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Benintendi welcomed home in return to Ohio

MLB.com @alysonfooter

CINCINNATI -- Given everything that has happened to Andrew Benintendi in the past few years, it's easy to forget that not long ago -- four years, to be exact -- he was a high school prep, honing his baseball skills on the backfields in Madeira, Ohio, dreaming of someday reaching the big leagues.

The journey took less time than maybe he, or anyone, expected. Three years after he graduated from Madeira High School, Benintendi made his Major League debut for the Red Sox, in August 2016.

CINCINNATI -- Given everything that has happened to Andrew Benintendi in the past few years, it's easy to forget that not long ago -- four years, to be exact -- he was a high school prep, honing his baseball skills on the backfields in Madeira, Ohio, dreaming of someday reaching the big leagues.

The journey took less time than maybe he, or anyone, expected. Three years after he graduated from Madeira High School, Benintendi made his Major League debut for the Red Sox, in August 2016.

Video: BOS@SEA: Benintendi singles to left for first MLB hit

Today, he's one of the most talked-about young superstars in the game.

On Thursday, Benintendi was reminded of this, when he was given a hero's welcome in the gymnasium at Madeira Middle School. This was a good old-fashioned pep rally, complete with a high school band, cheering locals, speeches by school officials and coaches and dozens of happy students who were thrilled to get a close-up glimpse of a true hometown sports hero.

"It's fun to be able to come back and see everybody," Benintendi said. "It's a small town and everybody showed up. It's awesome to be able to share this off-day with everybody in this town. It's pretty special."

Benintendi's Red Sox don't play the Cincinnati Reds very often, which is why this visit "home" during baseball season is even that much more special. The off-day in between road series with Baltimore and Cincinnati allowed Benintendi to meet up with his family, most of whom were in attendance at the pep rally on Thursday. That included Benintendi's parents, siblings and grandparents from both sides of the family.

Benintendi walked into the school's gymnasium to loud cheers and an enthusiastic medley of music from the Madeira High School band. Along with playing the school's fight song, they played Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline," an eighth-inning tradition at Fenway Park.

Tweet from @alysonfooter: Madeira band playing ���Sweet Caroline��� for Red Sox hometown hero Andrew Benintendi. So awesome. pic.twitter.com/x7PF3sVbHv

A group of elementary school kids also performed "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

Among the coaches and school officials to speak was Benintendi's high school baseball coach, Jack Kuzniczci, who spoke glowingly of his former protégé, not just for making it to the big leagues, but for being a positive example-setter along the way.

"He went four years and didn't miss one practice," Kuzniczci said. "He never was late to a practice. He was there every day, working hard."

The work paid off. As a senior at Madeira, Benintendi hit .564 with 12 home runs, 57 RBIs and 38 stolen bases. He set the Ohio high school career record with 199 career runs scored and ranked second in hits (213), fifth in RBIs (166), eighth with a .542 career batting average and 12th with 112 stolen bases.

During a brief two-year college career at the University of Arkansas, Benintendi won the Dick Howser Trophy as the top Division I baseball player in the country and the Golden Spikes Award as the nation's top amateur player.

As his career has progressed, Benintendi's hometown fans have followed every move. Several will follow him on Friday right to Great American Ball Park, where close to 1,000 Madeira residents are planning to attend the Red Sox-Reds matchup.

Thursday's pep rally was a good warmup to the weekend. The event ended on the baseball field behind the school, appropriately, where the kids ran the bases and ended the journey with a home-plate high-five from the man of the hour.

"I remember being a kid and watching guys like [Ken] Griffey [Jr.]," Benintendi said. "I remember seeing Johnny Bench in person when I was a really young kid. I definitely understand where they are in their shoes. It's fun to come back and see the faces and catch up with a lot of people."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Boston Red Sox, Andrew Benintendi