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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Senior Christian Helsel (Altoona, Pa.) became the first recipient of Penn State baseball’s inaugural We Are Award and author and U.S. Marine Ryan Spaeder, ESPN college baseball analyst Mike Rooney and head coach Rob Cooper all spoke at the fifth annual First Pitch Dinner Friday evening at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center.
The season kick-off event composed of the team, families, alumni, and fans included the annual tradition of alums in attendance presenting the current team with its jerseys for the 2017 season.
Wyatt Shaffer, the youngest member of Penn State’s team at just 13 years old, presented Helsel with the We Are Award for best exemplifying what it means to be a Penn Stater with involvement in the community. Wyatt joined the Nittany Lions in 2015 through Team IMPACT, an organization that helps children facing life threatening and chronic illnesses get drafted by local college teams. Wyatt’s mother, Tara Shaffer, detailed how Helsel went above and beyond to make Wyatt a part of the team.
“One specific player has gone above and beyond what and organization could possibly ask of him,” said Shaffer before Wyatt announced Helsel as the recipient. “Between classes, studying and a stringent baseball schedule, he’s always been there for Wyatt, sometimes going bowling or out to catch Pokémon or coming over to the house to play video games when Wyatt was homebound and not able to go anywhere, or sometimes just a simple text. He also helped coordinate many Dairy Queen runs, especially before a surgery or a test where Wyatt knew he wasn’t going to eat for a while. He took the time to watch the Homecomeing parade with Wyatt and went to a football game with him as well. He has truly been a role model for what it is to be a team player and has been the perfect example of the kind of man I want Wyatt to grow up to be.”
Spaeder, a former hedge fund manager and current U.S. Marine, contributor to The Sporting News and author of Incredible Baseball Stats: The Coolest, Strangest Stats and Facts in Baseball History discussed how he has found a way to stay in the game of baseball despite his playing days ending when he was 17 years old. The 2011 Penn State graduate did not make the Penn State club baseball team, but found his passion for baseball statistics in a college statistics class. He started researching and tweeting out unique stats and notes that “you can’t find on the back of a baseball card,” and has now amassed over 42,000 Twitter followers and built countless relationships with nationally prominent baseball writers and players, which led to writing opportunities and the book opportunity.
Cooper discussed the current program and then welcomed Rooney, a Philadelphia native, to the stage to deliver the keynote address. Rooney stated his optimism for the future of Penn State baseball program and also discussed how important the experience of collegiate baseball is for student-athletes in developing life skills. His primary message was “anything is possible,” citing numerous examples of teams that have quickly gone from missing out on the NCAA tournament to earning trips to Omaha.
Penn State opens team practice Friday and opens the 2017 season Feb. 17 at No. 1 TCU.
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