First Pitch of the Season: Gillispie blessed by Saturday’s turnout
From the small things, like batting gloves to a beautiful facility in Eastwood Field and everything in-between, all the aspects that make a Youngstown State University game possible stems from the community.
It doesn’t have to be just YSU fans. Even the most generic form of a baseball fan living in or around Youngstown can have a say. Nearly 500 of them showed their support on Satruday at YSU’s First Pitch Breakfast at McMenamy’s Restaurant and Banquet Center in Niles.
“I’m just blessed with the support of this community and the people that have shown up to help us do the things we want to do from a baseball standpoint,” manager Steve Gillispie said.
The annual event featured a list of auction items and YSU apparel. The Penguins raised nearly $1,500 last year and are expecting the same result.
Auction items included signed memorabilia from George Brett, Eric Hosmer, Nolan Ryan and many more. There was a silent auction for YSU equipment, including a fire pit, a butcher block and more.
“There’s a Charlie Brown sign that says ‘Life will always throw you a fastball’ or something like that,” junior Brent Gillespie said. “That sign is actually going for the same price as a Nolan Ryan signed baseball. There’s like only two bids on the baseball and about 18 more for the Charlie Brown sign.”
Gillespie, no relation to his manager, is a transfer from Santa Rosa Junior College. He was named First-Team All-Big 8 Conference while batting .290 with three home runs and 33 RBIs last season. Saturday marked his first experience at the event.
“For me, it’s to meet new faces,” Gillespie said. “I’ve been working the auction tables, so I met a few new faces.”
In addition to the items, three guest speakers made time from their busy schedules to help the Penguins. They were MLB umpire and Mahoning Valley native John Hirschbeck, Cleveland Indians’ president Mark Shapiro and seven-time MLB All-Star Al Oliver.
“I’m a pretty big Pirates fan, especially with what they did last year, so I’m looking forward to talk with [Oliver] afterward,” junior Jason Shirley said.
Shirley worked his third year at the event. The outfielder has a career .285 batting average with 24 RBIs and a .319 slugging percentage in his first two collegiate seasons at YSU.
Though it is true that the money stems from the community, they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do so without support from university personnel. Many YSU facility members attended the event to proudly support the university, including YSU President Randy Dunn and Ron Strollo, executive director of Intercollegiate Athletics.
“It’s turned into quite an event,” Gillispie said. “We couldn’t do what we do without their support and without their talents and without them giving us some leeway. We’re just glad to have them here.
“There’s a lot of other things that they could be doing on a Saturday morning the day before the Super Bowl, but they’ve chosen to be here.”