Ralph R. Zobell | Posted: 15 Jan 2016 | Updated: 8 Nov 2020

Third Annual First Pitch Dinner Summary

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Jack Morris, a former Cougar  and Major League pitcher, highlighted the third annual First Pitch Dinner with a keynote address earlier this month in Provo.

Over 28 former BYU coaches and players spanning seven decades who attended the First Pitch Dinner where IMG radio broadcaster Greg Wrubell was the emcee. Current pro baseball players in attendance were Adam Law (Dodgers), Kolton Mahoney (Yankees), Taylor Cole (Blue Jays) and Adam Miller (Diamondbacks). Cole and Miller have been invited to attend their respective Big League training camps.

Coach Mike Littlewood gave a report on the state of the BYU baseball program. Presentations were made for the annual Cameron Tuckett Award and the Arik Mack Scholarship Fund, which was unveiled.

Mack played for BYU in 2014 and was killed in a tragic car accident on March 25, 2015 in nearby Spanish Fork Canyon.

“I loved this kid’s moxy,” said Littlewood. “He could really pitch. He garnered attention from professional scouts. He was twice named 4A pitcher of the year in Utah. He was one of the best left-handed pitchers to come out of the state of Utah. He had an infectious personality. We were fortunate to have him play for us. He had a great heart.

“Brent and Virginia Bryson along with NuSkin have teamed up to keep his memory alive and established the annual Arik Mack scholarship fund, a generous gift to BYU baseball.”

The Bryson’s and NuSkin presented a $10,000 check to Tom Holmoe, director of BYU athletics.

Glen Tuckett, former BYU baseball coach and director of athletics, presented the Cameron Tuckett Award to Dillon Robinson, a two-time all-conference infielder. The Cameron Tuckett Award is given annually to the player who demonstrates consistent effort in academics, citizenship and baseball.

Here is a transcription of the keynote address by Morris below or the video link:

"There’s some tough acts to follow in this room tonight. I just want to let everybody know how humbled and honored I am to be here and to be a part of this. Before I get choked up thinking of so many things  that I am grateful for, I just wanted to introduce my family. My brother, professor of geology at BYU, his wife Lisa, his son Conner and my sister’s son Kyle all in attendance tonight. Tom played here at BYU during two of the three years, he was also a pitcher and depending on who you would talk to we’d have an argument who was better.

"I also want to say a special thank you to my coach, Coach (Glen) Tuckett. Tremendous memories of what I was able to accomplish here. I can’t say that my baseball dream initiated as a member at BYU, it  actually started before that. But certainly it was molded and brought to reality as a member of the BYU Cougars during the time I was here, because there was so many things I learned from Coach Tuckett.

"Coach (Vernon) Law, my first pitching coach. I never had a pitching coach. I wasn’t even a pitcher until I came to BYU. I pitched a few games because I had the best arm on the team, and I scared everybody cause every once on a while I would hit the backstop and that worked out quite well, except I walked half the ballpark back when I was in high school.

"As a I reflect back and wonder sometimes about my career and the road and the  journey in life that we all go through, I have so much to be thankful for. I don’t even know how I ended up at BYU quite honestly. As a kid growing up in Minnesota I was pretty proud of my roots. I had a dream, not really a dream, a desire to play for the University of Minnesota when I was a high school player. I played mostly third base and shortstop, I pitched a little bit. My brother was the star pitcher on our team. Pitching in the World Series, by the way folks, is way easier than this right now for me. I look back and I wonder how did I get to BYU and I know it was a friend of the family who must have contacted Coach Tuckett about me.

"We had a conversation one day, I remember that conversation, what a wonderful guy he seemed to be. He invited me out to Provo, Utah, a place I had never been to visit the campus and see what BYU baseball is all about. Little did he know that once I saw those mountains and knew that there was skiing up in those mountains, that baseball was going to be  a part in my future right here. It was everything I wanted out of baseball, so much of a better decision for me to come here and play in the conference and attain some of the goals that I hoped to attain.

"I was raw, there was a lot of things I needed to learn. I still need to learn a lot of things. I learned the values of what BYU is all about. And to this day I want you know how proud I am to say I went to school here. Coach Littlewood, Coach Holmoe, we all know the difficulties this school has in recruiting and competing at the highest level in college sports. You talked about excellence and the values and I didn’t always live those, I’m guilty of a lot of things, but I never forgot them and I’m proud of them. Okay, maybe I can regroup now.

"I signed out of BYU. I was able to accomplish that goal. When I came here I had no idea if I was ever going to play pro ball, it was a hope and a dream of mine. And I got exposed because of the program here to some of the best college baseball teams. At the time we were in the Western Athletic Conference, we played teams like Arizona, Arizona State, we went down to play Riverside in the tournament we out to Hawaii  and played  a huge tournament out there. And I have tons of stories and hope I don’t get too long-winded.

"I remember vividly some of those experience. The game that actually got the attention, was when we were down playing against Arizona State we 20 scouts and at that time that was a lot. Back in those days that was huge. All of us were made aware of  the fact that there was that many scouts there and there were there primarily the number one recruit in the country, Floyd Bannister, a left-handed pitcher and he went number one, number one for the Mariners that year. I actually was able to compete with him, our team was pretty darn good ourselves. We went out there, we didn’t win the game, but we were in the game. From that day on I had scouts looking at me. Coach Tuckett and I remember that night. He told me it might happen and it did.

"I reflect back because scout that was actually credited for signing me, he was with the scouting bureau, his name was Dick Wiencek, I  ran into him last summer. I’m still broadcasting for Twins and tigers and do some work for MLB.com, so I’m involved with baseball at the Big League level and I really, really enjoy that. There’s something about this crazy game we all love that once it’s in your blood it’s hard to get rid of. Mr. Wiencek came up to me and said , “I need to tell you something, I’ve got to be honest with you. I never went down there to watch you.” I said, “don’t worry about it, I’ve heard all sorts of stories that doesn’t bother me.” “I was really wrong and the guy I was supposed to go down and see. I had no idea even when we drafted you that you were going to have the kind of career you had.”  I looked back at him and said, “I didn’t either.”

"None of us know our destiny, but the values of what Coach Littlewood is trying to teach you are the values I believe in. We play this game because you love it. We are all in this building tonight because have some kind of passion for baseball. That passion has really never left me. The hardest day of my life was the day I had to admit I could no longer play at the level I wanted to play at, and I retired that day from baseball. For 10 years I wanted to go back and play again.

"It got so bad that two years later I played for the St. Paul Saints in an amateur league. I had a lot of fun because I played with a guy named Darryl Strawberry who went back and played three years more with Yankees. There was a lot of kids out of colleges that were dreaming to get back into baseball for the first time get drafted by a team out of  their years of playing college ball. I did full circle,  I had played the Big League route and done all the wonderful things able to accomplish, but I went back to where it started somehow this is where I need to be tonight, too, to thank so many people for where it started.

"Baseball is the greatest game ever invented, any argument? Good, because I didn’t want to fight tonight. It gives everybody an opportunity. Any boy, nowadays its girls in softball. You don’t have to be 7 foot tall. Sorry Kyle (Coburn) I’ve got to talk about your football guys now. You don’t have to be a gorilla, you don’t have to be 300 pounds and hate your sister in law or your girlfriend. If you are 4-foot-8 like Freddie Patek, I don’t know where Dustin Pedroia fits in today. José Altuve, how about if I use him, everybody knows who he is. Or you can be as big as Randy Johnson who made the Hall of Fame last year, 6-11. If you can do a few things well and the right attitude you have a chance in the great game of baseball. I love it, I’ve always loved it. I continue to love it, It’s given me unbelievable amount of joy in my life. It’s taken me to several different countries, Japan, Canada, Puerto Rico. Life experiences because I was able to throw a little baseball and do it because I know what it meant.

"I could tell you so many stories about my career, I don’t think that is what I should be doing here tonight. I know there is a lot of love in this room. There’s people that are willing to support BYU’s team, there’s people that have dreams of where this great game is going to take us and the support system behind them, the family and friends who are really the unsung heroes for all of us, that gave us the chance and supported us along our journey. I’ve been guilty never giving the credit that I should to those people.

"I played for some great managers after college. My first one was Ralph Houk, who managed the Yankees, I’ll never forget the day I was called to the Big Leagues. I was instructed to come to his room in Chicago in the hotel, and he had a simple little speech for me “Jack, I’m not a babysitter, I’ll treat you like a man if you will play like a man. Be prepared, get your rest, play the game the right way and we’ll never have another conversation.” I thought, that’s not exactly the way it would be. I was used to coaches telling a lot of things. Coach Law talked to me a lot about situations. Here’s a manager saying pretty much under his breath you’re a pitcher , I don’t need to talk to you. As long as you do your job, you’ll be fine. Ironically Ralph and I never had a lot of conversations during that time. I got hurt my first year and I was lucky to be in the Big League Hid me only used me in situations that allowed me to be in a good role and it worked out. I went to Puerto Rico the next winter and my arm came back to life.

"Some of the guys I have to acknowledge: Sparky Anderson, maybe my greatest manager, my mentor in some ways. Tremendous passion for the game. He was a character, loved messing with the press, he was a master at it , He would call them in after the game they would talk for 45 minutes and leave the room and not one of them got their questions answered. He would tell stories the whole time and it didn’t matter. They got some story to write.

"Tom Kelley, managed the great Minnesota Twins team I was on. TK was a lot different than Sparky, I don’t think he never cared for the press at all, which was something I could relate to at the time and yet he loved his time. He loved his players and was a real support for all of us. Back to back World Series team in  Toronto with Cito Gaston, phenomenal manager because he understood the talent he had on the team. And he was able to just let us play, didn’t really ever have a situation where he had to step in and make a difference because he knew he had guys in the clubhouse that could do that for him and he let those guys take over.

"I look back upon some of my teammates I played , no wonder position success. In Detroit, I played with great players: Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker, the longest second base-shortstop combination in modern-day baseball. played with Lance Parrish, a man’s man behind home plate, I beat him up once I learned how to throw a forkball everything was meant to be in the dirt and he had to block them and never complained. Kirk Gibson, one of the most intense human beings I’ve ever known, but had passion for the game. We all kind of grew up together from young men to Major League ball players.

"When I went to Minnesota, I played with some more great players. Everybody knows Kirby Puckett and if they don’t, they should. But Kirby had one simple philosophy. They still have a quote from Kirby that’s in the Minnesota Twins home lockerroom, “none of us are promised tomorrow, make the most out of today.” One of the greatest statements I’ve ever heard. He played hard, he wasn’t necessarily the greatest person I’ve ever know, but he was a great teammate and he played the game the right way because he had passion and love for the game. Chili Davis, his real name is Charles and I loved to call him that, great teammate, we were both new to the ball club in 91. We had a little powwow between the two of us and decided that we could make a difference in changing the attitude because I think there was a  lot of doubt for a lot of great players that had never won. And we had to remind them every day that we could be those guys, too.

"Attitude is a huge part of it, because in baseball what I learned more than anything else is, if you think you can you can. If you think you can’t, you’ve already lost. Positive attitude is really, really a huge part of it. We play mind games with ourselves all the time. Baseball is a mental, mental game. The greatest hitters fail seven out of 10 times. A .500 pitcher can make millions today, so 50 percent of the time you lose and you still can do well.

"On to Minnesota, of course I can’t forget my good friend Danny Gladden, who is a broadcaster for the Twins. In the winning run of game 7 and that guy who picked him off the ground was me. When I was about 22 years old up until that moment, I never thought I’d look like this and I used to laugh at guys who looked like this. You get older, smarter and wiser and you can’t do what you used to do. So you have to tell stories and that is what I’m here to do tonight.

"Some of the guys I played with in Toronto. There’s  a whole bunch of Hall of Famers on this list. Dave Winfield was there the one year, ’92. He was most valuable player on our team that year he had a phenomenal year, his best year in the Big Leagues, a Hall of Famer. Robbie Alomar, played second base, a Hall of Famer, tremendous athlete with a great attitude. Paul Molitor came in ‘93  to replace Dave Winfield, along with yours truly all grew up in the city of St. Paul in Minnesota within about 10-12 miles of each other. We never played as teammates together until we were in the Big Leagues and they actually did play together in Minnesota the last couple years of their career. John Olerud played first base, one of the greatest guys because of his values. In the Big League level,  there’s a lot of challenges and one of the biggest is to stay true to yourself, and John Olerud could have played at BYU, because he stayed true to himself the whole time. Tremendous human being.

"Joe Carter, our right fielder. Devon White, the greatest centerfielder I had, and I played with played with Kirby Puckett and some great, great centerfielders, but Devon made it look easy every day. He could play 10 steps behind second base and catch everything to the wall in both gaps s, it was fun. He’s one of the few guys that in my life I’d pay price of admission to watch him run out to the field or watch him go first to third. He was a treat.

"After 92, the Jays figured we weren’t that good so they went out and  got Rickey Henderson, pretty good guy, a Hall of Famer, I couldn’t stand him for most of my career. I’m not kidding, I couldn’t stand him. The guy was a pain in my side every game. If he didn’t hit the first pitch, he would take two or three. I’d end up walking him and that was a mistake, because he was on third base two pitches later. And then a little dink, a wounded quail and he scores, they are up 1-0. The whole time he was doing his Rickey stuff, you know what I mean, don’t you? Fast forward, 1993 I became his teammate and I totally understood it was never intended to tick me off, but it did. Rickey was Rickey, I never had another teammate that talked about himself as the third party. It was a treat to be around especially when he went first to third when he was on your team.

"Look at some of the pitchers that were on that Jays’ team. We had a tremendous bullpen. It was the first time in my career I really acknowledged that maybe I’ll let them pitch a couple innings and help me out. Every time the bullpen got up in prior to me going to Toronto, it was a key to dig in a little harder and work a little harder, because if they came in the game was over. Any relief pitchers who are here I apologize for my attitude, but that was my attitude, okay. We had Duane Ward who became the closer a year later, Juan Guzmán, Jimmy Key, one of the smartest pitchers I ever pitched with, great teammate Al Leiter, David Cone, we had an all-star team and its no wonder we have rings to show the world.

"One story summarizes what I was about, I’m not sure I should tell this story, but I can’t help myself. When I pitched for the Tigers we had a new pitching coach in 1984, a guy by the name of Roger Craig, who ended up managing later for the Giants. He was a tremendous guy. He pitched in the Big Leagues as a player himself. We were built out of the same stitching. The trouble was Roger believed in off speed stuff away, and I believed in hard stuff in. Two guys with the same attitude, same drive, the same backbone. And we bumped heads every day. He’s my pitching coach and my boss and I got to listen to him. Every time I would go and throw my bullpens between starts, he was critical of me. It started wearing on me. I was the most critical of me of anyone I knew and he was almost as bad. He was a lot like me.

"There was a game in1985 and Roger came out to the mound, I didn’t mean to be disrespectful, but it was pretty obvious to everybody there, I walked around and never looked and him and tried to stall and he stood there and called me a couple of names and left. After that inning, I got out of that inning and I sat next to Roger Craig. I said, “Rog, can I just explain something to you?” He goes, “I’m not sure I want to talk to you right now.” I said “you’re going to want to after you hear this.  How many times have you ever come out to the mound when I was doing good?” He said, “Never. When you’re going good, I don’t have to come to the mound.”  I said, “Exactly, when you come to the mound, I already know I stink. I already know I’m in trouble. I already know what you are going to tell me before you get there.” He said, “Jack, calm down. You need to hear these things and I’m doing it to give you a break.”  I said, “I know that. Do me a favor, next time I’m in trouble, come out to the mound don’t say anything,” and he looked and me and I know he wanted to punch me. He said, “alright.”

"So the next game I’m in trouble about the fourth inning. Here comes Roger and I just walk right up to the rubber and I’m standing there and I don’t look at him. I’m starring right at my catcher Lance Parris. Roger comes up three feet away from me, folds his arms and looks in centerfield and this goes on for a couple minutes. Finally the home plate umpire comes out to the mound and says ‘let’s go, come on boys.’ And Roger turns and walks to the dugout. Lance Parrish said, “Jack, what the heck was that?” I said, “don’t worry we got this under control. Get out of here.” I throw two pitches and get two outs and I go to the dugout and said, “Roger , that was greatest speech I’ve every heard.”

"I’ve got a million of these kind of stories. I want all of you to know how lucky all of us are, baseball can mean to all of us. All you young guys who are playing for BYU, be proud of what you are doing. My advice is there is one word and that is focus.

"If you focus, you can do it. All you have to do is look across the field or sometimes behind you with your own teammates and say, “if that guy’s the best, he’s doing it because of one thing. He can focus when it matters.” It’s an art to learn and we don’t learn it over night. Practice makes us all better. I wish you all the best of luck. I’d love to talk to all of you individually. I hope you have half as much joy in your life that I’ve had because what baseball has provided for me. God bless everybody here . Thanks for having me."

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