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Anna Benson

“I May Get a Wild Hair”

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PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY (MARCH 26, 2008)
BY KATE KILPATRICK

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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 Citizens 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.

“I drive a 7 Series BMW, which is boring,” she says. “Maybe if Kris signs to the Phillies I’ll get a nice [sports] car.”

She’s working on recording an album, and is also considering writing books—“maybe just short Jenny McCarthy-type books.” She’s interested
in journalism and television too. Modeling, it seems, has taken a back seat.

“I’m not saying I’m not ever going to do another [photo] shoot, but it’s not what I care to do right now. I’m more interested in sports announcing
or television.”

It’s not clear which of these aspirations is most likely to pan out. Or if Anna is actually serious about any of them. Moments later the ambitious, independent, career-minded Anna Benson shifts into subdued, stay-at-home-mom mode.

“I may end up doing nothing,” she concludes. “I may just bore everybody.”

But one thing is clear: If Kris makes the major-league team, Anna’s looking forward to more than a fancy new sports car.

“We want more babies. If he signs to Philadelphia, I’ll be pregnant in the next month I’m sure,” she says, explaining that the couple is delaying
pregnancy until they figure out where they’re settling down. “It’s a long time [seven years] since I’ve been pregnant. We want at least two more. I’m willing to have as many as he’ll give me.”

“I’m a homebody. I stay home a lot. There’ll be weeks where I don’t leave the house. People get on my ass about it, but I like it. I like being home—it’s a nice, quiet place. I don’t need to go anywhere.”

It’s another side of Anna that runs contrary to her public persona. And although she says she’s a happy person—“I’m extremely blessed, probably
more than I deserve”—a kind of melancholy finds a way of creeping into her conversation.

“I’m not a Democrat or Republican, but I’m a capitalist. I’ll probably vote for McCain, but I don’t like any of them,” she says when asked about politics. “I try to stay away from politics because it’s frustrating. I’m not educated enough about it to do much commenting. I’ve been going through life with blinders on. Kris does that—I learned it from watching him. Everything’s always hunky-dory. I’m training myself, because I was the eternal pessimist. The glass wasn’t half-empty—it was totally empty. I got too pessimistic for a while. I had a lot of rotten things happen to me.”

It’s at these times that the outgoing but presumably unfulfilled wild child proves thoughtful and down-to-earth. Her bluntness might get her in trouble at times, but it also gives her a humility of sorts and—despite the 34-DD breasts and perfect body—makes her seem unexpectedly real. There’s a sense that life has thrown more than a few pitches at Anna Benson’s head.

“I’m close to my parents now, but they didn’t make me who I am. I made myself,” Anna offers, adding that she left home when she was 16, was pregnant at 17, and stumbled through her teen years by trial and error. “Everybody needs somebody to look up to. You can’t just look up to Madonna.”

Unfortunately the one mentor Anna did find, her best friend, died in a late-night car crash in January.

“She was like an older sister to me. I was going downhill fast. I stopped eating,” she says, still devastated by the tragedy. “She mentored me a lot, so I don’t know. I guess I have to find somebody else now.”

On a positive note, Benson says she looks forward to moving to Philly. She and Kris are looking at houses in New Jersey.

“I had a great time in Baltimore. I loved New York. I haven’t been to a state or city I don’t like,” she says optimistically.

As for getting along with the other wives, she has no concerns. “It’s not like we’re all throwing slumber parties. Most of the socialization is in the stands. Am I going to so-and-so’s baby shower? More than likely. It’s the same as if you went to a different school. Some people you like, some you don’t like.”

And the notoriously rambunctious Philly fans? No concern there either.

“Everybody deserves a fair shake, and that includes me,” she says. “I’m not going to sit in the stands with a bottle of Cristal [getting drunk].”

“Or who knows,” she adds in the next breath. “I may get a wild hair and decide I might be crazy.”

Kate Kilpatrick (kkilpatrick@philadelphiaweekly.com) is PW’s senior editor.

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