By Dan Hiner
In college athletics, funding is everything. It allows universities to improve their programs by purchasing up-to-date equipment and facilities. Most of this funding tends to go toward the football and basketball programs, leaving little for the rest of the sports available on campus.
Programs like the baseball team need to raise the money for costs like travel and equipment. The Youngstown State University baseball team held its annual First Pitch Breakfast on Jan. 17 at The Maronite Center in Youngstown. The breakfast auctioned off memorabilia from YSU athletics and Major League Baseball. A few items such as a signed Jim Tressel football helmet and four Cleveland Indians tickets went for over $1,000 — including a signed Johnny Bench jersey purchased for $2,000.
The breakfast featured two Hall of Famers from their respective sports. Jim Tressel, newly-inducted College Football Hall of Famer and YSU president, and MLB Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench spoke at the event.
“That’s our community. Our community turns out for great opportunities, which it is. It’s great to have Johnny here. But they’re always seeming to find a way to back great causes, which this is,” Tressel said.
Bench spent time talking to the YSU baseball team before the breakfast. He stressed the importance of getting an education as a college athlete and to enjoy their time as members of the team.
“The fact is, you have to go out and get an education … the numbers are totally against you in being in professional baseball,” Bench said. “But the opportunity to share these times with your friends and teammates and get a great education and make a lot of friends during your life is going to be the most important. So treasure each moment they have. Go out and enjoy the game, improve your game and walk away from this university with a great degree.”
The YSU baseball team won the Horizon League Tournament last season and entered the National College Athletic Association tournament. Bench took the time to compliment Penguins head coach Steve Gillispie on potentially turning the baseball program around.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Bench said. “It’s an opportunity for me to come and it’s very impressive for what’s happened with Steve Gillispie and the Penguins just in the last year and the last few years how he’s brought baseball to a new level.”
Mitchell Joseph, the CEO of West Coast Chill and YSU graduate, approached Bench about meeting the YSU baseball team and speaking at the breakfast.
“I never thought I’d ever meet Johnny Bench,” Tressel said. “It’s a special thing for our community. Thanks to Mitchell Joseph, who’s one of our graduates at YSU and longtime friends with Johnny. … He said ‘Why don’t we see if we can get Johnny to campus’ and he spoke with the student athletes and then here with the community. It’s a special day.”
Gillispie thought the event was a success. The early numbers showed a higher than expected turnout for the event as compared to past years.
“We set up for 544. We were planning on a little over 500, which I think we’ve exceeded a little bit,” Gillispie said. “It’s about 100 more than where we’ve been the past few years. … It’s an unbelievable venue — lots of space and Blue Wolf catering and the Maronite Center have just been fantastic.”