Former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz was the guest of honor Jan. 31 in the University Center arena for the third annual First Pitch Classic hosted by the Mercer baseball team.
“The First Pitch Classic is the biggest fundraiser of the year for Mercer’s baseball team. Tickets to the autograph session were sold for $100 and tickets to the dinner were $75,” said Jason Farhadi, who works for the Sports Information department.
Smoltz was the featured speaker for the event, which served as a kickoff for the 2011 baseball season.
“When you think of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball history, John Smoltz is one of the first people who come to mind,” said head baseball coach Craig Gibson. “For us to be able to have him come down to this event is a very special honor.”
An autograph session with Smoltz began at 6 p.m. Monday night, followed by a dinner at 7 p.m. where Smoltz spoke to a crowd of over 550 people.
Smoltz’s speech began with overwhelming applause and a standing ovation from the audience.
Smoltz cautioned the audience during his speech that they should be prepared for him “to take you all over the place” through stories and events that really impacted his life.
He told the audience of his childhood growing up in Michigan, even mentioning that he played the accordion until age seven. It was at seven years old that Smoltz knew he would grow up to be a major league pitcher.
“My experiences taught me that obviously God was first, school was second and obviously family was right there under God. All I knew from the accordion days is that I had the structure, the discipline, determination to go after something and go for it as far and as long as I can,” said Smoltz.
He went on to thank his parents for giving him character traits that helped him through the best and worst times of his career.
Smoltz told the audience about how his trade to the Atlanta Braves for Doyle Alexander in 1988 changed his life. He would later help the Braves to 14 consecutive National League East Division Titles and the World Series Championship in 1995.
“For a guy who came over from the Detroit Tigers, who at that time were coming off a World Series victory in 1984, to go to an organization that absolutely had nothing other than Dale Murphy—what an absolute joy and what an unbelievable run,” Smoltz said.
While his achievements are numerous, Smoltz also spoke of his regrets.
“I missed out on a lot not going to Michigan State. You never know if your career will work out,” Smoltz said. “I want to be the best I can be. With everything that is within me, if there is desire I want to do it.”
Before finishing his speech, Smoltz wished the baseball team a good season.
“Thank you for all that you have done and thank you for your attendance,” Smoltz said. “I wish you nothing but the best for Mercer.”
“I’ll keep an eye out and a give out a shout on national TV when I’m doing the broadcast for TBS. Thank you very, very much,” Smoltz finished, as the crowd again rose to their feet and sent him off with a standing ovation.
While Smoltz was the star of the night, his speech will hopefully inspire Mercer’s baseball team and lead them to another success run towards the Atlantic Sun title for this upcoming season.