EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State baseball hosted its 14th-annual First Pitch Dinner Saturday night at the Kellogg Center, drawing a crowd of over 500. Jay Gooding was honored as the Alumnus of the Year, while former Major League Baseball manager Jim Leyland was the keynote speaker.
“It was another awesome night. I think its really overwhelming and humbling to see 500-plus people come out to support our guys and program, and help kick off our season,” MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “I think it speaks to the character of our guys and how they handle themselves in the community and represent Michigan State baseball. I think people want to be involved and a part of it, people want to see what’s going on in our program, and that’s a testament to our players and the job that they do representing Michigan State. It was an awesome night. I’m glad to honor Jay Gooding and thank him for all he’s done for our program, and thrilled to have Jim Leyland here and listen to his words of wisdom after a long career in the game.”
The night began with an introduction of the 2019 Spartans by the master of ceremonies, Jim Cotter, then an invocation by junior pitcher Caleb Sleeman, before dinner. Following dinner, Boss addressed the crowd, introducing the former Spartan baseball alumni in attendance and then introduced Gooding and presented him with the Alumnus of the Year award.
A native of Southfield, Michigan, Gooding is an MSU alum and was co-founder of Aqua Pharmaceuticals. He was instrumental in various Spartan Baseball projects including the infield heating project at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field, renovation of the team locker room, Dominican Republic trip and lights at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field.
“It’s a great honor, it feels great to be involved with Spartan baseball, and it’s a great bunch of guys and great coaching staff. Jake Boss Jr. is the best coach in the Big Ten Conference, and it’s just good to give something back to the school that you attended,” Gooding said. “It was awesome to listen to Jim Leyland. It was practical and there were takeaways that you could actually use.”
After Gooding’s speech, keynote speaker Leyland spoke, telling stories and jokes, along with meaningful advice to the players, about baseball on and off the field.
“Listening to Jim Leyland, a baseball legend, was amazing. He had some great things to say to us, especially his pointers for us baseball players, for some tools we can use on the field,” senior infielder Marty Bechina said. “He also put into perspective how important it is to create memories here at Michigan State with your teammates, coaches and all the people involved, and never take anything for granted, just go out there and play relaxed, control the pressures, prepare yourself, whether it be practice or game, and just really taught us a lot that we can all take in and use this season as a baseball team.”
Leyland was an MLB manager for 21 years, winning the World Series in 1997 with the Florida Marlins. He won four division titles, including three-straight with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1990, 1991 and 1992). In 2006, Leyland led the Detroit Tigers to the American League Championship Series, becoming the seventh manager in MLB history to win pennants in both the National and American Leagues. Leyland was a three-time recipient of the Manager of the Year Award, twice in the National League with the Pirates in 1990 and 1992, and once in the American League with the Tigers in 2006.
This season’s Spartans open the 2018 ledger on Friday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m. ET at New Orleans in a three-game series against the New Orleans Privateers in the first of a 56-game regular-season ledger. MSU and UNO play on Saturday, Feb. 16 at 2 p.m. ET, before the series finale of the opening-weekend series on Sunday, Feb. 17 at 1 p.m. ET.