By Frank Cusumano
They're the four most important words Alan Benes can utter, and he hasn't had a chance to say it very often in his career: "I feel great, physically."
In 1997, Alan Benes was one of the best young pitchers on the planet, with a 2.98 ERA, but a funny thing happened to Benes on his way to starter- he never got there. Three arm surgeries jackknifed his career. "I try not to look back on my career and think, "What If? It's tough."
Alan Benes is not getting a shot with the Cardinals this season because of what he's done recently as a professional pitcher. No, he's getting it because Tony LaRussa feels strongly about Alan. And when LaRussa talks about Benes, it's not so much a manager talking about a player- it seems more like a father, talking about his son. "Since the time I've been in St. Louis, I've not had a better teammate than Alan Benes," LaRussa says. "He's special, he's perfect, and he's been hit with some terrible misfortunes as far as injuries, but he's feeling good."
Benes draws strength from the career of Cal Eldred, who had injuries but made a nice comeback at an advanced age. "I'm going to go out on a major league field and compete, with 30 or 40 thousand fans there. It's a privilege, and that's the way I look at it. I'm hoping that if I continue to work hard, I'm still young enough, I'm only 34 years old, that I'll get an opportunity here."