It's Andrew Benintendi's turn to make his mark on Fenway Park

BOSTON -- Andrew Benintendi spent two months in the big leagues last season. But because his arrival coincided with the thrust of a pennant race, there wasn’t much time to stop and think about what it means to play left field for the Boston Red Sox.

And so, on Sunday, some 24 hours before Opening Day at Fenway Park, Benintendi opened the door to the Green Monster -- the same door that none other than Tom Brady walked through as part of Monday's pregame festivities -- stepped inside and got a history lesson.

Right there, in living color, were chalk scribbles by legends who have passed through the 105-year-old ballpark. Carlton Fisk signed the inside of the wall. So did Tony Gwynn. Ted Williams played on the grass in front of it. Same goes for Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and Manny Ramirez.

It's Benintendi's turn now. And if the first 35 games of his big league career -- including a season-opening 5-3 victory in which he launched a three-run homer in a five-run fifth inning against Pittsburgh Pirates ace Gerrit Cole -- is any indication, the 22-year-old from suburban Cincinnati will do just fine on the most time-honored parcel of Fenway's outfield.

"That was awesome doing that," Benintendi said. "Going in there and seeing all the signatures, it was cool. I was kind of overwhelmed by it all."

In that case, there's a first time for everything.

Benintendi has been the coolest possible customer since the Red Sox called him up directly from Double-A last summer. He batted .295 with 11 doubles, two homers and an .835 OPS in 105 at-bats last season, then became the youngest player in team history to homer in the postseason, when he took Cleveland Indians starter Trevor Bauer deep in Game 1 of the Division Series.

But Fenway's opener is like few others. There was the usual pomp and pageantry, with the announcement of both teams, the unfurling of the American flag over the Green Monster during the national anthem and the flyover of two F-15Cs. Then Brady emerged from the left-field wall carrying a Vince Lombardi Trophy and the two stolen Super Bowl LI jerseys that had been recovered from Mexico and began wrestling with Rob Gronkowski on the grass in shallow right field.

If it hadn't already, in that moment it occurred to Benintendi that sports are treated a little bit differently around here.

"I grew up watching them and still do," Benintendi said of Brady and Gronk. "It was cool to see them all out there."

By the end of the day, though, Benintendi was the talk of this sports-obsessed town.

Cole silenced the Red Sox for four innings, but they began mounting a two-out rally in the fifth. Jackie Bradley Jr. tripled to right field and scored on an infield single by Pablo Sandoval, who seems intent on staging a redemption tour after falling woefully out of shape and missing almost all of last season because of shoulder surgery.

Sandy Leon kept the inning alive by exploiting the Pirates' defensive shift with a heads-up bunt down the third-base line for a base hit. And after Dustin Pedroia lined an RBI single up the middle, Benintendi ran the count to 2-2, then drove a 98 mph fastball from Cole over the bullpen in right field to give the Sox a 5-0 lead. He pointed to his parents in the stands as he rounded the bases.

Benintendi became the first Red Sox rookie to homer on Opening Day since Brandon Moss in 2008 and the second-youngest to go deep in a season opener since Tony Conigliaro in 1965. Mookie Betts, Benintendi's teammate in the Red Sox's talented, homegrown outfield, was 90 days younger than Benintendi when he homered on Opening Day in 2015.

"It's awesome -- something you dream about as a kid," Benintendi said. "For it to be here, it's awesome."

Benintendi helped preserve the lead too. With the Pirates threatening in the seventh inning, Starling Marte hit a line drive that seemed certain to bang the wall. But Benintendi closed quickly, caught the ball and held Marte to a sacrifice fly.

"At first I thought it was a top-spin and was going to come back down towards me, but it didn't," Benintendi said. "After that, I was just trying to time up my jump, and I was fortunate enough to make the catch."

It was an Opening Day that will only enhance Benintendi's growing legend.

Bradley hails Benintendi as "a special ballplayer." Betts says he "pretty much does any and everything you want out of a hitter." Red Sox manager John Farrell has so much confidence in Benintendi that he’s batting him second in the order, between Pedroia and Betts.

“He’s got a short track record, we know, but there’s never been evidence of panic, even in two-strike situations,” Farrell said. “He sees the ball extremely well. He’s got a true understanding of the strike zone. Pretty special young player.”

Benintendi is ranked by ESPN's Keith Law as the top prospect in baseball. He has been featured on the covers of Baseball America and Sports Illustrated. Before he took a swing, he was the consensus choice for AL Rookie of the Year.

"I guess you just have to let it go in one ear, out the other," Benintendi said. "People like to talk about it. I don't feel any pressure. Just go out there, play well, and the main goal is to win. When you do that, people will be happy."

Indeed, Benintendi seems utterly unaffected by it all -- at least until he steps behind the Green Monster and takes a peek at all the names that came before him.

Ted. Yaz. Rice. Manny.

It seems the Red Sox might finally have a worthy successor.