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Feb. 3, 2014
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In just its second year of existence, the Penn State baseball program's First Pitch Banquet may have set the bar for keynote speakers. Even though the speaker admittedly didn't know what exactly a keynote speaker was supposed to do, he delivered a powerful message that resonated with the entire audience.
An 11-year Major League Baseball veteran as a relief pitcher, Mitch Williams needed only 11 words to leave his mark on the Second Annual First Pitch Banquet at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center on Saturday (Feb.1) evening.
"You can't fear failure," said Williams, "but you had better hate to fail."
That was a powerful message coming from a man who might've had one of the most public failures during the 1993 World Series.
His Philadelphia Phillies looked to be on their way to forcing a decisive seventh game against the Toronto Blue Jays, but Joe Carter struck with a walk-off, three run home run to clinch the second straight World Series title for the Jays.
"I had never met Mitch [Williams] before tonight," said Penn State head coach Rob Cooper, "but I have always respected him for what he did after the 1993 World Series. He sat in his locker and talked to the media and accepted accountability for what had happened in the game. That shows how much of a standup guy Mitch Williams is and that was all I needed to know about him."
When he took the stage he joked about how he couldn't believe Cooper "respected" him for giving up a home run, but quickly moved his attention to another important guest in the room; Penn State alum Tom Verducci.
Verducci took the stage before Williams and talked about the pride he feels as a Penn State graduate and how great it was to talk to the team before the event. The pride that he showed for his alma mater is something that made Williams rethink his decision about bypassing college for professional baseball.
"When I listened to Verducci talk to the [players] about his time at Penn State, it made me think about what college life might have been like for the first time," said Williams who was drafted in 1982 out of West Linn (Ore.) High School. "I wondered if I made the right choice [to sign professionally out of high school]."
Among the topics Williams touched on were accountability, succeeding in a sport where failure happens more often than not and how Penn State can begin to build the foundation for a great team.
A "country boy" at heart, Williams said that building the program was simple.
"Just win," he said. "I know it's not that easy, but just know that only the 35 guys that put on the Penn State uniform can make a difference. You [players] have a great opportunity with a great coaching staff, amazing fan support and an awesome facility, so take advantage of that."
He also told the team to be accountable for themselves and each other. He reminded them to think about who they represent each time they take the field and to "put failure behind you quickly," warning that if they didn't this sport was "not for you."
On a night that was about the future, Williams talked in detail about his fateful night in Toronto in terms of staying true to who he was and doing what was "the most important thing" anyone can do.
"All I did was answer questions that were asked to me," said Williams. "I accepted responsibility for what happened. I guess I could have blamed it on [Pete] Incaviglia; tell the reporters he wasn't playing high enough to catch the ball. I was raised by my parents to be accountable for your own actions and if you do that you will gain the respect of those around you."
I would guess that lesson Williams was taught by his parents earned him more than just the respect of one person that fateful night in Toronto.
I do know it earned him many more fans during his time in State College.