Born: August 20, 1967

All these years later, he still laughs about it: The ugly start to his St. Louis Cardinals days, the 1-7 record and a stinker of an earned run average. And, with the way Andy Benes tells it, it’s as if he wanted to punch a wall, if not his catcher.

That is, until that catcher, Tom Pagnozzi (MSHOF 2010), not only lighted a fire in him on the mound one day but also offered sage advice later in the dugout.

“He said, ‘You need to learn how to trust someone other than yourself,’” Benes recalled. “He said, ‘We’re a team. If there is one person in the stadium who wants you to do well, it’s me.’ That meant a lot.”

Benes certainly rocked and fired from there, reeling off an incredible finish to the 1996 season and helping kick-start a Golden Era of St. Louis Cardinals baseball. Which is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Benes with the Class of 2020.

Overall, the right-hander pitched 14 seasons in the big leagues after being the first overall selection (San Diego Padres) of the 1988 draft out of the University of Evansville. When he retired, he had recorded 2,000 strikeouts, which ranked 83rd in baseball history entering the 2020 season.

In five seasons in St. Louis (1996-1997, 2000-2002), helped the Cardinals reach the playoffs in 1996, 2000, 2001 and 2002. In 1996, he was an 18-game winner with a staff-best 230 innings as he fired the Redbirds to their first playoff berth since 1987.

He also was a 12-game winner in 2000, when St. Louis won the National League Central and reached the NL Championship Series. His 106 innings in 2002 played a role in St. Louis reaching the NLCS again.

This for a staff ace who, as a teen, watched his beloved Cardinals from the Busch Stadium cheap seats.

“As I look back, I mostly remember the relationships,” Benes said. “Every time you go out there, you’re playing with the best in the world. So I am thankful and grateful the good Lord blessed me the way he did. I had all of the support of teammates, and we were a tight-knit group from all walks of life. So, I got to do that in my life and be around greatness every day. What a privilege.”

The 1996 Cardinals began a run of 13 postseason berths over the next 20 seasons. A complete-game five-hitter on May 25 unleashed a lion, as Benes was 17-3 with a 2.95 ERA the rest of the season.

Along the way, he took many under his wing, including younger brother Alan, then a rookie.

However, he doesn’t remember too many specifics that year, other than right fielder Brian Jordan’s (MSHOF 2019) diving catch leading to Benes’ first Cardinals win and, of course, that grilling from Pagnozzi.

“I was trying way too hard because I had been a huge fan,” Benes said. “There was a lot on me to be a leader.”

Benes was as a three-sport athlete at Evansville Central High School and a three-sport athlete his first year at the University of Evansville. But scouts didn’t seriously take notice until 1987. Pitching for the summer semi-pro Clarinda A’s of Iowa, Benes hit 90 mph on the radar gun, and then was at 100 the next spring.

In 1988, Benes was the College Pitcher of the Year after leading the country in wins, ERA and strikeouts for Jim Brownlee-coached Evansville. In an NCAA Tournament opener, Benes dominated tradition-rich Arizona State, and then pitched for Team USA in the Seoul Olympics.

His road then led to the Padres (1989-1995) – he was a 1993 NL All-Star – and joined the playoff-bound Seattle Mariners to the 1995 playoffs the trade deadline. In fact, he pitched 6 2/3 innings against the New York Yankees in the decisive Game 5 of the American League Division Series, which the Mariners won 6-5 in 11 innings.

Benes also pitched for the Arizona Diamondbacks (1998-1999) and, overall, finished his career with 2,505 innings, 155 wins and 10 seasons of double-digit victories.

Along the way, he had the support of his wife of 33 years, Jennifer, and their seven children – Drew, Brynn, Bailey, Shane, Bria, Brock and Bliss — and five grandchildren.

In retirement, he has co-hosted the Cardinals’ Saturday morning children’s show the past 14 seasons, assisted the four-time state champion Westminster Christian Academy baseball team (2011-2014) and is owner of St. Louis Prospects, a youth organization.

“I’ve been blessed,” Benes said. “We were able to make our home in St. Louis.”