The Youngstown State baseball team and a crowd of more than 400 baseball enthusiasts and Penguins fans gathered on Saturday morning at The Embassy Banquet Centre in Boardman.
Headlining the event were speeches by Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers and six-year Minor League Baseball Umpire and Mahoning Valley native John Mang.
Live and silent auction items helped raise money for the program throughout the event. YSU raised nearly $5,000 in total from the live auction alone. Live auction items included lodging at the Boardmoor in Colorado Springs and a five-bedroom condo in Costa Rica, autographed Francisco Lindor and Fingers jerseys, an uncut NFL Trading Card Topps sheet and a suite along with catering by The Simple Greek. Silent auction items included numerous autographed bats, jerseys and baseballs as well as YSU apparel.
YSU Head Baseball Coach Dan Bertolini thanked the large audience for their loyal support. Bertolini, who is entering his third season in 2019, said all of the proceeds raised will assist the program in buying player-development tools. He said last year's event raised more than $13,000 and the funds went towards enhancements for the program.
Bertolini thanked a variety of baseball supporters including YSU administrators and The Penguin Club. He said the team is looking forward to playing in great collegiate baseball environments the first two weekends of the season at Mississippi State and Florida State. He said the Penguins' entire roster has bought in to what's best for the team as a whole as the season approaches. He said that if YSU continues to work hard and focus on the process, positive results will happen.
He admitted to the crowd a bit of a faux pas he made on Friday. Bertolini said he hustled to the Cleveland Hopkins Airport to pick up Fingers, whose flight was scheduled to land around 3 p.m. Bertolini became concerned after not seeing Fingers, and around 3:30 p.m. he realized that he went to the wrong airport; Fingers' flight actually landed Pittsburgh. One of the members of the YSU coaching staff was dispatched to pick up Fingers in Pittsburgh, and a mini-crisis was averted.
Mang, who is from nearby Poland, has been friends with Bertolini nearly his entire life. The duo played baseball together at Mercyhurst, and they have remained close throughout the years. Mang, in a salute to Fingers, said he tried to grow a mustache in a week, but it didn't take. He was very appreciative of being asked to speak and told the audience how his umpiring career began. Mang was 25 and thought something was missing, so he enrolled in Umpiring School. He was able to have success and get a Minor League assignment upon the conclusion of the classes. He said he feels very fortunate to have had the opportunities that have opened up for him since his career began.
Fingers had some great stories for the audience as he talked about how his career unfolded. A native of Steubenville, Ohio, his family moved to California where his baseball career took off.
He first spoke about his famous mustache, which he did not have until the 1972 season. At the outset of spring training for the Oakland A's, Reggie Jackson showed up with one and the entire team followed suit. While management wasn't particularly thrilled, the A's won and their fans loved it. Oakland went on to win the World Series in 1972, 1973 and again in 1974. Therefore, Fingers had no choice but to keep the mustache he has now had for 47 years. He did admit that one day during his career, the mustache almost came to an abrupt end. He came in to close both games of a doubleheader against Baltimore, and threw a total of two pitches. Both were launched for home runs and in frustration, his mustache was almost removed.
Fingers said two people had a great influence on his career, his father, and manager Dick Williams. His father, a former Major Leaguer with the Cardinals, taught him the game of baseball and how to pitch. Williams, he admitted, saved his career. After some rough starts to the season, Williams sent Fingers to the bullpen. At a time when starters would often go the distance, that wasn't an ideal situation for Fingers. However, it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him. By chance, he had to pitch in a 13-11 contest the next day and was able to close it out. He was then called on again the next day in a similar role, and had success. Williams told Fingers to be ready because the was coming to him in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, a role Fingers felt was perfect for him.
Fingers also shared a funny story about nearly playing for the Cincinnati Reds. He said manager Pete Rose called him to see if he had interest in joining the club. The only issue was that Fingers had to shave his famous mustache. After a night of consideration, he declined the Reds' offer and then hung up the phone on Rose.
Before taking questions from the crowd on a variety of topics, he said the members of YSU's team are chasing their dreams of playing Major League Baseball. He admitted you don't know how good you are until someone tells you. As a 17-year-old, he had a scout from the Minnesota Twins tell him he had some great "stuff", and they would keep an eye on him. They never followed up, but he was signed the next year by the Kansas City A's, and he began his professional career.
The Youngstown State baseball team will begin its 2019 season this Friday, Feb. 15 at Mississippi State.