The many sides of baseball wife Anna Benson.
On a recent Saturday in Clearwater, Fla., Anna Benson is seated in the empty stands at the Phillies' Bright House Field watching her husband Kris pitch in a simulated game. Anna is minding her own business, keeping a low profile--which would seem unlikely to anyone who's followed her tabloid exploits and reputation for personal and sexual revelations.
The 32-year-old Atlanta babe--a former stripper, a model and a mother--has garnered much criticism from baseball insiders and fans for soaking up the spotlight and breaking the old-school mold of the obedient baseball wife.
But on this windy afternoon Benson is dressed fashionably conventional--gray sweater, dark jeans, black stilettos, her face hidden behind round black sunglasses. She relaxes comfortably in her seat, rattling a box of Lemonheads, and popping the sour yellow candies into her mouth one after another. She's surprisingly sweet, mellow and friendly--her bluesy voice laced with equal parts Southern charm and world-weary sarcasm.
"I'm way more conservative than people think, and way smarter," says Benson, who arrived for spring training about 10 days earlier. "I've grown up, found my way a little bit ... I've been really quiet the last two years. I'm a different person."
This coming from a woman who, while her husband played for the Mets, was a boldfaced regular in the New York Post and New York Daily News; a provocative sex symbol who made FHM's list of "100 Sexiest Women" in both 2005 and 2006; a no-holds-barred personality who wrote lengthy rants on her website against "gun haters," PETA and "formerly overweight ... candy-ass ... terrorist" Michael Moore; and most famously, the outspoken baseball wife who told Howard Stern that if her husband ever cheated on her, she'd retaliate by sleeping with the entire Mets organization--from the front office to the groundskeepers.
"In New York I manipulated the media, and I had my fun. They were very irritating at times, and I irritated them back," says Benson, adding that despite the newspaper scandals she's always had a great relationship with the Mets' front office and PR department.
Her husband, right-handed pitcher Kris Benson, although still recovering from rotator cuff surgery, is at spring training to try to become the Phillies' fifth starting pitcher. Which could mean the love-her-or-hate-her Anna may soon be sitting in the crowd at Citzens Bank Park.
Benson's pitches on this day are effective--a solid mix of curves, sliders, sinkers, changeups and fastballs. As he finishes up an inning, he looks over at Anna and touches his finger to his ear. "After every inning he tells me he loves me," she says, smiling and repeating the gesture back to him.
"We're kind of honeymooning a little," Anna says of their time in Clearwater. After 10 years of marriage the couple renewed their vows last year in the oldest Catholic church in Atlanta. Kris is Catholic; Anna was raised Baptist. "I'm not into organized religion," she says, "but I like my Bible."
She also reports she's an Aquarius, "the most intellectual sign in the zodiac. Kris is a Scorpio, the most sexual. Yeah, I'd say we're sexy-smart. He's a smart boy. And super good-looking. He gets more good-looking every year."
Still, Anna makes it clear she's not content living in her husband's shadow or playing the loyal baseball wife who shows up at every home game.
Baseball, she says, just isn't her life: "I come to games when I want to come. I don't worry about making anyone happy but me and him. A lot of wives feel pressured to come to every game and every baby shower. I don't do that to myself anymore."
She says she'd rather focus on her own interests and career ambitions: "I'm tired of being a 'wife of' and not having my own identity."
Benson describes herself as a writer, a philanthropist, a singer, and a mother of three children (two with Kris, one from a previous relationship), eight dogs and two monkeys.
She's a patriot too.
After Sept. 11 she and Kris created Benson's Battalion to provide bulletproof vests to police officers and other necessities to help local organizations deal with terrorist attacks. In 2004 Congress honored the couple's antiterrorism charitable work.
"When we were living in Pittsburgh, we had a lot of friends who were police officers. I found out they can't accept donations, so I made a way for them to ask, and the feds match it as long as they can relate their request to antiterrorism work. We have a lot of money to hand out right now--like $750,000."
Besides doling out huge chunks of cash to an array of charities and nonprofits, she also likes riding horses, shooting guns ("Kris and I have an arsenal") and driving cars really fast.