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Morrall, Gibson honored at First Pitch Dinner

January 29, 2012

In MSU athletics lore, Kirk Gibson and Earl Morrall stand head and shoulders above most for their time in East Lansing and beyond.

Nearly 600 people came out to honor Morrall and Gibson at the 2012 MSU Baseball First Pitch Dinner Saturday at the Kellogg Center. The seventh-annual program paid tribute to Morrall as its 2012 Spartan Baseball Alumnus of the Year and also held a jersey recognition for Gibson.

Gibson becomes just the second former Spartan player to have his jersey number honored (No. 30), joining pitcher Robin Roberts (No. 36) along with former coaches John Kobs (No. 25) and Danny Litwhiler (No. 1).

“When you play the game, you stay humble, and you realize it’s a team sport. That they recognize me like this, it makes you feel good,” Gibson said. “I support the program, and (MSU head coach) Jake Boss has done a really great job here. … It’s good to see people at this university continue to have the opportunity that I did.”

In his 21-year NFL career, which included three Super Bowl championships, Morrall was revered for being one of the great backup quarterbacks in NFL history. He is best remembered for filling in for the injured Johnny Unitas during the 1969 season and leading the Baltimore Colts to a 13-1 record before losing to Joe Namath and the AFL upstart New York Jets in Super Bowl III.

But before the fame in the formative years of the modern NFL, Morrall was an infielder on the 1954 Big Ten championship baseball team that would play in the College World Series. Morrall also was the quarterback on the 1954 and 1956 Rose Bowl winning MSU football teams.

Morrall joins other notable Spartan Baseball Alumnus’ of the Year including Roberts, Litwhiler, and former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr., among others.

“It means a lot just to be a part of it and knowing the good years and everything else,” Morrall said. “I’m just happy to be a part of Michigan State.”

The night also featured a silent auction of baseball and MSU memorabilia, autographs from current Spartan baseball players and video highlights of last season’s Big Ten Championship run.

For current players such as senior pitcher Tony Bucciferro, the night served as a reminder of what the team accomplished a year ago and the work that still needs to be done in the upcoming season.

“It really started something special last year,” said Bucciferro, who recently was named team captain for the season along with shortstop Justin Scanlon. “It’s a great feeling to see so many new faces. People that you don’t even know thank you for winning the championship, and it’s something special that’s going on here right now.”

With the MSU baseball team opening up practice this past week, the 2012 season is right around the corner. The Spartans open up game action for the 2012 season on February 17th against No. 11 St. Johns in Dunedin, Fla. The team returns to McLane Baseball Stadium at Kobs Field nearly a month later in its home season opener against Oakland on March 23rd.

But for the time being, the program took its annual First Pitch Dinner to pause and reflect on two of its all-time greats.

“You’ve got two all-time Spartan greats on the field, guys that have had a really unbelievable career in the professional ranks,” Boss said. “For them, as busy as they are with all of the things they have going on, for them to come back for our program is really something special.”

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