TAMPA, Fla. – The University of South Florida baseball and softball teams launched their 2008 seasons in style Wednesday night at the Pepin Hospitality Centre, as the Bulls coaches and players laughed and dined among the giants of the game.
The highlight of the evening saw Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, Yankees pitching coach and former Bull Dave Eiland and Yankee phenom Joba Chamberlain grace the stage for a question and answer session moderated by Tampa Bay sports media legend, Dick Crippen.
Click here for photos of the event
The evening began with the introductions of the 2008 USF softball and baseball players, as well as coaches and support staff.
After dinner, head USF softball coach Ken Eriksen and head baseball coach Lelo Prado previewed their teams and invited those in attendance to join in the excitement of the upcoming seasons.
The celebrity panel then took the stage, covering a wide variety of subjects, from their starts in the majors, their motivations while in the pros, as well as giving advice to the USF student-athletes about sports and life.
When addressing the student-athletes, Maddon spoke of what it takes to get to the big leagues.
"It's about the work ethic," said Maddon. "There's a lot of self-discipline and sacrifice. Everyone talks about getting to the top and being a major league player. You always see the finished product and nobody knows what goes into everything. The main components are self-discipline, hard work and believing in yourself."
Eiland echoed the hard work message, saying, "You have to get up one more time than you get knocked down to achieve success. You have to have a short memory, whatever happened yesterday you have to forget and worry about today."
Palmer added that students should cherish the opportunity to play.
"I'm in the Hall of Fame because someone gave me the ball and allowed me to win games," said Palmer. "If Earl Weaver hadn’t done that, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to go out there and strike guys out and win games. Have a passion for what you are doing. You want to know that no one is out-working you. The one variable you can control in your life is your work ethic."
The 22-year-old Chamberlain directed his attention to everyday matters student-athletes face.
"There are two things that will make you successful," said Chamberlain. "Remember that you are a student-athlete first. School makes everything worth it and when you get to your careers, you will see it was worth it.
"The other thing is that you have to surround yourself with great people. If you surround yourself with good people, everything will fall into place.
"From what I've seen here tonight, USF is a special place with good people, from the coaches to the administration, it is a USF family. Enjoy every second you get to put on a USF uniform."
Chamberlain, who will face the Bulls on Feb. 29 in an exhibition game at Legends Field, concluded the evening with a challenge for USF's shortstop and leading returning hitter, Addison Maruszak.
"Addison, you might not want to bring a bat to the game. Just bring your helmet," said Chamberlain. "I'll bet you a dinner, anywhere you want, that you won't sniff first base on Friday."
This weekend Maruszak will get to practice up for the Chamberlain match up when the baseball team opens the season with a three-game series against Indiana State. The first pitch of the season is on Friday at 7 p.m., followed by a 7 p.m. start on Saturday and a 1 p.m. game on Sunday.
The USF softball team (6-3) will be back in action on Friday afternoon as the Bulls take on Hofstra and Wright State as they open up the USF Louisville Slugger Tournament. USF faces Hofstra at 4 and WSU at 6 p.m. in Tampa.