If not for his mom, Mookie might not be playing baseball

May 14th, 2023

LOS ANGELES -- Over the last 10 seasons, has turned himself into one of the best players in the Majors. As he has proven again this season while playing the occasional shortstop, there’s nothing on the field that Betts hasn’t been able to handle.

But before signing a lucrative long-term deal with the Dodgers, before winning an American League Most Valuable Player Award and taking home six Gold Glove Awards in right field, Betts was just a “tiny” kid growing up in Nashville, Tenn., wanting to play every sport possible -- especially baseball.

Because of his size, however, every Little League team in his area turned down Betts. Some said it was because they were holding roster spots for other kids. Others just outright told his mother, Diana Benedict, that Betts was too small to play baseball.

After hearing all the different excuses, Betts’ mom talked to the league directors and asked if she could make her own team. Once that was approved, Benedict, without hesitation, rounded up several other kids without a team and created her own squad. Betts, on the other hand, didn’t know what his mom had done until he was already a member of the Red Sox.

“I didn’t know any of this transpired until I got older,” Betts said. “It wasn’t surprising at all. I know my mom, and she’s not going to take, 'no,' for an answer. Especially when -- anything that has to do with me, my mom definitely wasn’t going to take, 'no,' for an answer. She’s going to do whatever it takes. So when she told me she did that, it wasn’t surprising.”

While Benedict deserved immediate Little League Coach of the Year honors for her efforts, the team that started Betts at shortstop wasn’t very good, according to the Dodgers’ superstar. Betts doesn’t remember much from those days, he was just 5 years old, after all. But he does remember a few things: That his team finished in last place and the one piece of advice his mom gave him as she looked for a competitive advantage.

“The one thing I really remember was not being able to throw it to first base,” Betts said with a laugh. “So she told me to not throw it to first in the air. I remember trying to throw a one-hopper to first base, because for some reason, the kid playing first could catch a one-hopper, but he couldn’t catch it in the air.”

Mookie Betts (right) as a child, with his mother, Diana Benedict. (Via @mookiebetts on Instagram)

Benedict also remembers something similar from those playing days. And while Betts laughs and says he “must’ve been one of the worst” players on the team because of his size, Benedict actually recalls one game in which Betts played the role of hero, helping the team secure a rare win.

“There was one game where we couldn’t get an out,” Benedict told MLB.com a few years ago. “All the kids had to bat. I said to Mookie, ‘We need to get an out.’ And his favorite words were ‘OK, mama.’ The ball was hit to shortstop and he caught it and ran to first -- and so he could be the guy, he slid into first and tagged the base. It was funny.”

Over the years, Benedict’s efforts never cease to amaze Betts. His love for baseball comes from his mom, and as he came to learn later, his first real coach. She even chose his name, Markus Lynn Betts, so that his initials would be MLB. While his athletic abilities ultimately helped him get to this point in his career, he constantly admits that he wouldn’t be in this position without the efforts, sacrifice and advice from his mother.

Betts credits his mom for the competitive drive that motivates him in baseball, bowling, pool and just about any activity he partakes in. He also thanks her for instilling a “never give up” attitude that grew when he wanted to quit playing football as a teenager and Benedict told him to stick with it.

But of all the things she did while Betts was growing up, starting her own Little League team just to help the now-superstar play baseball ranks near the top of the list.

“Being a parent now, you kind of understand the sacrifices and things you have to do,” Betts said.

Decades later, Betts is one of the highest-paid players in MLB history. Benedict is enjoying a life where she’s the grandmother to Betts’ daughter and newborn son. And their relationship is stronger than ever. She’ll always be Betts’ mom, but also his first coach.

“Hearing all those things,” Betts said, “just kind of reassures that I have a dope mom.”