Heart-felt speeches by former Major League Baseball players Carlos Baerga and Justin Thomas made for a tremendous morning as the Youngstown State baseball program held its fifth annual First Pitch Breakfast at the Embassy Banquet Center on Saturday.
A crowd of more than 400 YSU baseball supporters was thoroughly impressed by the messages of both individuals.
Thomas won 19 games in his Penguins career and was the Horizon League Pitcher of the Year in 2005. He was a fourth-round draft pick by the Seattle Mariners in 2005, and he went on to pitch in the Majors with Mariners, Pirates, Red Sox and Yankees. Thomas also spent time pitching professionally in Japan and Taiwan. He was inducted into the Youngstown State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015.
Baerga played for the Indians from 1990-96 and again in 1999, and he was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame in 2013. He was a three-time All-Star and won to Silver Slugger Awards while with the Indians. He played second base and batted third on the Indians' 1995 team that played in the World Series.
YSU President Jim Tressel told the audience his daughters were big Baerga fans as the Indians were making their 1990s postseason run along with the YSU football program. Tressel served as the Head Football Coach of the Penguins throughout the decade. He said that first-year head coach Dan Bertolini and his staff have the passion to make a difference and they are proud of where they coach.
Bertolini, who will make his YSU managerial debut this week, told the crowd that coaching at YSU has been a dream of his and he is thankful it has become a reality. He thanked numerous individuals who helped make the breakfast a success and have worked hard to prepare the Penguins for the upcoming 2017 campaign.
Thomas said how going to YSU was a decision helped shape who is today. Thomas met his wife as a student-athlete and said the players on the baseball team were tight-knit group. He said it was amazing how much the campus has changed in the 10 years he has been gone, most of which has been a career in professional baseball which has taken him across the world.
He said "this is a winning city" and he saw that first hand in 2004. He talked about the postseason tournament run in which the seventh-seeded Penguins won four games at Eastwood Field to win the Horizon League Championship and earn the schools first NCAA Regional berth. He will always remember how the community supported the team as they kept winning and will never forget the title game win over Cleveland State.
He told the audience the story of when Seattle called him on draft day. The power at his home went out and when the Mariners called he had no idea what round the draft was in. He was thrilled to learn he had been picked so early.
His professional career has taken him to five countries, numerous states and introduced him to people throughout the country. But he knew his career would eventually end so he prepared himself. He told the crowd when all is said and done to ask yourself "How was your effort? Did you do the best you can do? Have pride in the body of work you put in."
Baerga joked with Coach Bertolini about how young he looks to be a head coach. He said when Bertolini picked him up at the airport he thought it was one of the players. But he could tell right away that the coach has a belief in the program.
He said being a part of the Cleveland Indians was a magical experience. After two slow years the Indians moved into a new ballpark and with it came a tremendous amount of success. For years Baerga and everyone on the team believed the were going to win each time they stepped on the field. It was a determination that set them apart and that is attitude you have to take each time you get on the field.
He said he didn't want to be traded to the Mets, although the first time he had ever seen snow was during the 1990 season opener in Cleveland against the New York Yankees. To be a winner he told Coach Bertolini and the audience that all 32 players have to work to together to accomplish their goals.
He closed with a statement that everyone in the audience could appreciate. "I want this University to not only be number one in football, but baseball too."
Another part of the event was a live auction that raised more than $2,000 for the program. The four items to eclipse $2,000 were a luncheon with President Tressel and the baseball staff, a customized YSU Rawlings baseball glove, a George Brett autographed jersey and a signed Baerga jersey from the 1995 playoffs.
YSU baseball administrator Tom Morella won the 50/50, but donated the $485 back to the baseball program.
The Penguins open the 2017 campaign on Friday when they visit Austin Peay for three games at the Riverview Inn Governors Challenge.