Note: The following appears in the March issue of Orange: The Experience. For full access to all of the publication's content, join IPTAY today by calling 864-656-2115.
One of the greatest pitchers in Clemson history is Kris Benson. He was named ACC Athlete-of-the-Year for all sports in 1996, was named the national player-of-the-year and was the first selection of the 1996 draft. He is the only Clemson athlete in any sport to be a No. 1 draft pick.
In 1996, Benson recorded one of the best seasons in Clemson history, as the first-team All-American led the Tigers to the College World Series and posted a 14-2 record with a 204-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio, leading to a 2.02 ERA in 156.0 innings pitched.
Other awards for his college career include the Rotary Smith Award and ABCA Player-of-the-Year, and recognition as a unanimous first-team All-American. He was also the recipient of the Dick Howser Trophy for his “performance, character, leadership and courage.”
Benson was inducted into the Clemson Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2003, he was named to the ACC’s 50-Year Anniversary Team.
After being selected as the top pick of the draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Benson pitched for Team USA in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and won a bronze medal.
He signed for what was believed to be a then-record signing bonus, then he spent two years in the minor leagues with the Lynchburg Hillcats and Carolina Mudcats in 1997, and the Nashville Sounds in 1998. Benson made his first major league start on April 9, 1999.
During his MLB career, he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks from 1999 to 2010. He totaled 70 wins in the majors and had a 4.42 ERA.
He started 200 contests and amassed 806 strikeouts. He followed a strong rookie season in 1999 with an even stronger season in 2000, but those would prove to be the two best seasons of his career, as he underwent “Tommy John” surgery after the 2000 season.
Benson posted three more good seasons from 2004 to 2006 with the Pirates, Mets and Orioles, but then underwent rotator cuff surgery. With Pittsburgh, he started the last game at Three Rivers Stadium and the first game ever at Great American Ballpark. He also set the club’s record for most strikeouts by a righthander. He then retired on Jan. 10, 2011.
During his professional career, Benson was a very giving person, being known to have supported many charitable causes. He was honored with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Roberto Clemente Award, Thurman Munson Award Joan Payson Award and New Jersey Sports Writers Humanitarian-of-the-Year Award.
While in Baltimore, Benson's Battalion was recognized by the Baltimore Police Department. There are many more charitable causes that have been impacted by Benson over the years, including a certificate of appreciation from the U.S. Army Forces Central Command in Saudi Arabia.
Benson and two other former Clemson athletes, Donnell Woolford and Bobby Johnson, will be inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame. It is the state’s highest athletic honor, and the induction ceremony will take place on May 15 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. For information and tickets, call the SCAHOF office at 803-779-0905.
Benson is the founder and CEO at Superior Business Management. The company was opened Jan. 7, 2014 in Atlanta, Ga.