"If you never go through adversity, you never gain strength," says Benes. "Last season made me a better person. For 25 starts I was as good as anybody. The last nine were pretty bad. Were they under difficult circumstances? Yes. But that's not an excuse. I feel I'm a lot better than a .500 pitcher, regardless of what team I'm playing for. I have no one to blame but myself. It's not the owners' fault."
On a recent Saturday, Benes and some teammates and coaches spent five hours in Tijuana, Mexico, meeting with Little League players and signing autographs as part of the Padres' goodwill caravan. While certain fans in the U.S. derisively call the Padres a Triple A team and while most of the San Diego players are as anonymous as White House sources, in Mexico on this day it seemed that only Fernando Valenzuela would have been welcomed more enthusiastically than these visiting Padres. "You know they must really love baseball if they're excited to see us," Benes said with a grin.
At one stop a thin boy in a red turtle-neck and a baseball cap gingerly approached Benes—whom Mexican fans call El Gigante—and presented six of the pitcher's baseball cards, each carefully wrapped in clear plastic, for him to sign. As Benes autographed the cards, he asked the boy his name.
"Carlos," the boy said
"What position do you play?"
"How old are you?"
Benes told Carlos that if he practiced real hard, someday he might play for the Padres. Benes failed to mention that San Diego could use a third baseman this season. Minutes later Carlos reappeared with his baseball jersey and glove.
"Do you want me to sign them?" Benes asked.