SIMMONS: Liz Benn has been around the game of baseball for her entire life. Now she’s fully committed after being named as the Mets’ new director of major league operations. PHOTO BY SUBMITTED PHOTO /Submitted photo
Tuesday nights were her favourite nights at the ballpark. The Blue Jays crowds were smaller and quieter on Tuesdays — especially early in the season, and it made it easier for her to focus.
Liz Benn didn’t just grow up in Toronto’s High Park area of the junction watching baseball. She consumed it. She was obsessed with it. She played it with boys until she was a teenager. And she was taken in by the extremes of Roy Halladay on the mound.
How he looked, how he pitched, how he distanced himself from everything around him. When Benn pitched in High Park baseball, she would try and be like Halladay, that singular, that intense, that unaffected. She didn’t know then when going to Humberside Collegiate when taking in more baseball games than anyone she knew, when growing up just a little differently than most high school girls, that she would one day be working in a Major League front office.
That was never really the plan if there was a plan. She was consumed by baseball and by school and by family and later by attaining her Master’s degree in Philosophy at Columbia University. And now, at the age of 28 — and how young is that? — baseball has seemingly become consumed by her.
The New York Mets have hired Liz Benn to be their new director of major league operations. That is an enormous job for someone who has never worked for a Major League team before. Among her daily responsibilities, when baseball is in fact operational, is to focus on the Mets roster, their payroll, transactions, compliance of big-league rules, and other elements surrounding the day to day operation of a big-league team. She’ll work closely with Mets’ general manager Billy Eppler and those who head up baseball operations, and player personnel
All eyes are always on the Mets, because they’re in New York, because of recent controversies, because of new ownership, and now all eyes will be on Benn, as they are with every woman who takes a senior position in professional sports in these changing times.
Kim Ng is the general manager of the Miami Marlins. The Vancouver Canucks have recently hired Cammi Granato and Emilie Castonguay as assistant general managers. Teresa Resch has had a significant front office role with the Toronto Raptors for years now and in the NFL Catherine Raiche, formerly with the Argos, is assistant GM with the Philadelphia Eagles and like Resch, has gotten GM interviews from other clubs.
Benn doesn’t know where she is going next in baseball. This is all too new and every day right now is about learning the job and getting to know those she is working with. She started as an intern at Major League Baseball while studying in New York, where her mother grew up a Yankees fan. She jokes about being born just before Joe Carter hit the World Series-winning home run in 1993. Her parents said her first real smile came after the home run, which makes for a nice story if nothing else. She left Toronto before the Jose Bautista bat flip of 2015 — so she never really experienced the city going crazy over baseball. The way it went crazy that October.
Before that, though, she pitched against boys, then pitched against girls, and got into coaching through the Blue Jays Care Foundation when she was a student at the University of Toronto. She needed to be around baseball and wound up with one internship, then a labour relationship internship at Major League baseball. That led to another internship. Then a paid job. “Along the way I just said yes to absolutely everything because I wanted to learn as much as I could,” said Benn. She didn’t really envision herself working with a team. She wasn’t sure what the future would bring — although she was pretty sure the future was going to be about baseball. She was another of those Humberside Collegiate kids destined to become famous — like George Chuvalo and the runner Abby Hoffman, before her. She just kept following her dreams, her passions, like the pitcher Halladay, before we knew about all his problems.
She also loved watching John McDonald play shortstop in Toronto. It’s one thing to have the Hall of Famer, Halladay, as your favourite player. That’s pretty typical. But there was something about the backup shortstop, McDonald, that made him one of her special players. “I never met him, I never met any of them, but I liked the way he played and the way he handled himself,”
Benn said. “But I came to appreciate his grit, his hustle. I got an autograph from him one day.” Part of her job at MLB baseball operations, before being hired by the Mets, was to produce a list for all teams of women capable of working in professional baseball. She didn’t include herself on that list. A few weeks ago, she got a text from her boss basically telling her the Mets wanted to talk to her about a position. The next day, general manager Eppler called. He wanted to interview her. Not long after that, Benn was announced as the director of Major League operations. “I know what I’ve signed up for,” Benn said. “Long days, long nights, sacrificing yourself for your job, little time off. I look forward to all of that. Today was my first at the stadium. This is really exciting for me, means a lot to somebody from Toronto.”