Legendary pitch

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Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan was the guest speaker at the 2007 “Meet the Players” banquet on Saturday night. The dinner and auction, held in the LSC ballroom, served as a fundraiser for the 2007 Bearkat baseball team.

Over 150 people attended the function, seated at tables decorated with packages of those baseball staples: popcorn, peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

In addition to the silent and live auctions, the members of the baseball team introduced themselves and special recognitions were made to Don Sanders and Bud and Joan Haney.

The highlight of the evening was the speech given by baseball’s all-time strikeout leader.

Ryan spoke about his tenure with the Houston Astros, his pre-season training camp at Minute Maid Park and the minor league teams he co-owns with SHSU alumnus Don Sanders, the Round Rock Express and the Corpus Christi Hooks.

Ryan even spoke of his relationship with SHSU. He said, “Sam Houston State has been a part of my life for a long time. My two younger sisters and my brother graduated from here, so we spent a lot of time coming up this way in those days.”

Ryan, who spoke at the end of the evening, had high praise for Don Sanders, who was honored earlier that night. Ryan and Sanders are the principal owners of both the Express and the Hooks. Ryan said, “Don and I have been friends since I signed with the Astros back in 1980.”

In addition to his relationship with Sanders, Ryan’s sons serve as executives with both teams. Ryan said, “From ownership to the games, there’s always been a lot of family involvement and I’m grateful for that.”

Of his own 27-season career, Ryan said he was fortunate to play as long as he did. He said, “It’s not often you get to pursue a career that you dreamed about as a child.”

Ryan said that, since Jeff Bagwell has retired, he will now co-host the pre-season training camp. With Bagwell working with the hitters and Ryan the pitchers, many of the young Astros players have gained valuable knowledge.

Ryan said he was impressed with Troy Patton, a pitcher who will start the season with the Hooks.

Ryan also hinted that Roger Clemens may return to the Astros if the team is competitive.

Bearkat head coach Mark Johnson gave Ryan the highest of praise while introducing him. Johnson said, “I find a striking resemblance when the name Nolan Ryan rolls off my tongue as does the name Babe Ruth.”

Coach Johnson gave his outlook for the upcoming season before introducing the players. He said that it would take awhile for everything to fall into place, but that things look good for the team. Johnson said that 18 players are returning for their senior seasons.

He also praised the Bearkats for maintaining an average 2.7 GPA as a team.

Johnson said, “My family and I enjoy our new community and our new church. Everyone loves us right now. We have no losses.”

Johnson also spoke of the difficulty in organizing the evening’s festivities while preparing for the season opener this Thursday. He said, “We’re trying to prepare for the season so we can win some ball games and run a banquet at the same time.”

Dr. James Gaertner, President of SHSU, honored Don Sanders. Sanders is the founder of the Smith, Morris, Harris banking firm, a former co-owner of the Astros and an SHSU graduate. Dr. Gaertner announced that Mr. Sanders has enthusiastically and graciously endowed $1 million to the baseball program. In his honor, the campus baseball field has been named Don Sanders Stadium.

Mickey Herskowitz spoke in place of Farrell Robinson, who could not attend due to illness.

Herskowitz, a Warner Endowed chair in the Mass Communication department, relayed Robinson’s commendation of both Sanders and Johnson. Herskowitz said of Sanders, “When Sam Houston says, ‘Thanks a million,’ we really mean it.”

Herskowitz also spoke of Ryan, with whom he co-authored the book “King of the Hill.” He said, “No one has came out a career like his virtually the same person as when he went in, but he has.”

Bobby Williams, Bearkat Director of Athletics, honored Bud and Joan Haney for their donation of $150,000 to the baseball program.

Bud Haney, a four-time All American at SHSU, now runs Profiles International in Waco and authored the book “40 Strategies for Winning at Business.” Williams announced the naming of the Bearkat players lounge for Haney. He said, “It will have an impact on any student-athlete who walks in there to see his name.”

The evening served as a fundraiser for the Bearkat baseball team. The silent auction, featuring items from local businesses and numerous autographed sports items, closed at 7:45 p.m., prior to the guest speakers. The live auction was held at the conclusion of Ryan’s speech. Hosted by auctioneer Greg Smith, the live auction featured rare, autographed items like a David Eckstein World Series jersey and a football signed by 19 Heisman Trophy winners.

The Bearkat players got in on the action as well. Infielder Aaron Cook gave the invocation at the banquet’s start. Outfielder Jeremy Holzbach sang three songs, including “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”