Louisville junior catcher Will Smith was named Wednesday to the official watch list for the 2016 Johnny Bench Award as announced by the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission. The award is given annually to the top NCAA Division I catcher.
A Louisville native and a graduate of Kentucky Country Day School, Smith is hitting .310 with two home runs and 10 RBI in eight starts and 11 appearances this season for the fourth-ranked Cardinals. Defensively, opposing runners are just 1-for-5 on stolen base attempts this season against Smith, who is also a Louisville team captain.
The watch list will be narrowed to the semifinalists on May 18, 2016. Ballots will be sent to the national voting panel at the end of May for a vote to determine the three finalists. The finalists will be announced June 6, 2016. A final vote among the national committee will occur during the College World Series. All finalists will be brought to Wichita and the winner will be announced at the 19th Annual Greater Wichita Sports Banquet on June 30, 2016.
While Bench is remembered for his offense, he may have had the greatest impact behind the plate. He was the first receiver to use a protective helmet in the field, popularized catching one-handed and kept his throwing hand behind his back to protect it from foul tips.
Bench’s career honors include: National League Rookie of the Year (1968); National League Most Valuable Player (1970, 1972); World Series Most Valuable Player (1976); 14-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner. In 1980, he set an endurance record by catching 100+ games for 13 consecutive seasons. Bench was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in January 1989 with the fourth highest percentage of total votes cast. In 2015, Bench was named as part of the Franchise Four Greatest Living Players, along with Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax and Willie Mays.
The No. 4 Louisville baseball team, ranked in the top five throughout the first three weeks of the 2016 season, will open its ACC schedule with a three-game series at home against Notre Dame starting Friday at 3 p.m., ET at Jim Patterson Stadium. The Cardinals and Fighting Irish are also slated for Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m., each day and admission is free throughout the weekend.
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