Story by Gary Cotton and Paula Pritzen
Photos by Gary Cotton
Kansas City Royals pitcher Aaron Crow waits to speak after chatting with media and former coaches Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Columbia, Mo.
Story telling, chicken wings, a silent auction and autographs — this year’s First Pitch Dinner had everything one would expect. It also had an All-Star speaker that might have needed a little bribing.
“I asked one of the coaches if they could get me tickets to the (KU) basketball game tonight,” Kansas City Royals pitcher and Missouri alumnus Aaron Crow joked, “They convinced me to do it, it’s for a good cause so I’m glad to help.”
The Robert A. McNeece Award winner wasn’t the only big name in attendance, former players like Danny Hill, Nick Tepish, Trevor Coleman were all present as the Hampton Inn’s banquet room buzzed with hearty laughs and laid back conversation.
Director of Baseball Operations Evan Pratte called the eighth annual event a “kick-off” for the season. Pratte says they want to unite players, alumni, coaches and parents at a convenient time.
Coach Tim Jamieson introduces Aaron Crow after review last year's tournament run. Jamieson noted the importance of events like the First Pitch Dinner to unite players and families.
“It’s before spring training starts so (players are) able to come and see the coaches and players that they played with. Most people are passionate about the program, they want to come back and help and get excited.”
Pratte says the impending conference move to the Southeastern Conference makes events like the First Pitch Dinner all the more important as the program rallies its base.
“There’s a lot of passion about Missouri baseball,” Pratte said. “With us moving to the SEC we want to grow this event.”
Recruiting Coordinator Kerrick Jackson agreed, saying the move has been big for the team’s off-season work.
“The Big 12 is still one of the top three conferences in the country—the SEC is the premiere,” Jackson said. “It just means we got to bring our A game…the biggest difference (between the conferences) is depth.”
It was a lack of depth that ended the Tiger’s season last year.
The Tigers fell to Texas A&M after an unlikely Big 12 title game appearance after a 24-30 record. Coach Tim Jamieson said timing was everything in their tournament run, but it was inexperience that brought them down. The team filled four pitching positions last year with freshmen. The team had eight freshmen total.
“We got some people healthy, and some guys started to mature,” Jamieson said. “(We need) to teach the game to them. Our baseball IQ wasn’t high because we were so young.”
Jamieson will do a lot of teaching this year, citing the pitchers mound as a focus area this off-season.
Players like sophomore second baseman Dillon Everett hope they can carry over momentum from that late-season rally.
“(It) gave us a spark and a confidence that we can use to go into this season,” Everett said. He went on to say that team chemistry has been great in off-season practices.
“When one guy falls, we pick him back up,” Everett said. “We have been trying to work together as a unit.”
All SEC talk aside, coaches and players say it’s the Big 12 that has their main attention. Jamieson said the new recruits will log a lot of minutes on the pitchers mound so it seems proper that one of MU baseball’s greatest pitchers would be there to support the team.
“Hopefully they can bounce back,” Crow said. “I watched them a couple of times on TV last year. I hope they have a deep run in the tournament.”
The Tigers travel to Alabama for a three game series with Auburn, Feb. 17, 18 and 19. They travel to play San Fransisco Feb. 24, 25 and 26 then return home to Taylor Stadium for a three game series against Ball State on March 2, 3 and 4.