star of the week

#3 mark bendahan

No collection of biographies of Ontario Fast Pitch legends would be complete without full recognition of one of its most decorated stars over the past 40 years - Mark Bendahan.

Whether known as "Bender", "Big Man", "Lucky", "El Gigante" or simply "13", Mark was and remains an imposing figure in the Fast Pitch community.

An accomplished competitor on the international level with the ISC World Champion Toronto Gators, and as the lynchpin and leader of multiple Gold Medal winning Canadian Maccabi Fast Pitch teams, Mark remains dedicated to the sport and its continued legacy.

Though his trophies and medal chest are full of hardware at the most elevated level, he remains steadfast that it is the quality of the lifelong relationships created from his involvement as a player and teammate that have the most lasting impact on his life.

Mark's involvement in sport started in grade school and middle school as he played multiple sports, debuting as a catcher at Rawlinson Public School.  Later transferring to Cedarvale Public School, Mark played shortstop, and then ultimately converted to pitcher and left field in Grade 8.  He had his first taste of competition in 1969 when his Co-Op Taxi team won the Ontario Championship as a 13 year old.

After being scouted at a poolhall and asked to join an older aged Fast Pitch team, Mark joined in at age 16 to play at Coronation Park, and then later at Bellwoods Park and Davisville Park along his Fast Pitch journey.

Graduating up to better leagues along the way, Mark reached the Dieppe League at age 21 and considered that league to have the top talent and competition level in City.

Playing for Village Caterers, the best team he played with in his City competition days, Mark was part of multiple Ontario Championship winners, playing against great competition along the way, including AV Systems and Croyroy.

Taking the next step up, Mark joined the Canadian Maccabi Mens Fast Pitch team and delivered on the mound as a stealth competitor, pitching the Canadian team to victory against the arch rival US team in 1993, 1997 and once again in 2013.  Mark's big game stuff, with his deadly back door curve, rise ball and drop ball stymied the US team in the back and forth Gold medal competitions over the years, which has led to great memories and mutual respect between both teams.

Mark counts winning the Gold medal in Israel in 1993 for the Canadian Maccabi team as his Fast Pitch lifetime highlight, as the Canadian team finally broke through and beat their cross nation rival after losing heartbreaking competitions to the US in 1985 and 1989.   That team victory helped establish the importance of the Mens Fast Pitch program in Canada and helped cement the legacy of that team, and its players for decades to follow.  Mark recognized his teammate David Finkler, since passed away, as the greatest player and teammate he had the honour of playing with:  "David was an unbelievable two way player, a great game caller and receiver and the kind of player that made everyone around him better - he is worthy of a story in his own right".

Mark took his game up to the next level in 1993 and 1995 when he helped the Toronto Gators on their ISC World Championship run, as his middle of the order bat helped the team win Gold, and once again in 2013 as a Master level team, along with such other long standing Canadian teammates, Darren Zack, Roddy Wetherell, Terry Challis , Bobby Green and Carmen Pernarella.

Mark considered that Gators team to be the best team he ever played on, balanced in every way, with 6 or 7 national team members representing Canada - professional players who played the game it was meant to be played.  Each player left his best game on the field and helped teach each other great mental and physical parts of the game to make each other the best they could be, led by Darren Zack, who was, as Mark cited, "the ultimate leader".

As the years progressed, Mark's game evolved from pure power to a mix of spots and finesse, making the mental game of pitching an even sharper tool in his bag.  Coupled with his still powerful bat, Mark continued to lead and mentor, and inspire, as evidenced by the number of players wearing the number "13" in recognition of Mark's impact and legacy as a player in so many leagues over the years.

Mark was lucky enough in the recent years to have the lifetime highlight of playing along with his son, Josh, in the Richmond Hill league for many years and to be teammates on the Canadian Mens Masters Maccabi team that travelled to Brazil in 2011 in the Pan-Am Games.  It was a highlight to share the dugout with his son, who played left field, and batted along with Mark, in the middle of the order on a team filled with so many of Mark's teammates over the years.  Mixing his family with his baseball family is a memory he will have for the rest of his life.

Mark has seen the evolution of baseball in Ontario over the years, from the halcyon days of the 1970's and 80's when Toronto and the towns around Ontario were filled with great Fast Pitch teams and leagues to the shrinking level of teams and leagues that exist today.  He fondly recalls travelling around Ontario with tournament teams, finding great players and teams dedicated to the sport in every town along the way, and recognizes that the spirit of the sport continues to burn in the hearts of all those playing today, as they remain committed to the competition of Fast Pitch and the importance of the community it creates.

Mark recognizes the impact his involvement in the sport has had on his own personal life, and he is sage to appreciate that none of it would have been possible without the understanding, involvement and commitment of his family to his passion, most importantly from his wife Moira, who has stood with him in his passion for the sport all his life, travelled with him and joined him in thousands of games along the way.  There is no greater fan.

Everyone has their own Bender story or memory over the years, whether it is the legendary and intimidating glare you faced as he bore down on you from the mound, determined to get you to chase his rise ball, or his monster home run in Waterloo at Hillside Park, or his long bomb in PEI that bounced off the tent, past the outfield fence; or more recently his game winning walk off rbi to beat the US team in Israel in 2013 in the opening game of the Maccabi playoff round.    In spite of all the game memories, Mark's greatest memories are the friendships he made, the community of players he helped contribute to, and the unmistakable feeling of youth that comes when you step between the lines and all that matters is the game.

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