Wes Benjamin is willing to do whatever it takes to further his professional baseball career.
The next step on that journey will take place in South Korea.
Benjamin, a St. Charles East graduate, was granted his release May 17 by the Chicago White Sox and will report next week to KT Wiz, the defending Korean Baseball Organization League champions.
“If you knew what was going on in my head the last week and a half, I was all over the place,” Benjamin said. “I knew it was something I needed to do to better my career in the future.”
Several factors came into consideration when making the decision, including the effects the move would have for his wife Brittany, who is a teacher.
“It’s not just about me,” Benjamin said. “It’s about my family. If there was ever a time to do it, the stars aligned. She’ll be there for most of the season, if not all of it.”
Benjamin signed a minor-league deal with the White Sox during the Major League Baseball lockout.
The 28-year-old left-hander didn’t make the team out of spring training and reported to Triple-A Charlotte. He made seven starts for the Knights, going 2-0 with a 3.82 ERA.
“That was the toughest part for me, leaving this organization that I fell in love with and starting anew, being the new kid at the lunch table,” Benjamin said. “I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity the Sox gave me to play.
“That was my goal — help win games and help win a World Series.”
Benjamin, who turns 29 on July 26, made his MLB debut in 2020. Over the past two seasons, he appeared in 21 games, accruing just over a year of service time.
On the last day of the 2021 regular season, Benjamin was designated for assignment by the Texas Rangers. He later declared free agency, leaving the only professional organization he had ever known.
The KT Wiz showed interest in Benjamin over the winter. KBO rules state that teams can only have three foreign-born players, two of which can be pitchers.
Not surprisingly, after winning the championship last season, the team retained all three foreign-born players.
“I don’t blame them for that,” Benjamin said. “It was close, but it wasn’t the right time. Now, it’s the right time.”
The release of William Cuevas opened a spot for Benjamin, who spoke to White Sox assistant general manager Chris Getz about his options.
“He always shoots me straight,” Benjamin said. “What I wanted to avoid was a situation like I had last year in Texas where I would be thrown back and forth, and it looked like it could happen again.”
Last season, Benjamin was shuttled five times between the Rangers and Triple-A Round Rock. A similar situation between Chicago and Charlotte could have occurred this season.
“Getz understood that,” Benjamin said. “An opportunity like this doesn’t always come around. He didn’t nudge me either way. He said life goes on regardless.
“I was grateful to him for his support and for understanding my decision. Who’s to say I won’t come back in the future?”
The first MLB game Benjamin ever attended featured the White Sox.
“It was very difficult to separate the nostalgia side from the reality side,” Benjamin said. “It was something cool to think about. Unfortunately, it will have to wait.”
Benjamin said once he arrives in Korea, he will make a minor-league start to shake off the rust and then join the Wiz’s starting rotation.
“There’s excitement, nerves, anxiety, but at the end of the day I get to go somewhere new and play baseball,” Benjamin said. “I get to surround myself with a culture I’m not used to.
“It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”
Paul Johnson is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.