CRONKITE SPORTS

Standout freshman Benson, pitching coach Kelly reunite at ASU

Feb 18, 2020, 4:12 PM
Cooper Benson said pitching coach Jason Kelly understands his personality. “He knows when to take...
Cooper Benson said pitching coach Jason Kelly understands his personality. “He knows when to take me seriously and when I'm joking.” (Photo by Alex Weiner/Cronkite News)
(Photo by Alex Weiner/Cronkite News)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Cooper Benson is perhaps Arizona State baseball’s most anticipated freshman.

Coach Tracy Smith said he expects Benson to have an immediate impact, while Baseball America and D1 Baseball both project he will win Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.

That’s a lot of pressure, which is something his pitching coach could be instrumental in alleviating.

So, as Opening Day nears, Benson was asked what he thinks of his new pitching coach Jason Kelly.

“Oh, I’ve known J.K. (Kelly) since I was about 10 years old,” Benson said.

Let’s rewind.

Around a decade ago, Kelly was throwing to a bunch of kids at California Polytechnic State University’s baseball camp.

Benson, from San Luis Obispo, was one of those campers.

Kelly pitched and later became a coach at Cal Poly, where Larry Lee was the head coach.

Benson’s best friend was Brooks Lee, Larry’s son. Therefore, Benson was around Cal Poly a lot, and he and Kelly still remember what it was like working with each other at camps.

“I was in charge of one field for game situations and it always seemed like (Benson) was on my field,” Kelly said about the camp. “We had a blast, he’d hit a homer, then I’d strike him out.”

After those summer camps, Kelly evolved from coaching at his alma mater to helming the pitching staff of a College World Series team with Washington in 2018.

Meanwhile, Benson was growing into one of the most promising young pitching recruits in the country.

Eventually, life came full-circle for Benson and Kelly. Their paths led them both to ASU for the 2020 season.

“When I got the call that he would be the pitching coach here, it was the best of both worlds,” Benson said.

Added Kelly: “I’ve known that family for a long time. I’ve grown up in my coaching career and the Bensons have always been around.”

Despite connecting a long time ago, the two still have a comfort level with each other. They kept in touch, Kelly said, while he was recruiting Benson to UW, and the freshman pointed out that it was nice getting to know Kelly again after years had passed.

That familiarity has also led to Kelly being especially hard on Benson when he first got to ASU, which confused the other pitchers on the staff.

“The others would ask ‘Why is JK ripping on you?’” Benson said. “Well I’ve known him forever and I know his personality. If he’s yelling then you definitely know he cares. I was ready for that right away.”

Kelly said: “He knows my personality and sarcasm. He knows when to take me seriously and when I’m joking.”

Having a familiar face guiding Benson can be incredibly important for the freshman arm. In a new state with new teammates and coaches, he has very high expectations.

With that pressure on Benson, Kelly believes having an old friend available for instruction can help a lot.

“That’s a big deal, feeling comfortable at the ballpark,” Kelly said. “A lot of times things are going very fast for you at that time and you’re just trying to get your feet on the ground. So I think having some familiarity with me has hopefully helped him.”

Cronkite Sports

In the near future, the Arizona sports fan’s experience could include the ability to place bets i...
Cronkite Sports

Sports gambling in Arizona moves closer to reality

In the near future, the Arizona sports fan’s experience could include the ability to place bets inside sports venues while the action unfolds.
8 months ago
Higley quarterback Kai Millner committed to Cal this spring, despite visiting the campus just once ...
Cronkite Sports

Arizona high school football recruits still committing amid coronavirus

Despite visiting campuses few times if at all in some cases, class of 2021 high school football prospects from Arizona are committing at record rates.
1 year ago
(Photo via Cronkite News courtesy Mesa Community College Facebook)...
Arizona Sports

COVID-19 prompts junior colleges to push for cancellation of sports

The 2020-21 school year for Maricopa County community colleges may not include sports, schools await a decision by the district chancellor.
1 year ago
New Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez believes outreach in the Arizona Hispanic market is ...
Cronkite Sports

New Coyotes CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez looks to reach Latino community

New Coyotes CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez is the first Latino president and CEO in NHL history and hopes to reach new fans in the Valley.
1 year ago
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who joined the Phoenix Mercury in the offseason, is ready to get the WNBA...
Cronkite Sports

Full pay, 22-game season in Florida on tap for Phoenix Mercury

Another league has agreed on a return-to-play plan in the month of July. This time it’s the WNBA, whose members include the Phoenix Mercury.
1 year ago
Phoenix Rising FC assistant coaches Peter Ramage (left) and Blair Gavin are awaiting details about ...
Cronkite Sports

Phoenix Rising players await news on resumption of USL Championship

Phoenix Rising FC and the USL Championship are set to resume play July 11 while players wait on more details for the return.
1 year ago
Standout freshman Benson, pitching coach Kelly reunite at ASU