Published Wednesday, February 01, 2012
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
Former Atlanta Braves pitcher and local baseball coach Rick Behenna, who helped build East Coweta High’s program into a winner and more recently organized the Newnan Braves wood-bat team to help college-level players reach their goals, died Tuesday evening. He was 51.
The longtime Newnan resident, settled in Coweta County to raise his sons Bowen and Brandon with wife Kimberly following a short major league career with Atlanta and the Cleveland Indians. Recently, however, Behenna had undergone numerous surgeries while battling cancer.
"There have been some bad times, but you do the best that you can and God will make the ultimate choice," Behenna told The Newnan Times-Herald last summer after he was unable to continue the Newnan Braves team for reasons that included his declining health.
"There was uncertainty about both things and I didn't want players to commit to me and be forced to shut down during the season," Behenna added. "My heart and mind were willing but I wasn't sure about my health to keep it going."
Behenna was included in one of Atlanta’s most inauspicious trades in franchise history when he was sent to Cleveland with third baseman Brook Jacoby and outfielder Brett Butler for pitcher Len Barker.
His major league career encompassed a 3-10 record and a 6.12 ERA with 36 strikeouts from 1983-85.
But his impact locally as a coach and teacher on local baseball diamonds was immeasurable.
Behenna, who had volunteered to assist his sons' youth baseball teams, was one of the first assistants for Indians head coach Franklin DeLoach when he arrived at East Coweta.
"A head coach without a pitching coach is like a surgeon having no nurses," DeLoach said. "He used to come out to the games and we got to talking a lot about pitching and such. I didn’t even realize who he was at first. He said 'I'd love to help.' I gave him complete control of our pitchers. Rick was a competitor. That son of a gun loved to compete."
In Behenna’ six years at East Coweta, the team made the state playoffs five times, including trips to the Class AAAAA state finals in both 2003 and 2004.
Behenna helped establish the Newnan Braves wood-bat team with Andy Willis, a longtime youth coaching colleague, friend and fellow ECHS booster, whose son Cam was also moving on to play college baseball.
"He knew what baseball had taught him and he understood how it could impact their lives," Willis said. "We lost money every year we did it. But it never was about that."
Willis described Behenna as someone who remained steadfast in his love for not only his family, but a passion for strong opinions about baseball and politics.
"He once told me, when you make an opinion half the people will love you and half the people will hate you. So why not speak your mind? Speak the truth," Willis said. "He was full of competitiveness and compassion and he loved his family and friends. The words that come out to me when I think of Rick are courage number one with how he’s handled his illness, strength, valor, honor, integrity and character."
Funeral arrangements are by McKoon Funeral Home at 38 Jackson St., Newnan. Visitation will be Friday evening, Feb. 3, between 6 and 8 p.m. The memorial service will be on Saturday, Feb. 4 at 3 p.m. at Sonrise Baptist Church, 6 Shenandoah Blvd.
Online condolences may be expressed to the family at www.mckoon.com .
In lieu of flowers, Mr. Behenna's memory may be acknowledged by memorial contributions to BAT www.baseballassistanceteam.com or Pink Posse www.pinkposseofga.com .