MSU Baseball Kicks Off 20 Campaign With MLB Hall Of Famer Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez

Hondo S. Carpenter

Spring Has Sprung: Spartan Baseball Kicks Off 2020 Campaign

For many years Spartan Nation has kicked off the baseball season by broadcasting from the First Pitch dinner with our good buddy Jake Boss, the MSU baseball coach. This year we couldn't because of the Spartan basketball team being in Wisconsin. But the amazing even still went off without a hitch.

Here is the terrific update on the amazing event from the terrific baseball SID Zach Fisher:

Spartan Baseball Officially Kicks Off 2020 Season With 15th Annual First Pitch Dinner Saturday Night

Over 500 in attendance for the annual event, honoring Bill Wooley as Alumnus of the Year with MLB Hall of Famer Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez as the keynote speaker. 

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State baseball hosted its 15th-annual First Pitch Dinner Saturday night at the Kellogg Center, drawing a crowd of over 500. Bill Wooley was honored as the Alumnus of the Year, while Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Ivan “Pudge” Rodriquez was the keynote speaker. 

“It was another great evening, with over 500 people in the room, and to able to introduce and show our team off to the community is really something that’s pretty special,” MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “Bill Wooley is such a well-deserving Alumnus of the Year Award winner, and I know our guys were excited to hear and very touched by how he expressed what Spartan baseball means to him, not just during his time as a player, but still to this day. To have Hall of Famer Pudge Rodriguez answering questions and explaining his career path and what his keys to success were, was just invaluable to our guys and everyone in attendance. Overall, just an outstanding evening.”

Saturday night opened with an introduction of the 2020 Spartans by the master of ceremonies, Jim Cotter, then an invocation by senior pitcher Caleb Sleeman, before dinner. Following dinner, Boss addressed the crowd, introducing the former Spartan baseball alumni in attendance and then introduced Wooley and presented him with the Alumnus of the Year award.

Wooley was a four-year letter winner for the Spartan baseball team from 1964-67. He was utility infielder on the freshman team in 1964 for head coach Tom Smith, before moving up to varsity and was utility infielder and team manager from 1965-67 for head coach Danny Litwhiler.

A native of Detroit, Mich., Wooley graduated from Michigan State University College of Business in 1967 with a bachelor’s of business administration (BBA) with general business and marketing emphasis. Wooley began his business career in 1967, and held various positions and titles, before retiring in 2006.

Wooley and his wife, Mary (Bigelow), who is a 1967 MSU alum with her education degree, met at MSU in the fall term of their freshman year and dated all through college, and have been married 52 years. They live in Greer, South Carolina, and regularly attend Spartan baseball games whenever in South Carolina, as well as regularly returning to East Lansing.

“This is a special award, and something I definitely never expected. It certainly is a true honor, which I would never have realized that it happen to me the way that it did, but at the same time, it’s a respectful acceptance of what Jake and the team have bestowed upon me at this point in time,” Wooley said. “This award is something that will be my house and I’ll look at it frequently and have many memories of not just tonight, but every night that we’ve been to this event, and many memories of Michigan State baseball and my time at Michigan State. Having Mary here to share tonight with is just wonderful because of us being in college together, so we share the same memories together.”

After Wooley’s speech, keynote speaker Pudge Rodriquez spoke and participated in a question and answer session with Cotter, telling stories and jokes, along with meaningful advice to the players, about baseball on and off the field, school and life.

  “If you want to be a great athlete, believe it in your heart. If you have a strong mind, anything is possible,” Rodriquez said. 

The Hall of Famer’s advice hit home with one particular Spartan, junior catcher and team captain, Adam Proctor.

“I thought it was very good,” Proctor said about hearing from Pudge Rodriguez. “I really thought it offered some good information and good advice, for the team and for everyone here tonight. It was very captivating, but being a catcher, I can definitely relate to some particular things, and it’s a different kind of insight than I’ve had my whole life, and it really helped a lot and was very valuable.”

The advice from Rodriguez not only hit home with the fellow backstop in Proctor, but the Spartan captain also took away some tools to use as captain. 

“The fact that he was talking about his main focus being defense meant a lot to me,” Proctor said. “A lot of the times, I get caught up in thinking that I’ll help the team with hitting, but while that’s true, my job is to be a catcher, and if I can help the team by being a good catcher all the time, then focusing on that and controlling the game and helping the pitchers, I feel like that’s more valuable than the bat. You have eight other hitters, but you only have one catcher.” 

Rodríguez was a 21-year MLB veteran, playing for the Texas Rangers, Florida Marlins, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Washington Nationals. Regarded as one of the top defensive catchers in the history of baseball, Rodríguez is the major league career leader in putouts by catchers, and set an MLB record by catching in 2,427 games at catcher, passing Carlton Fisk. During his career, Rodríguez also had the best caught stealing percentage of any major league catcher, at 45.68 percent. 

In 2003, Rodríguez help lead the Florida Marlins to the World Series, and also played in the 2006 World Series while with the Tigers. He was named the 1999 American League MVP, the 2003 National League NLCS MVP and was a 14-time All-Star. Rodríguez was a 13-time Gold Glove recipient and won seven Silver Sluggers.

Rodríguez was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown in 2017, his first year of eligibility, receiving 76 percent of the votes cast, and was officially inducted on July 30, 2017. Rodríguez’s number 7 was retired by the Texas Rangers in 2017.

This season’s Spartans open the 2020 ledger with a four-game series vs. Morehead State at Shipyard Park in Charleston, South Carolina, Friday-Sunday, Feb. 14-16. The 2020 season opens on Friday, Feb. 14 at 4 p.m., before a twinbill on Saturday, Feb. 15 starting at 12 p.m., before wrapping up with a single game on Sunday, Feb. 16 at 12 p.m.

Remember to stay tuned to Spartan Nation for all of the latest news on this top defensive back out of the state of Indiana and the Spartans!

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