For the first time since the event's inception in 2000, the Johnny Bench Awards presented by Krylon took place in Cincinnati, the permanent new home of the prestigious honor.
After 19 years honoring a single college baseball player, the Johnny Bench Awards expanded in their 20th year to include a top college softball winner as well as regional high school baseball and softball honorees from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia. The top college baseball honor went to No. 1 Draft pick Adley Rutschman, whom the O's selected from Oregon State, while the top softball honor went to Arizona's Dejah Mulipola.
The award was previously housed by the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission, but it has been relocated to Great American Ball Park at the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, presented by Dinsmore.
“It’s already a prestigious award, and the only way we could make it better was to bring it to Cincinnati, and at the same time, honor the best softball women catchers in college,” said Bench. “And now working with the Reds, we can also recognize the top high school baseball and softball catchers from across Reds Country.”
The eight high school winners and their families were in attendance on June 18 for a full day of activities in the Queen City, highlighted by the first Johnny Bench Awards VIP Reception and Awards Luncheon at Great American Ball Park. The student athletes posed for photos with the Hall of Fame catcher and mingled with guests during the reception before congregating in the FOX Sports Club for the luncheon and awards presentation.
It was a star-studded affair, as Bench was joined by former teammates Joe Morgan and George Foster as well as Reds Hall of Famer Tom Browning. Other Reds on hand included current catchers Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali. 2015 Johnny Bench Award winner Garrett Stubbs, who recently made his Major League debut with the Astros, also took part.
Several members of the Reds' executive office participated in the event, including Reds chief executive officer Bob Castellini, president and chief operating officer Phil Castellini, president of baseball operations Dick Williams and general manager Nick Krall. WCPO’s Dennis Janson and longtime Reds broadcaster George Grande emceed the event.
“This award represents the greatest catchers in America,” Grande told the audience before the home-plate inspired trophies were presented. “Along with the Golden Spikes Award, there’s no award that’s more respected in the game of baseball than the Johnny Bench Award. Not just because of the athletic ability of all of you, but because of what you bring to the table. You won this award not just because of what you do on the field, you won because you are special people. You won it because we know that you’re going to represent baseball, your families and your teams in a way that Johnny Bench represented the Cincinnati Reds.”
After the ceremony, the group visited the P&G MLB Reds Youth Academy for the Johnny Bench Catching Clinic presented by Rawlings. Bench and the award recipients provided fundamental baseball and softball catching instruction to local kids. Later that afternoon, the winners were treated to watching the Reds take batting practice from the field and were recognized during a pregame ceremony. They wrapped up the day by taking in a Reds victory over the first-place Astros.