St. John's Hosts 12th Annual Bullpen Winter Banquet|
Feb. 8, 2018
QUEENS, N.Y. - With the start of the 2018 season just over a week away, alumni, friends and supporters of the St. John's Baseball program gathered at Edison Ballroom on Tuesday night for the 12th Annual Bullpen Winter Banquet, celebrating the proud history of the Red Storm while also generating interest in the upcoming campaign.
"Our baseball alumni here are second to none," said Head Coach Ed Blankmeyer. "They're an outstanding group of guys. They believe in the tradition of the program, they believe in the culture of the program. To get them together on a night like this is very special."
Former All-American Joe Panik served as this year's guest of honor at the event. Panik, who was drafted 29th overall out of St. John's by the San Francisco Giants in 2011, has enjoyed a stellar four-year MLB career so far in the Bay Area, breaking into the bigs in 2014 just in time for the Giants World Series title. The following year, he garnered his first All-Star selection before claiming his first Gold Glove in 2016. After the 2017 campaign, Panik signed a 3.45 million dollar contract to stay with the Giants for the 2018 season. A career .370 hitter at St. John's, Panik led the Red Storm to three winning seasons before being drafted at the conclusion of his junior year, anchoring the Johnnies to a pair of NCAA Regional appearances and a BIG EAST title in 2010.
"Joe is one of those special guys," said Blankmeyer. "He gives back, he cares, he always keeps in contact with me and always wants to know how the program is doing... yes, he's a great player, but he's even a better person."
The program began with welcoming remarks from the evening's emcee, St. John's legend C.J. Nitkowski. The highest draft pick in program history (Ninth overall- 1994), Nitkowski played in the majors for more than decade before beginning a successful career as a broadcaster.
Following an invocation from Father Richard Rock, Blankmeyer stepped to the podium and spoke to those in attendance on the outlook for the coming season, the history of the program, and his gratitude for their continued support throughout the years.
With the help of a few marquee names in attendance, the team then gave out their annual MVP awards. Panik and Texas Rangers hitting coach Anthony Iapoce presented the Peter P. Smith Award to Troy Dixon, the 2017 BIG EAST batting champion who hit .394 for the Johnnies last year before being taken in the 20th round by the Seattle Mariners. St. John's legend John Franco and longtime MLB pitching coach Rick Peterson then presented the Howie Gershberg award to Sean Mooney, who became just the second player in conference history to be named the BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year simultaneously in 2017.
St. John's then made a pair of surprise presentations, honoring Blankmeyer and Jack Kaiser for their contributions the program and collegiate baseball during their storied careers. Last month, Blankmeyer joined Kaiser in the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, becoming the third St. John's coach to be bestowed with the honor.
The Red Storm then surprised former pitcher and longtime supporter of the program Mike Aylmer with a token of appreciation for his efforts over the years in aiding and promoting St. John's Baseball.
After the guests were served dinner, Panik and Nitkowski took the stage and engaged in a comprehensive question and answer session to the delight of the assembled crowd.
St. John's will kick off the 2018 campaign on Friday, Feb. 16, traveling to Buies Creek, N.C., for a three-game set with Campbell.