Bennett, a career National League veteran and Waukegan Illinois native, served as the Washington Nationals back-up catcher last season, his sixth team in the past five seasons. This year marks his fifth consecutive season with a different team.
Last season Bennett started 57 games behind the plate, posting a 3.87 catcher's ERA (225 ER/523.1 IC). Known for his ability to handle a pitching staff and playing solid defense, Gary is also very adept at throwing out base runners. Going into this season, Gary has thrown out 53 of 258 attempted base-stealers (21%) in his career.
I caught up with Gary this week to talk about his role as the Cardinals back-up catcher.
RM: Many Cardinal fans were very happy to see you signed this winter to be Yadier's back up. You have a reputation of being a very effective catcher, what is the key to your success?
GB: I don't know, if there is anything else than just working at it, trying to get a little better every day. Day I'm not playing I'll go down to the bullpen and catch guys talk with the pitchers on the bench and talk with pitchers in the bullpen. I go through a game while a game is happening and I will talk with different pitchers about batters.
That along with picking people brains. Like Yadier when I got over here in spring training and I'd sit and talk with him a lot about the starting pitchers and the members of the bullpen. Obviously, he has caught this people a heck of lot more than I have.
Different teams I have been with I have done the same thing. I was lucky also early in my career, playing with Philadelphia, to play with Benito Santiago, he was a pretty good catcher in his own right, picking his brain and just trying to learn as much as I can and trying to take something out of every game and get a little better.
RM: I get a sense that the Cardinals have a great deal of confidence in you as there back-up, perhaps more than they have had in the past. Cardinals Manager, Tony La Russa, told me personally, that he has a great deal confidence in you and that before the season is over, you will be catching everybody.
GB: That is nice to here, I appreciate that, but still, I still have to go out and perform and do my job.
RM: Gary when there are the pitchers and catcher meetings before a game, are you involved in those meetings, even though Yadier may be in the line up for that day?
GB: Yes, I sit in on those meetings.
RM: So you are prepared to play in that particular game, even though you may not be in the starting lineup?
GB: Yes definitely. Yady and I sit and watch video the first game of every series. We get together to watch the opposing team hitters, the last 15 at bats or so, and look at what they are doing lately and talk about what their tendencies have been in the past.
I think that is something else I bring to the table, is that I have always played in the National League, you know, I have been fortunate enough to play the game for a while now. My first call up was in 1995, so I got some decent amount of experience with many of these hitters in the National League.
RM: The bottom line is you are prepared to come into any game at anytime
GB: Absolutely, I am prepared to come into any game. One thing I try to do also, is I come to the ballpark everyday to prepare for the game as if I am playing the game that day. That way is Yady needs a day off; I don't come in the game shocked or unprepared. That goes along with sitting in on all the meetings and going over the videos of all the hitters, that way if something happens, there is double switch or if Yady is tired and needs a day off, I'm not going in there cold, I have an idea as to what to do with the pitchers.
RM: I look at the Cardinals and their history of success and I think you have to attribute that success, to preparation that goes into for each game. What is your take on game prep?
GB: I do not think you can stress preparation enough. When you break it down there are a few teams that don't stack up with the better teams, man for man, but still you have to go out there and play the game and be prepared.
The majority of the teams the level of the ability and talent is so close that it's the little mental edge that mental preparation that more times than not will put teams over the edge.
RM: Is it that day-to-day preparation that defines you and makes you a champion?
GB: Consistently, day to day, being prepared every single day to compete at the highest level every day, that is the key to success.
RM: I was speaking to a group this week and there were some complaints about the Cardinals not winning a World Series since 1982. My response to them was that a World Championship is great, but it is only a benchmark of where you were at, at a specific point and time. It does not define who you are, because when the season begins again, it is back to day one of preparation.
GB: Absolutely, absolutely obviously, I don't have any experience in basketball, hockey or any other fields of business, but the thing in this game is, it is every single day, it doesn't matter what you did yesterday, you have to come back and do it again.
I am sure it is in other fields, but every day like we talked about and be prepared and it does not matter what you did yesterday. If yesterday you had a great game and help your team win great that is over with you have to come back here and prepare yourself to do it again.
RM: Thanks Gary
GB: Thank you.
When I asked Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa about having Bennett on his bench and what he brings to the team, La Russa said, "I have confidence in him, he's a tough competitor. I have no problems with Bennett catching anyone."
To date it would appear that Bennett is assigned to catch, Cardinal start Jeff Suppan, when asked about catching assignments, La Russa replied, "You will see as the season wears on, you will see Bennett catch everyone."
The signing of Bennett to me, appears to one of the better moves made by the Cardinals this winter, to improve the bench.
In limited playing time (4 games) Gary is hitting .364 (4 for 11) with two RBIs and he hasn't made an error behind the plate.
For sure, you can count on Gary being prepared to enter any game at any time, with any pitcher, that's his job and he's ready.