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Jan. 31, 2017

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Virginia held its 15th annual Step Up to the Plate fundraiser on Saturday (Jan. 28) in front of a capacity crowd of nearly 1,000 people at John Paul Jones Arena. Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith was the featured speaker for the event, which has become the unofficial kickoff to the 2017 season.

Dozens of Cavalier Baseball alumni were amongst those in attendance, including current Major Leaguers Tyler Wilson (Baltimore Orioles) and Jarrett Parker (San Francisco Giants). Wilson spoke to the crowd during the event and gave a stirring recount of what Virginia Baseball means to him.

“Little did I know, seven years later after graduating, that I would be instilled with so many qualities outside of how to pitch, how to get stronger — all those things that were translatable to the baseball field,” Wilson said. “But most importantly, characteristics such as accountability, meritocracy, selflessness and how to handle adversity, all of which are the characteristics that are so much more translatable to life that will far outlast the game of baseball. For those things, I’m most grateful.”

In addition to Smith and Wilson, UVA head coach Brian O’Connor and University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan also spoke at the event, which featured live and silent auctions, a raffle, autographs with the 2017 team and a buffet dinner.

Smith was a 15-time MLB All-Star and 13-time Gold Glove honoree during his 19-year career with the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002 in his first year of eligibility. Smith played in over 2,500 career games and helped the Cardinals to a world championship in 1982. Often referred to as “The Wizard” because of his dazzling defensive prowess, Smith set MLB records for career assists (8,375) and double plays (1,590) by a shortstop.

Step Up to the Plate has been a special evening throughout its history. While the event had not featured a keynote speaker since 2011, it boasts an impressive resume of speakers from the baseball world: former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa (2003), Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. (2004), Hall of Famer and former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda (2005), Hall of Famer and former Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson (2006), Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs (2007), current Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona (2008), former Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel (2009), Hall of Fame outfielder Dave Winfield (2010) and former New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine (2011).

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