MSU Baseball Honors Mulder At First Pitch Dinner Sunday
Nearly 600 Michigan State baseball fans heard from pair of World Series Champion pitchers in Spartan Elite player and keynote speaker Jack Morris
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State baseball hosted its 12th-annual First Pitch Dinner Sunday evening at the Kellogg Center, drawing a crowd of nearly 600. Spartan great Mark Mulder was honored at the event, while three-time World Series Champion Jack Morris delivered the keynote address. MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr., presented Mulder with a framed Spartan baseball jersey with Mulder's number 13 on it from his time at MSU.
"This is not something I really expected. To be honest with you, quite a few years ago I didn't even know that they did this to honor my jersey. I know they don't retire them, but it's kind of the same thing. It's really cool that Jake (Boss) asked me to be here for this, and to be able to talk, and have this honor, and be alongside guys like Gibby (Kirk Gibson), Robin Roberts, (Steve) Garvey and some of the other names. It's pretty special to be included in that group," Mulder said.
Mulder spent the weekend in East Lansing and took a tour of the MSU baseball and Spartan athletics facilities on Saturday.
"To see what they've done here, not just for baseball, but for a lot of the other sports -- they took me around yesterday and showed me pretty much every sport that's been redone -- it is incredible to see. It's special, it's really cool to see how they've improved that stuff, what that's done for recruiting, and what it does for these players to become better," Mulder said.
Mulder earned third-team All-America honors as a junior. He was also a two-time first-team All-Big Ten honoree, leading the Big Ten in strikeouts in 1998 and his 113 strikeouts that season is still the Michigan State single-season record. He was selected by the Oakland Athletics with the second overall pick in the 1998 MLB draft, becoming the first Spartan player picked in the first round since Kirk Gibson in 1978. The former Spartan also reflected on his time at MSU during Sunday's event.
"Well, we weren't very good. It was sometimes a struggle, but I had great teammates, great coaches, the support here from the people that supported the program at that time -- they were incredible people. There just wasn't enough of them," Mulder said. "We used to have a dinner like this, and I think it was in the back of Coral Gables restaurant, someone reminded me of the name last night. To see what this has become is really special."
Mulder made his big league debut in April of 2000 at the age of 22. He had a well decorated career in his nine seasons in the big leagues, finishing second in the 2001 Cy Young Award balloting after he led the American League with 21 wins and four shutouts, and was an All-Star in 2003 and 2004. He was also a World Series Champion in 2006.
Mulder made his big league debut in April of 2000 at the age of 22. He had a well decorated career in his nine seasons in the big leagues, finishing second in the 2001 Cy Young Award balloting after he led the American League with 21 wins and four shutouts, as well as being named an All-Star in 2003 and 2004 while with the Oakland Athletics. Mulder also became a World Series Champion in 2006 with the St. Louis Cardinals
Like Mulder, Morris was also a World Series Champion, winning four rings, first in 1984 with the Detroit Tigers, 1991 with the Minnesota Twins and 1992 and 1993 with the Toronto Blue Jays. Morris finished his 18-year big league career with 254 wins and was voted as the World Series MVP in 2001. In addition to being a five-time All-Star, Morris was also the Sporting News Pitcher of the Year in 1981. Morris holds the Tigers' record for most seasons leading the teams in wins with 11 (1979-88, 1990). He also holds the MLB record for consecutive Opening Day starts with 14 (1980-1993). Morris was the AL wins leader in both 1981 (14) and 1992 (21), led the AL in strikeouts in 1983 (232) and threw one no-hitter in his career, on April 7, 1984.
While Morris didn't play at Michigan State, he does have ties to Spartan baseball, as his son Erik, played for MSU from 2002-05.
"I knew the challenges that would be put in front of him at the time, it's Big Ten baseball, it's as good as any of the other programs in the country," Morris said. "Also, being born and bred in Minnesota, I also know the challenges of the upper Midwest, and the scheduling and all that from playing spring baseball when the weather doesn't always cooperate, but with that being said, you're going to get your chances, you've just got to capitalize on them."
Morris had high-praise about Michigan State University from his son's time as a Spartan.
"The fact that I know he enjoyed his experience here was all that matters to me. I mean I'm paying for his college education, so I want to make sure he has a good one," Morris said with a laugh. "What happened is he has lifelong friendships from Michigan State, in fact some of his teammates are here tonight, along with Erik, and that means more than anything. I've learned that the older you get, the more you realize that the relationships you get with people that are long-lasting are very important."
Coach Boss thought Mulder and Morris' messages to the audience and his team were invaluable.
"What a great night, to have close to 600 people here tonight to recognize our team and recognize the work that our guys put in to get ready for the season is something that I think we're all thrilled with. To have guys like Jack Morris, a Major League Baseball great and World Series champion, and Mark Mulder, another MLB All-Star, MLB great and World Series Champion, to be here and speak to our group, is something that is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our guys. This is a great way to kick off the season and we're in game mode now and this is just a fantastic way to get the ball rolling on what hopes to be a good season," Boss said.
In addition to Mulder and Morris speaking, Boss previewed the upcoming season after the 2017 team was introduced. The Spartan head coach also announced that senior infielder Dan Durkin was named team captain in a team vote, and presented Durkin with his number 9 jersey with a "C" sewn on it.
"It's one of the coolest things that's every happened to me, if not the coolest. My teammates have always joked around about it and given me a hard time, but it's pretty sweet. It's definitely a huge honor and I couldn't ask for a better honor from my teammates," Durkin said.
The new Spartan captain greatly enjoyed hearing from Mulder and Morris and what they shared.
"It was cool. We've got a lot of good talent on this team with guys that hope to play in the big leagues, just like those guys. They got to tell us about the struggles they went through and I'm sure some of us will go through the same type of stuff, so it was all just really good information to get from all of them," Durkin said.
Durkin wasn't the only current Spartan motivated by the two speakers at the event, as junior pitcher Ethan Landon took a great deal to heart from two greats at his position.
"You've got two guys that were elite at the highest level, so hopefully you just hope that you can take even just a little bit from both of them have said because obviously, they were great in college and were at a level that you hope to be at someday, so they're a fountain of knowledge for guys like us. We get to listen to them and watch them and hopefully you can make yourself better by looking at what they did," Landon said.
The current Spartan took one piece of Morris' speech to heart and will imply that this season when he's on the mound.
"I like when Jack Morris was talking about how (Morris' AAA manager Jim Leyland) told him, `you just need to go out there and be a bulldog on the mound,' and how that kind of changed his career, and when he said to `just own the mound every time.' I think we have a pitching staff this season that has a bunch of guys with that mentality and we're just going to try to go out there and just try to own that mound every time," Landon said.
Landon, Durkin and the Spartans open the 2017 season on Friday, Feb. 17 at Abilene Christian in a four-game series in three days. MSU and ACU open up at Friday at 5 p.m. ET, then play a doubleheader on Saturday, Feb. 19 starting at 2 p.m., then wrap-up the weekend on Sunday, Feb. 19 at Noon.