By Marc Weems
For the eighth year in a row, the Youngstown State University baseball team started its year with the First Pitch Breakfast held at The Embassy in Youngstown.
“I’ve always considered this my home and it means a lot to me. Youngstown State means a lot to me,” former YSU standout pitcher Steve Bartolin said about his reasoning for speaking at the event. “I don’t think I would’ve graduated if it weren’t for playing baseball here.”
“When I got released from the [Detroit] Tigers, I wasn’t real serious about anything. To be able to give back and provide others an opportunity to enjoy college baseball, it’s a good thing to do.”
Bartolin played baseball from 1969-72 and was inducted into the YSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1987. He was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1972 and played professionally until 1975. He helped lead YSU to an overall record of 89-48 in his time with the Penguins.
Bartolin wasn’t the only speaker at the event, as the main guest speaker was former Boston Red Sox great Bill Buckner.
Buckner played 22 years in Major League Baseball and was at the time just the 18th player in MLB history to do so. There are now 29 such players.
Buckner played for the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, California Angels, Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers. Buckner amassed more than 2,700 hits during his career. He won the National League batting title with the Cubs in 1980 and was selected to the MLB All-Star Game in 1981.
Of course, he’ll always be remembered for letting a ball get between his legs at first base against the New York Mets in the 1986 World Series.
“I really wanted to come support the program here and be a part of the push of helping YSU’s baseball team. I think that is important to have support for college baseball,” Buckner said.
YSU coach Dan Bertolini is now in his second season as the head coach and takes great pride in this event.
“I feel like we finally got our bearings and got to do what we wanted. I thought the event went very smoothly today. Last year, it was hectic because I was getting ready for the season and putting this together,” Bertolini said. “I think our coaches have an idea of what we were doing this time around.”
Beyond just the breakfast, YSU is ready to get after it on the diamond.
“A lot of hard work has gone into getting to this points. I think our guys are chomping at the bit,” Bertolini said. “I know our guys are ready to see some fly balls and get outside to play. Hopefully, we’ll be ready for this weekend.”
YSU starts the year down South as it always does to start the year. This time, YSU starts with a three-game series against Belmont University on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“We have a lot of new faces. With 23 new faces with 13 freshmen, we are going to have some freshmen moments for some of these guys,” Bertolini said.
Last year was the year of the home run as the Penguins drilled 50 dingers. The Penguins hit 60 in 2010 which was the top year for home runs. First baseman Andrew Kendrick broke the school record of 13 with 17 homers.
“Division I baseball is hard. You’re not going to walk in and have success right away. It’s going to be a journey,” Kendrick said about being a team leader. “We played really well in the middle part of our season with those wins over Georgia Tech and Kent State. Our consistency wasn’t where we wanted it to be so we need to work on and this team is ready to have a big year.”
YSU went just 15-40 last year but won nine Horizon League games which was an improvement over the five previous seasons.