With the start of the MSU baseball season less than two weeks away, the program kicked off another campaign Sunday with its eighth-annual First Pitch Dinner.
More than 500 people gathered at Kellogg Center to pay tribute to the program’s Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Tom Yewcic and take in the keynote speech by Cy Young winning pitcher John Smoltz.
After several weeks of practice, MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said the event serves as an opportunity to welcome the upcoming season while honoring the past.
“This is a fun day for all of us,” Boss said. “I think it’s something that really puts last season to bed and really kicks off next season, and it’s something we use as a springboard to the regular season.”
During his time at Michigan State, Yewcic was an All-American in both football and baseball, leading the football team to the 1952 national championship and a Rose Bowl victory during the 1953 season. As a catcher, he led the baseball team to a berth in the 1954 College World Series.
Yewcic joins Kirk Gibson, Robin Roberts, John Kobs and Danny Litwhiler as the only Spartans to have their jersey numbers honored and his No. 5 will be added to the outfield fence at McLane Baseball Stadium at Old College Field.
Now into his 80s, Yewcic said he appreciated the opportunity to return to his alma mater and share the many stories of his life with others.
“It’s nice after 60 years that they remember you,” Yewcic said. “A lot of memories up here, and, you know, I had a chance to play both sports and I had a chance to quarterback a national championship team, I had a chance to take a team to the Rose Bowl, I had a chance to be the most valuable player of the College World Series. …
“We had great coaches and great teammates and it’s a great university.”
Smoltz might be the greatest Spartan who never played a game.
After playing baseball at Lansing Waverly High School, Smoltz committed to play his college ball at MSU. However, Smoltz also was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 22nd round of the 1985 amateur draft.
A standout summer allowed Smoltz to take a chance in professional baseball with the guidance of then-MSU baseball coach Thomas W. Smith.
After 21 seasons, Smoltz became the only player in MLB history to have at least 200 wins and 150 saves to go along with being a member of the 3,000 strikeout club.
“I went right up to the buzzer,” Smoltz said. “Literally, Monday was going to be a class at Michigan State and Sunday night, I signed with the Tigers. My life drastically changed.”
The Spartans kick off the regular season on Feb. 15 against Miami (Ohio) in Greenville, S.C.