By Marc Weems
The Youngstown State University baseball team is about to start their season, and held their fifth annual First Pitch Breakfast on Feb. 11. With first year head coach Dan Bertolini now at the helm, the event went off without a hitch.
The event involved two former major leaguers: former Cleveland Indians’ second baseman Carlos Baerga and former YSU standout Justin Thomas.
Baerga was a three-time all-star as well as a two-time silver slugger. He spent six seasons with the Cleveland Indians. He was also only the second second baseman to have back-to-back 200 hits, 20 home runs, 100 RBI [runs batted in] and a .300 average.
Thomas posted a 19-13 record, while appearing in 44 games and making 37 starts from 2003 to 2005. He threw nine complete games and totaled 253.1 innings pitched. He struck out 250 batters in his career. He had 80-plus strikeouts in all three seasons, becoming the first pitcher in YSU history to accomplish the feat.
“There was great energy here [at the breakfast] and we pretty much had a max capacity,” Bertolini said. “It means a lot to see this much support. I hope it continues as we continue this season. I can’t believe that the season is here already. We are ready to go.”
YSU will be looking to build off of their season last year in which they went 14-38.
“I think we have a resilient group that has been a part of some special teams,” Bertolini said.
“We look forward to getting closer together and we have some guys that compete hard every day.”
Thomas spent some parts of four seasons with four teams. He had a nice debut with one inning pitched with no hits and a strikeout.
“It’s a great experience to come back,” Thomas said. “Being able to giveback with a lot of knowledge is really nice after my playing career and time in Youngstown, to be able to help the team here in any way that I can.”
Thomas also said that he’s excited to be a part of the success at YSU along with coach Bertolini and his staff. Included in his baseball career is playing overseas in many different countries.
The last person to speak was Baerga, who was very excited for the opportunity.
“I always say that getting an education is really important,” Baerga said. “You can get hurt at any moment. I told my son who is in school that he’s blessed because he will finish his four years at the university.”
Baerga also said that getting an education is the number one priority for anyone, which has become clear to him.
With all the excitement around the event, many items were auctioned off in support of YSU baseball. They included a signed George Brett jersey and customized YSU baseball glove.
“This had been the first time since I’ve been playing overseas that I’ve been able to be on campus,” Thomas said. “I’m excited for everything moving forward.”
Thomas used his experiences as a major and minor leaguer to help the players out.
“You just have to grind and you have to put your body of work in,” Thomas said. “Let the chips fall where they may; you can only control what you can control. You can show up on time, put in the work, but be professional.”
The breakfast earned the program over $2,500 and gives head coach Bertolini future hope.
“I think that it was a little bit of a learning curve,” Bertolini said about becoming the head coach with a veteran group. “I think they had to feel them out and vice versa. I think everyone has really bought in.”
Bertolini said that he pinches himself every day to remind himself that he gets to work at YSU and be their head coach every day.