CLEVELAND, Ohio (BVM) — “Just focus on the glove. Focus on the glove,” 7-year-old Will Benson repeated to himself between crunches on Cheeto Puffs in the back of his family’s car. The youngster was on his way to represent his hometown Atlanta travel baseball team, Sand Town, against its rival. Sand Town ace and future Cleveland Guardians prospect Xavion Curry had pitched the day before, so it was up to Benson to toe the rubber.
It is unclear whether his manta sharpened his focus, or if the Cheeto Puffs were extra cheesy, but what is clear is that the young Benson was brilliant. He struck out nearly every hitter and capped his performance with three home runs, one of which collided with the light pole in center field — go figure.
Jump ahead roughly 17 years, and the same Cheeto-guzzling kid is now in a six-foot, five-inch frame, replacing his favorite snack of Cheetos for fastballs and making awe-inspiring plays in the major leagues for the Cleveland Guardians.
Since his days playing for Sand Town, Benson has known on a deep level that playing baseball for a living was his purpose, motivated by a pressing desire to win every game he participates in.
“I have always wanted to play this game as well and as long as I possibly can,” Benson said. Every time I step on the field, my priority is to win.”
Throughout his amateur career, Benson dominated, earning a first-round draft selection out of Westminster High School (14th overall) to then-Cleveland Indians. He took the opportunity to fulfill his dream, forgoing a scholarship at Duke to play baseball in conjunction with a chance to also play basketball for the Blue Devils.
What followed was an indirect road to the top of the baseball chain. Although there were ups and downs on his way to the show, his success through the vicissitudes of baseball was conditional on Benson’s ability to adapt and benefit from the support of his teammates.
Through the first three years of his career in rookie ball, short season-A, and Low-A, his power numbers were impressive (especially for a teenager), but his full-scale abilities would not come to light until he repeated a season in Low-A Lake County in 2019 after a tumultuous 2018.
“After a season that did not go as well for me , I came into the off-season locked in,” Benson said. “I showed up to spring training with a no-nonsense precise focus, and I went crazy.”
The outfielder would put on a clinic in his second stint in Low-A, blasting eighteen home runs in half of a season, earning a call up to High-A at the All-Star break. The second half of the year did not produce the same amount of success, but Benson was not discouraged, taking his failures in the second half of his season as a lesson he would use to propel him to the major leagues.
“You can be on top of the mountain at one point, and the next be slapped to the bottom of it,” Benson said. “But that is why I love the game, it reveals how strong of a man you are. It is easy to smile when you are performing well, but when things are not going your way, who are you then?”
Benson believed that he belonged at the peak of baseball, but it was not until growing close with a certain teammate that an ironclad intangible of mental strength was awakened in him that unlocked his true potential.
Moving into 2021, his intense training evolved to include disciplining his mind along with his body. The primary influence on this aspect of Benson’s abilities was his 2021 spring training roommate, Steven Kwan.
Journaling, meditating, and reflecting on games and life became routine, and helped to build perspective for the two outfielders. Both shared books of a variety of genres to read, along with becoming excellent chess players, sharpening their minds and growing together.
“He’s shown his consistent love for the game and it is evidence for why he is in the position he is in today,” Kwan said. “I’m grateful he’s shown me so much love, he is the same person no matter what is going on in his life. I can truly say he’s made me a better man.”
Both made their major league debuts this year, and the mental exercises they engage in together continue today in Cleveland’s clubhouse. People like this make up winning ball clubs, lending one of many explanations for the Guardians’ current first-place standing in the American League Central Division.
Now that Benson has arrived in the majors, giving back to Sand Town, his childhood travel team, has become his next goal. By using his platform as a major leaguer, Benson hopes to update the travel team’s facilities and provide affordable opportunities for kids in Atlanta who share the dream he recently accomplished.
“I really want to do this,” Benson said. “I want to make Sand Town’s facilities state of the art, and free for the community.”
Playing for Sand Town kickstarted his baseball career, but was also the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Guardians prospect Xavion Curry.
“[Our] friendship started on the baseball field when we were around 7-8 years old going to play for the sand town Red Sox, we spent a lot of time together as kids just enjoying the game of baseball,” Curry said. “Our relationship in the years after grew to a level of brotherhood.”
It is clear that for baseball fans everywhere, there are few better men than Benson to admire. As he continues his career, Benson’s gifts of athleticism and penchant for altruism will be made known, setting a high bar for all who watch to replicate.