Benson back in the majors

ARLINGTON, Tex. - It's been a while since former Clemson Tiger and No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 MLB draft, Kris Benson, pitched in the majors.

In fact, it's been almost three years to be exact as his last big-league start before this April was with Baltimore back in 2006.

Since then, Benson has been on a roller coaster ride of sorts, undergoing surgery for a torn rotator cuff and pitching in Triple-A ball.

But now, three years removed from his last start in the majors, the former college baseball player of the year is back in the big show, starting for the Texas Rangers.

And at age 34, he looks poised for a big comeback.

The Rangers signed him to a minor league contract this spring and all Kris did was make the roster and secure a spot in the starting rotation.

In his first two starts this season, he's 1-1, pitching 11 total innings.

Not bad for a guy who spent much of last year taking the ball for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs of the International League.

Here's more from Benson in another in-depth interview with a former a Clemson standout here on CUTigers.com:

CUTigers: How tough has it been to be away from the majors for so long?
Benson: I was able to get enough in last year in Triple A to build up some innings, my pitch count and stuff. From a major league standpoint, I really haven't missed that much of it. I still was able to compete last year to kind of get my feet wet again after taking a season off in '07. It's definitely going to be fun. It's going to be a challenge but I think my experience in the previous years will definitely help.

CUTigers: How good did your arm feel this spring?
Benson: Everything felt great. My arm is back to normal again. Two years after the fact, I can't be complaining at all with the way I feel. I just had a little tight muscle in my back, but other than that, everything body wise has been fine.

CUTigers: Will it be emotional for you once you make your first start for Texas?
Benson: Oh yeah, it was emotional when I took my first pitch in a Single-A rehab game. It was a long rehab process and a tough one to go through. Any step that you get to is going to have some significance to it. So it's going to be significant when I take the mound for opening day at the Tigers. There will definitely be a lot of adrenalin.

CUTigers: What has kept you going through all of this- friends, family, competitive nature?
Benson: It's been a little bit of everything. You just have to prove to yourself that you can get back to where you were prior to the surgery and just proving to yourself that you can still compete. There is a little bit of proving everybody else wrong because they kind of write you off after being out of the league for a couple years and having a major surgery like that, but more than anything, it's more personal. I want to prove to myself that I can do it.


"There is a little bit of proving everybody else wrong because they kind of write you off after being out of the league for a couple years and having a major surgery like that, but more than anything, it's more personal. I want to prove to myself that I can do it." (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

CUTigers: Did you know anyone on the Rangers before you came here?
Benson: I only knew one, I played high school ball with Marlon Byrd. It's always nice to know at least one person coming into a new team. Everybody was really good about coming up and introducing themselves. They have been really friendly when I talk to them and stuff. I feel like I mixed in pretty easily. The Rangers contacted my agent and I knew that the team here had a great offense, some veteran pitchers and a great nucleus. It's a good mix of everybody.

CUTigers: How much of an impact did Coach Leggett have on you during your time at Clemson?
Benson: His first year was my first year there. I know Coach Leggett really well and we still talk. He had a lot of influence on my work ethic, preparation and intensity. That's the way he coaches and that's the way he reflects off on his players.

CUTigers: When you see players who have also been coached by him in the pros, how are they easy to distinguish?
Benson: The intensity that you play with (defines his players). They kind of leave it all out on the line, on the field there every day that they play if you're a hitter or a pitcher. You know that every day, they came to the park ready to go. You kind of emulate that.

CUTigers: Do you get back to Clemson much?
Benson: I went back there at this time last year. When I had the surgery, I was still in a sling and I went back and watched the Georgia Tech/Clemson game with [Daniel] Moskos and [Josh] Wieters. I go back and still have a lot of good friends there like Bob Mahony. You run into people that you haven't seen for years, but it's definitely always a home away from home for me.

CUTigers: How much pride does it give you to see so many fellow ex-Tigers in the professional ranks?
Benson: They started exactly where I did, so it's just a matter of them proving themselves at this level, taking advantage of the opportunities that they get and sticking around as long as they can.

CUTigers: In your final year at Clemson, you were featured on the cover of Baseball America. What kind of thoughts does seeing that cover conjure up?
Benson: I still have that thing framed in my rec room, so I look at it every once in a while when I'm training. There are a lot of great memories there at Clemson. I was able to do a lot of things that a lot of guys don't get to do in their four years of college. I was only there for three and I was able to do everything. That was a great time-a great school, great coach and great team. There's really no negative thing that I reflect on when I speak to people about Clemson of if their desire is to go to Clemson. It's never been anything but positive.


"You remember those big games because you know how important it is in a rivalry. There are a lot of teams out there that might be better, but at the same time the intensity is pumped up a little bit, things happen that normally don't happen in any everyday game." - Kris Benson on the Clemson/South Carolina rivalry. (AP)

CUTigers: From your experiences, is the Clemson/South Carolina rivalry every bit as intense on the diamond as it is on the gridiron?
Benson: Oh yeah, there's no doubt. I remember starting down in South Carolina. We won 4-2 and I remember that. You remember those big games because you know how important it is in a rivalry. There are a lot of teams out there that might be better, but at the same time the intensity is pumped up a little bit, things happen that normally don't happen in any everyday game.

CUTigers: What are your thoughts on making the Texas rotation?
Benson: They have me slated right now as the No. 3, but they have me starting in Detroit for their home opener. I started a couple of openers, home and away. They wanted me to start that game this season.

CUTigers: You're not the only No. 1 overall pick on the Rangers. Have you and Josh Hamilton (the #1 pick in 1999) talked about that?
Benson: No, we haven't really talked about it. For me, that was a long time ago. That was 13 years ago, so it's something that was great at the time. I still take a lot of pride in being a No. 1 overall pick back in '96, but now you're at a different level and none of that really matters. It's something that you reflect on and take pride in, but there is a lot more to accomplish now.

CUTigers: Have you been a No. 3 starter before?
Benson: Over in New York, I was (a No. 3 starter) behind Pedro (Martinez) and (Tom) Glavine. Al Leiter was there also. So I've pitched in the middle of the rotation before and at the top of the rotation before. I was the No. 2 starter in Baltimore. That doesn't really bother me. It's not really where you are because once the season starts, you're just one of the guys. You're competing against the same lineup as the No. 1 guy and the No. 5 guy. Either way, it's a challenge.

CUTigers: You mentioned some pretty great pitchers there. Who have your learned the most from in your career?
Benson: I take a little bit of stuff from everybody. I don't really go to one person in particular and kind of pick their brain. I'm looking forward to picking (Rangers President) Nolan Ryan's brain, but with Pedro, I learned a few things. With Leiter, I learned a few things and with Glavine, I learned a few things. That's the way you really go about things, when you run into guys like that, you just try to get one or two things that might help you and try to use it in your game because they're not the same pitcher as you are. So you gather things that might help you in your game.

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