Reds honor winners of 2022 Johnny Bench Awards

July 27th, 2022

The Reds and the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum hosted a luncheon at Great American Ball Park on Tuesday honoring the winners of the 2022 Johnny Bench Awards, presented by MSA Sport. 

The Johnny Bench Awards recognize the top high school baseball and softball catchers in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, as well as the nation’s top Division I college baseball and softball catchers.

Eight of the 10 award recipients and their families attended Tuesday’s program in the Bally Sports Club, emceed by longtime local sports anchor Dennis Janson. They were joined by Bench, former Big Red Machine teammates George Foster and Doug Flynn, Reds catcher Michael Papierski, Reds third-base and catching coach J.R. House, Reds chief operating officer Phil Castellini and general manager Nick Krall, among others.

Representatives from MSA Sport and other event sponsors were also on hand, including Modern Office Methods, Rawlings, Katz Teller, the Castellini Foundation, Dinsmore, Robert and Jane Crotty, David Haire and Joe and Judy Williams.

After guests mingled, posed for photos with Bench’s Rawlings Gold Glove Award that commemorates his 10 Gold Glove Awards, and enjoyed lunch, Bench addressed the honorees.

“We have the best catchers that you can find in each state,” he said. “I am so proud of our winners today; I know the dedication that you have. I know what it takes to get out there every day. You have dedicated your life to catching. You love catching. You know what it’s all about, and you appreciate every opportunity to get back there and play. So we’re here today to honor you because you deserve it. I’m so proud, and I know your parents are proud. Congratulations to all of our winners.”

Castellini, who played a key role in extending the Bench Awards beyond Ohio and further into Reds Country when the awards expanded to include high school players in 2019, spoke about the importance of the Bench Awards and what they represent.

“What’s special about this event is honoring the game and honoring the development of the game,” Castellini said. “That’s really become the focus of what we’re doing here with our Cincinnati Reds, and Johnny understands that better than anyone -- keeping the youth playing the game, keeping the focus on developing that talent to hopefully get to the Major League level, and also keeping them engaged in the game as fans. There’s no greater guy to put his name behind that type of initiative than Johnny.”

Bench personally called each of the winners to share the news about a month prior to Tuesday’s luncheon. Despite Bench carving out his Hall of Fame career long before the student-athletes were born, they are all aware of his accomplishments and what it means to be recognized by baseball royalty.

West Virginia’s baseball winner, Ethyn Barnitz, still remembers getting that phone call and hearing Bench’s voice on the other end.

“I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “I’m sure he could hear the trembling in my voice. I just froze and said, ‘Yes sir.’”

One of the other high school recipients this year included Hamilton Badin’s Jimmy Nugent. He became the first winner from the Greater Cincinnati area. Nugent was first-team all-state in 2022, helped lead Badin to the Division II state semifinals each of the past two seasons and has been working closely with former Reds slugger George Foster over the past couple of years to improve his game.

The program concluded with all winners taking the stage to answer a few questions and officially accept their hardware. Papierski, who started Tuesday night’s game, enjoyed watching the aspiring professional ballplayers get their moment in the sun.

“It’s an awesome award, and it’s cool to see how excited they are about baseball and also getting to continue their education,” Papierski said. “Education is huge. There are not many people that make it, so you have to take your education seriously.”

The group then toured the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, presented by Dinsmore, where they had the chance to see the Bench Awards display in person. That evening, they capped off the big day with a return to the ballpark to participate in a pregame ceremony before watching the Reds take on the Marlins.

All 10 student-athletes join elite company with their new accolade. Previous collegiate winners include 2012 National League MVP Buster Posey, first overall selection in the 2019 MLB Draft Adley Rutschman, 2019 World Series champion Kurt Suzuki and 2021 Team USA Olympian Dejah Mulipola. The collegiate baseball winner in 2021, Matheu Nelson, was the Reds’ 35th overall selection in last year’s Draft. Nelson currently plays for the Reds’ High-A Dayton Dragons. This year’s collegiate baseball winner, Kevin Parada, was taken 11th overall by the Mets in this month’s MLB Draft.