On Sunday at Benedetti Diamond, the Diamond Dons got together with San Francisco baseball alumni to play in the annual alumni game. The ’09 Dons were able to defeat the Alumni 6 – 1 but the score, hits and outs did not seem to matter in this game. Having fun and catching up with old teammates was on the agenda for the Dons.
To kick-off the ceremony, Dons alumnus Dick Bichelli threw out the first pitch. Bichelli played for the Dons from 1952 to 1954. The alumni team graduates from ’08, ’07 and ’06 came back to play one more time. Those players included Joey Railey, Jonnie Knoble, Jon Norfolk, Kyle Morgan, Tavo Hall, Danny “D.Mo” Morales and the White Sox’s number one draft pick of 2007, Aaron Poreda. The 2009 Dons came out ready to play with old faces Derek Poppert, Ryan Lipkin (fresh off his summer with Team USA), Drew Johnson, John Abramson, Stephen Yarrow and many others. There was also a new face in the infield taking Joey Railey’s spot at second: transfer student from the University of Arizona, Robert Able, who was also wearing Railey’s old number six jersey.
Junior Derek Poppert commented on playing with his old teammates for probably the last time of his baseball career, “It’s a little bittersweet because I’ve spent so much time with those guys. It’s weird to see them in a different color uniform.” Poppert went 1 – 3 on the day with a double but was thrown out at third by his former teammate Jon Norfolk. “He had the perfect throw to third. It could not have been more perfect, and if it wasn’t I would’ve been safe. I will even tell him that myself! But that’s how it goes,” said Poppert.
Alumnus Joey Railey was the player on the field having the most fun. Railey dropped his glove on the ground and checked his “watch” when fellow teammate Danny Morales had a meeting on the mound, laughed at fellow alumnus Mitch Bialosky when striking out and messed with catcher Ryan Lipkin by tapping him on the face mask with his bat. Railey graduated last year and was one of the leaders for the Dons in 2008. Now that he looks back on his time at USF and his old teammates, Railey realizes just how much he will miss playing in San Francisco. “[The game] was a blast! Being away this summer and being away from all this I was definitely looking forward to this [slumni game] for a while. Just being back with all of these guys and this program you build good relationships with everyone. But you definitely have a little bit more fun when you’re an alumnus,” said Railey.
This summer Railey was playing with the San Diego Padres for their minor league affiliate, but Railey said he was ready to come back. “We just came out here to have fun with our old teammates and the new freshmen. I miss this so much. I have so many memories here, this is my home now. I am living here and I’m going to be working out with the team this year.Towards the end [of the summer] I just couldn’t wait to get back. USF is something special.” Soon after Railey finished his sentence he was drenched with the Gatorade cooler by his former teammates as a sign of respect—or maybe just to get him wet.
Other alumnus Jonnie Knoble also came to play on Sunday with the same intentions and enthusiasm as Railey. “This group, you can tell, we’re all just really close. It is cool to see the different groups and how we interact. It is definitely a good experience to come back and to see everybody because we can’t see each other during the summer. It’s cool to see how the new players are going to mold and how they are supposed to act and can learn from us,” said Knoble. Like Railey, Knoble also misses his time playing with the Dons, “I miss it a lot. I was able to play independent ball based out of Michigan, so I still get to play, but I miss playing in college. There is no worries, you just get up and play. But when you’re out in the real world, it’s still fun, but the game is a little bit different; it’s more of a job. Coming here to play is a good change and it’s fun and a great experience.”
The first inning began with the alumni stepping in the batter’s box with their old intro theme songs playing in the background getting them back into the Dons spirit. Aaron Poreda looked strong on the mound and stood with his White Sox jacket on in the dugout between innings.
The scoring didn’t start until the third inning when current Don senior Zach Kim hit in senior George Lujan on a sacrifice fly putting the Dons up 1 – 0. Then junior catcher Ryan Lipkin hit in both Robert Able and junior Bobby Ethel who both reached on walks. At the end of three innings, the Dons were up 3 – 0.
The alumni could not answer back until the sixth inning after the Dons scored another run in the fifth. Alumnus Stephen Grandelle hit a ground-rule double in the sixth and was hit in by alumnus catcher Jon Norfolk cutting the Dons’ lead to 4 – 1. But the alumni could not catch up after Able hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning to put the Dons up 6 – 1, making that the final score.