Jan. 31, 2012
QUEENS, N.Y. - A record crowd of nearly 300 alumni, family and friends of the St. John's baseball program attended the Sixth Annual Baseball Bullpen Banquet, which was held at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan, highlighted by guest speaker and two-time World Series champion Terry Francona and billed as an evening to honor and thank Hall of Fame coach Jack Kaiserfor his nearly 70 years of continued support to both St. John's and the baseball program.
"The fact that more and more alumni are coming back each year to support the program is really special," said head coach Ed Blankmeyer. "It is especially nice to see a lot of the younger guys coming back and continuing the tradition."
Numerous Hall of Famers were in attendance to show their support to Coach Kaiser and the St. John's baseball program. Naismith Hall of Famers and St. John's legends Lou Carnesecca and Chris Mullin, Hall of Fame coach Gene Keady and former St. John's pitcher, four-time MLB All-Star and soon-to-be New York Mets Hall of Fame inductee John Francowere among the special guests in attendance.
"We had a record attendance this year thanks to the outpouring of support from so many wonderful alumni, family and friends of the program," said Kaiser. "This event continues to grow and it is the people that make for such a special evening each year."
A former St. John's student-athlete, coach and athletic director and current Athletic Director Emeritus, Kaiser captained the baseball team to its first-ever College World Series in 1949 before embarking on an 18-year career as head coach that included three trips to the CWS and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances. Upon coaching the squad to the 1960 CWS, Kaiser, who is both an American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) and Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League (ACBL) Hall of Famer, became the first person in NCAA history to coach and play in the CWS.
"I was certainly very humbled and thankful," added Kaiser on being honored at the event. "Everything I've accomplished can be attributed to the Vincentian Fathers, St. John's University, my colleagues and all of my players throughout the years."
Francona joins Bobby Valentine, Ron Darling, Franco, David Wright and Roger Clemenson the list of guest speakers at the annual event.
"It's just fun to talk about baseball with people that like baseball," said Francona. "You want people to learn something when you speak at an event like this, but also enjoy themselves and share a laugh or two."
As part of the evening's festivities, the Peter P. Smith Most Valuable Player Award was presented to Joe Panik. Selected in the first round, 29th overall, by the San Francisco Giants in the 2011 MLB Draft, the shortstop batted .398 with 19 doubles, 10 home runs and 57 RBI to earn All-America honors from the ABCA, Baseball America and Louisville Slugger. A finalist for the Brooks Wallace Award, an honor given to the nation's top shortstop, Panik ranked 10th in the nation with a .509 on-base percentage and was a first team ABCA All-Northeast Region honoree and a first team All-BIG EAST selection.
Kyle Hansen, meanwhile, was presented with the Howie Gershberg Award as the team's most outstanding pitcher for the second-straight season. A second team ABCA All-Northeast Region selection and a first team All-BIG EAST honoree, the righty went 8-7 with one save and a 3.09 ERA. Hansen racked up 106 strikeouts, sixth-most in a single season at St. John's, tossed a school-record 107.2 innings and allowed two earned runs or less in nine of his 15 starts. The righty had four double-digit strikeout performances, including a career-high 15 Ks in a complete game shutout against Notre Dame.
Paced by 18 returning letterwinners, including six starting position players and the entire starting rotation, St. John's opens the 2012 season against Michigan State on Feb. 17 as part of the fourth annual Big Ten-BIG EAST Challenge.