Jan. 22, 2009
QUEENS, N.Y. -
St. John's alum and former New York Mets All-Star reliever John Franco highlighted the third annual St. John's Baseball Bullpen Winter Banquet held on Wednesday night at the New York Athletic Club. More than 200 people were in attendance for the event held to benefit the St. John's baseball program. The event featured a speech from Franco, a special tribute honoring former St. John's pitching coach Howie Gershberg, award presentations to members of the team, an inside look at the 2009 season from head coach Ed Blankmeyer and numerous auctions.
"This was a great evening for everyone involved," said Blankmeyer. "John really connected with the audience, the team and all of his former teammates in attendance. John is just another example of the great baseball tradition here at St. John's."
A number of special guests were in attendance, including Hall of Fame basketball coach Lou Carnesecca and former major league pitcher Ron Darling.
Prior to the dinner, Franco took the time to speak privately with the team and coaching staff. The reliever discussed his experiences as a player at St. John's and the influence that playing baseball for the University had on his career in the major leagues.
"I told them to always work hard and represent St. John's baseball to the best of their abilities," said Franco. "I also told them to be sure to enjoy their teammates and the experience of playing Division I baseball for a team with such great tradition."
Junior captain Brian Kemp was quick to describe his feelings after hearing Franco speak. "We were all very inspired by Mr. Franco's words," Kemp said. "He talked to us about toughness, hard work and the importance of being part of the St. John's family."
Recent graduates Jeff Grantham and George Brown were both honored and presented with awards during the event, as well.
Grantham was awarded with the Peter P. Smith Most Valuable Player award after a 2008 season in which the shortstop earned third team All-BIG EAST accolades and first team Academic All-America honors. Grantham batted .343 with eight doubles and 30 RBI and led the team with a .469 on-base percentage.
Brown, selected in the 2008 MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals was presented with the Howie Gershberg award as the team's most outstanding pitcher after posting a 9-1 record with 59 strikeouts and a 2.91 ERA a year ago. Brown was named a second team All-American, the NCBWA District II Player of the Year and the BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year.
Franco joins Roger Clemens and David Wright on the list of guest speakers for the annual banquet, an event that has quickly developed a great tradition with superstar caliber.
"The bullpen banquet speaks volumes about our baseball program and is truly a first class event," said Blankmeyer. "In just a short time it has become a staple of the program and an event that we look forward to each year."
"It's great to see all the alumni come out for this night every year," Kemp added. "They set the tradition before us and it's our job to uphold it."
Before Franco addressed the audience, athletics director emeritus and former baseball coach, Jack Kaiser presented him with his St. John's senior watch, a traditional gift given to graduating seniors. Drafted after his junior season, Franco elected to enter the pros and never received his watch.
"To be presented with the watch was a true honor and it really meant a lot to me," said Franco.
A special presentation in tribute to Gershberg followed the speech. The six-minute video included old team photos, pictures of Gershberg and past and present pitchers, and some of the all-time Gershberg Award winners. Franco then presented Howie's wife, Mrs. Terry Gershberg, with a framed St. John's jersey in appreciation of Gershberg's contributions to the program in his 12 seasons in Queens.
"Howie was a mentor to me," Franco said. "When I came to St. John's, I was a thrower and Howie made me into a pitcher."
The St. John's baseball team begins the 2009 campaign on Feb. 20 with a three games in Florida as part of the inaugural BIG EAST-Big Ten Challenge. After trips to North Carolina and Utah, St. John's opens at home against Albany on March 13.