Yankees help Bulls launch '09 season
USF's baseball and softball teams gathered at the Pepin Hospitality Center in Tampa on Thursday night for the Bulls' annual Leadoff Banquet, with Yankee greats Goose Gossage, Jorge Posada and Tino Martinez among the celebrity guests for this year's dinner.
"I'm supporting my friends and a great school, a great program," said Gossage, inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame last year. "They asked me if I could come over tonight, and I'm very happy to be here."
Martinez, a volunteer assistant baseball coach for the Bulls and coach Lelo Prado's brother-in-law, has helped build a strong relationship between USF and the Yankees. The two schools met in a spring training exhibition at Legends Field last season, and the Yankees will host a four-team college baseball tournament in Tampa with USF, Florida, Florida State and Miami next spring.
"The Yankees have been very good to USF, and we are going to continue a longterm relationship," Martinez said. "To bring in guys like Jorge, Goose Gossage, and Derek Jeter in the past for this event, it's unbelievable to see where we've come."
Martinez will split time between the two teams in the next seven weeks, working as a special instructor to the Yankees, but with time to help with afternoon practices and night games at USF. After the Yankees head north, Martinez said he'll be able to focus on the Bulls, who have been picked to finish second in the Big East. USF is hoping for its first NCAA Regional in seven years, and Martinez is setting his sights higher. "Hopefully I'll be on a plane to Omaha in June," Martinez said.
Prado and Martinez aren't USF's only connection to the Yankees. Athletic director Doug Woolard went to college with Mark Newman, the Yankees' senior vice president of baseball operations, who has attended USF games as Woolard's guest.
"It's all about relationships," Woolard said. "Bringing Lelo home was important. You go with him to any place, you see how well he is respected in this community. I knew that, anticipated that when I brought him here, and it's probably even exceeded my expectations, the connectivity he has with the community."