Back to the Future with Joe Benson

What was TT like in the early days?

When I joined Top Tier in the summer of 2005, we were just a group of grindy Chicagoland area baseball players who Todd Fine brought together to form an 18U team. From the beginning, the coaches at Top Tier created a culture that revolved around hard work and developing personal relationships. We all came to the ballpark ready to work and ready to win. Throughout the summer, we toured the Midwest playing tournaments and other travel teams eventually making it down to the World Wood Bat in Marietta, Georgia. As hard as we worked as a team, the coaching staff worked even harder. They were committed to providing us, as players, with a platform to play in front of as many college coaches and professional scouts as possible. Todd made it evident from the beginning that the journey was about the players.

Talk about the players’ mindset and what being a ballplayer from Chicago was like.

I view Chicagoland area baseball players as grindy. We are gamers. Playing out of Illinois, I always had a chip on my shoulder. I took pride in not being from a warm-weather state that was expected to breed the best prep baseball talent. These kids from up here in Chicago put in endless hours of work during the cold months and it has shown with the success Top Tier has had on the national level.

Looking back, what was it about TT that helped you succeed?

As I said before, Todd Fine and Top Tier created a culture that consisted of hard work and respect for one another. The coaching staff provided us with countless hours of hands-on instruction and practices throughout the summer. But more importantly, Top Tier taught us how to dedicate ourselves to the game and to one another as a team. There was no ego when we took the field and we won as a team. I carried those lessons with me throughout my professional career to not just be the best player I could be, but an even better teammate.

You and a couple of your teammates ended up all the way in the big leagues- How competitive did it get?

Competition was never lacking when it came to Top Tier. As teammates, we were always pushing each other to get better. From friendly chirping to holding each other accountable, we let it be known that if you weren’t working to get better, you came to the wrong place.

Now, coming back to TT as a coach, talk about what has changed? Does it still maintain the same core values? Are you happy to see how it has grown?

Coming back to Top Tier, it has been amazing to see the amount of growth that has happened in the last 13 to 14 years. Besides adding numerous teams, Top Tier moved into an incredible facility at the Max that enables the players to train year-round. They also started a youth program which provides future generations of Top Tier kids with camps, clinics, and teams to aid in player development. The most impressive aspect of the Top Tier growth is the continued dedication of the coaches and instructors. The culture still remains one of hard work and personal growth.

What is it like watching these kids following in your footsteps? Watching them leave their mark now on the TT organization?

I am thrilled to return to Top Tier and see the outreach of the organization. The kids take pride in wearing the TT on their uniforms and being involved in the program, and that has been the most rewarding part.

Why do you want to come back and coach?

Plain and simple, baseball is my passion. For as long as I can remember, the game has been a huge part of my life. Baseball has shaped me into the person I am today and has taught me how to handle life’s challenges. I want to give back to the kids who have the same dreams and aspirations as I did. Top Tier provides me with that opportunity.

You helped create the TT name, you laid the foundation. Where does this organization go next? How do you help it get there?

The possibilities are endless for Top Tier. The organization has already become a national name with a prestigious reputation. As a coach, I plan to continue providing a positive learning atmosphere for the kids and reflecting the core values of the program. My ultimate goal is to help the players reach their potential and advance as far as possible in their playing careers.

Talk a little bit about what it was like going through the draft process

Before my senior year of high school, I was oblivious to the entirety of the MLB draft. As the spring season started, that all began to change. Scouts were soon at almost all of my high school games and the draft process was underway. My parents and I sat down for a discussion and we decided that the best option was to let my performance on the field do all the talking. We chose to be completely honest with teams and remain firm with my signability. My best advice for kids who go through a similar experience would be to maintain a level head and do their best to control their emotions. Baseball can be a difficult game and it is important to remember why you love the game and to keep a smile on your face. You can’t control the decisions of others.

What was it like breaking into minor league ball and then rising through the ranks?

Minor league baseball is a unique experience and can be quite the grind. I encountered many different coaches and was able to learn from people who have spent their lives studying the game. I experienced many ups and downs, so it was imperative to take the entire process one step at a time.

Talk about the day you got the call up to the show

I got called up to join the Minnesota Twins after the final game of my 2011 minor league season, a game that I was ejected from. Leading off the ninth inning, I struck out and had a few choice words for the umpire. I was immediately ejected and sent packing. After our team’s rally fell short, our manager came through the door with a huge smile on his face. This never happened after a loss, especially having a chance to make the playoffs with a win. As my teammates and I discussed our season and started packing our things, our manager reappeared from his office and addressed the team. He told us that we had played well and it’s never a bad season if you are playing meaningful games in September. He ended his little speech with “Joe, get a haircut, you’re going to the show.” My teammates started going wild and congratulated me. It was a surreal moment and it made it even more special to share with my teammates who I went to battle with so many times.

Who was your first big league hit off of? Favorite Stadium? Best FB you faced?

My first big league hit was off of Max Scherzer at Comerica Park in Detroit. My favorite stadium that I played in was Target Field in Minneapolis. There was nothing better than playing in your home stadium, especially with the amazing fan base of the Twins. The best fastball that I faced in the big leagues was probably Doug Fister or Justin Masterson. It was crazy to see how much movement that they could generate on their sinkers, especially Doug Fister who threw from a high arm angle.

What lessons did you learn in pro ball that can help prep players most?

The most important lessons I learned through pro ball were to hold yourself accountable, be in control your emotions, and take pride in your hustle. There is not much that you can control in baseball, but you can hold yourself accountable for your actions, you can control your emotions during moments of adversity, and you can always hustle when playing the game. As they say, it takes no skill to hustle and play hard- it’s a mindset.

Any final thoughts?

I am absolutely honored to be a part of the tradition of excellence here at Top Tier. I hope to leave a positive impact on the players I get to work with and help each kid achieve his or her dreams. 

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