Fourth BA gala provides highlights from Anaheim
by Will Lingo
ANAHEIM—With the Winter Meetings devoid of controversy on the minor league side and major deals on the major league side, it was left to the fourth annual Baseball America Awards Gala to provide the highlights this year.
And we were happy to oblige. Maybe we're prejudiced—all right, we're definitely prejudiced—but we think the BA gala has become one of the best events of the Winter Meetings. A standing-room crowd of 350 baseball luminaries gathered at the Anaheim Hilton to congratulate a year's worth of winners on their contributions to the game.
The point of the gala isn't just for people to get together and have a good time, however. BA uses the gala to raise money for youth baseball programs, and this year the featured programs came from the Brooklyn Cyclones and Chicago White Sox.
Cyclones general manager Steve Cohen explained his club's program to provide equipment to youth teams in Brooklyn, and Dennis Gilbert, a special assistant to chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, talked about the White Sox' $1 million contribution to build a four-field complex in Chicago, including a Miracle Field for children with special needs.
Gilbert did not mention his own contributions that led to the construction of Dennis Gilbert Field in south central Los Angeles. He did allude to the success he had in baseball as an agent after a short career as a minor league player, however, and his desire to give something back to the game. "I wanted to get back into baseball in the worst way," he said. "So I did. I became an agent."
Speaking From The Heart
Baseball America also recognizes youth baseball through the Youth Coach of the Year Award, which is sponsored by Ripken Baseball and was presented by Cal Ripken.
Ripken said this year's winner, Tony Saragas of Harlan, Ky., embodies the things that he thinks are important about youth coaching; namely, that learning the game and having fun are paramount. "When looking at a youth coach, the mistake most people make is looking at their record," Ripken said.
Saragas has a record of success, but he cares more about his three rules: respect yourself, your teammates and the game; care for your teammates and others by always showing good behavior; and have fun.
His heartfelt remarks about his love for the game and teaching children were one of the highlights of the event. Saragas said he likes to remind his players to smell the ball, the grass, the leather, the sweat of the game, because those are the things that will stir happy memories as they grow older.
"It's hard not to come up here and say, 'There's Tommy Lasorda!' but sitting next to Cal Ripken has loosened me up," Saragas said. "Anybody who does something well has passion. Some people call it love. I call it God's grace."
Lifetimes In The Game
Baseball America picked two Lifetime Achievement Award winners this year: John Schuerholz, the general manager of the Braves and former GM of the Royals, and Vin Scully, who has been the voice of the Dodgers since 1950.
Both joked that awards for lifetime achievement are often presented posthumously. "My first thought is that I died," said Scully, while Schuerholz jokingly noted, "I'm thrilled they have found an award I can win, and I accept it."
Scully noted the parade of players, managers and executives that he has seen in his time as a broadcaster.
"I've been allowed to sit on that knoll and watch the parade go by," he said. "For 55 years I have been blessed and allowed to broadcast major league baseball, and I thank God every day for that opportunity."
Schuerholz revealed a surprising hobby—poetry—and recited one of his original poems that emphasized how much organizations can accomplish if they focus on "we" and "us" instead of "I" and "my."
"We've been fortunate enough to build winning teams on the field and winning teams administratively," he said.
While not called a Lifetime Achievement Award, the Roland Hemond Award does recognize long-term contributions to scouting and player development. And Roger Jongewaard certainly qualified as this year's winner. "I signed my first contract 50 years ago," said Jongewaard, who had worked for the Mariners since 1985 before briefly retiring this year. "This is a great 50th anniversary present for me."
Jongewaard, who recently took a job as a major league scout for the Devil Rays, is most noted for drafting No. 1 overall picks Darryl Strawberry, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. But he said he is just as proud for bringing people like Benny Looper into the game. Jongewaard hired Looper as an associate scout in 1987, and Looper rose to vice president of scouting and player development in Seattle.
In that way, Roland Hemond said Jongewaard is continuing a tradition that has sustained the game, just as when he was originally signed by Johnny Moore. "Roger, you have not let Johnny Moore down," Hemond said. "This game is strong, and it is the great game that it is because of people like Roger Jongewaard."
And we were proud to be able to shine a spotlight on Jongewaard and others like him for one night.
You can contact Will Lingo by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.