28, 1998 to hit a grand slam to add four runs to Virginia’s 15-4 victory against Penn State in the 2001 season.
Beginning his collegiate career as a back-up catcher and a designated hitter, Rueffert has focused on steady improvement to become the starting catcher for UVa’s program. He believes a key component to his improvement was the example set by his former teammates.
“I have always had respect for the older guys,” Rueffert said. “Even now, I still have respect for those guys who were older when I was a freshman and sophomore on the team because I learned a lot from them.”
Rueffert will graduate with a major in Anthropology. He plans to apply for graduate school at UVa’s Curry School of Education, where he will pursue a master’s in Education in preparation to teach high school students and possibly coach baseball.
Part of the groundwork for the next stage in his life was laid by his experiences playing baseball for Virginia. Rueffert said he has learned how to manage his time, deal with people and work as a team.
“I’ve gotten more mature and become more of a leader, because as you become a senior and people start to look up to you, you have to become a leader,” Rueffert said. “I’ve learned how to guide younger people, inexperienced people.”
In the 2001 season, Hunter Wyant accomplished one of baseball’s rare feats, as he hit for “The Cycle.” This performance alone describes why Wyant is one of Virginia’s most versatile players and consistent hitters, showing the rewards for hard work and dedication.
“My work ethic is a lot better than it used to be,” Wyant said. “I work a lot harder now, especially in athletics. Before I let my ability make up for everything and now I work harder.”
Hard work has paid off for Wyant, who is leading this season’s team in nine statistical categories. He has started all 50 games he has appeared in, he is leading UVa with a .376 batting average, has posted 213 at-bats, scored 46 runs, recorded 80 hits, tallied 15 doubles, pounded seven triples, posted 133 total bases and has 121 assists.
“I just try to do the best I can everyday and hopefully at the end of the year I will have done well,” Wyant said about his leading statistics.
In addition, Wyant holds the all-time single record for triples in a season with seven and is tied for sixth place in Virginia baseball history with nine triples in a career. He is also tied with teammate Mark Rueffert for ninth place all-time at Virginia with 203 career hits.
In his career at UVa, Wyant has been a true utility player, shuffling between third base, left field, pitcher, designated hitter and shortstop.
“I like short stop best,” Wyant said of his present position. “I think its one of the more important positions, and I like the challenge of some of the plays you get to make at shortstop. You are one of the leaders on the field and that’s fun.”
Wyant will graduate with a major in Economics, and hopes to be drafted into a Minor League program.