When John Szefc took Virginia Tech baseball’s head coaching job in the summer of 2017, it was with the understanding that he and the community would work together to put a better product on the field and find individuals who could promote the program to outsiders, when the interest in college baseball in the region had remained stagnant – at best – since 2013.
Seven months after the Hokies reached their first Super Regional in their history, that shared vision reached another peak as they welcomed more than 10 former players on Saturday evening.
Brad Clontz (Atlanta Braves), Mike Williams (Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, and others) Chad Pinder (Cincinnati Reds), Joe Mantiply (Arizona Diamondbacks), Ian Seymour (Tampa Bay Rays), Anthony Simonelli and Gavin Cross (Kansas City Royals), Peyton Alford (Seattle Mariners), Packy Naughton and Chris Gerard (St. Louis Cardinals), Tanner Schobel (Minnesota Twins) and Graham Firoved (Baltimore Orioles) all returned to their shared roots.
“An event like this just really puts Virginia Tech baseball on the map,” Schobel told Tech Sideline.
But even in a room full of professional players, none of them commanded the attention that the National Baseball Hall of Fame member and former Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones did as the keynote speaker at Baseball Night in Blacksburg in Virginia Tech’s Student-Athlete Performance Center.
“I’ve been promising Brad that I’d come up sometime for the past 20 years,” Jones told a few reporters before the event started. “But coming up here and seeing this community, and seeing this town, and this campus, I’ll definitely be back. I definitely want to come back in the fall and watch a football game.”
Though Jones has no direct connection to Virginia Tech – he didn’t go to college after Atlanta took him with the first pick in the 1990 MLB Draft – his former Braves teammate, Brad Clontz, who played and won the 1995 World Series with Jones, does. A pitcher for Tech from 1990 to 1992, Clontz was named to the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.
“[Clontz] has always been good at giving his time, giving advice and is a real positive guy,” Szefc said. “I’m just really happy and fortunate to have him as a former [Tech player] who played in the major leagues. He has it all: A World Series ring, he’s from real close by.
“I mean, that guy’s a true blue Virginia Tech guy that really hasn’t forgotten where he came from. And … he’s just happy. I think he’s probably the happiest guy out here today.”
How quickly was Jones picked as the keynote speaker? Szefc said that it started in November when Clontz floated the idea to the program.
“In the past, we’ve had some ESPN personalities that were really good speakers, but we’re also at the stage where we want to try to grow the event a little bit, too,” Szefc said. “And then I thought, ‘Well, why couldn’t we bring a guy like Chipper in here, but also bring a lot of former Hokie players here?’ They’re currently in pro baseball, three of which are major leaguers here.
“So, if we can’t celebrate Hokie baseball, and do it with Chipper Jones here, then we’ll never be able to after the success we had last year.”
Jones met with Tech’s baseball team at its indoor facility at the Weaver Baseball Center earlier in the day. He said that he tries to give advice to young baseball players as often as he can.
“I’ve really tried to take an opportunity or two every spring to come up and talk to a new set of kids,” Jones said. “You know, I’ve talked to Tennessee, I’ve talked to Georgia and Mercer, and schools all throughout the southeast. So this gave me an opportunity to visit a place I’ve never been before.”
During the event, Szefc delivered a speech to the community, a video tribute to the 2022 team was played, Tech baseball’s radio voice Evan Hughes hosted a Q&A session with Jones, and a silent and live auction – that included signed Chipper Jones memorabilia and signed Tech memorabilia – was held to help raise money for the team.
“In my time, for sure,” Szefc said when asked if this was the most buzz around the team heading into the season. “I mean, Pete [Hughes] had some pretty good years for us. And, Chuck [Hartman] obviously did too. But in that time I’ve been here, for sure. I think it’s a combination of the success we had last year and the pro guys we had drafted out of here, and then obviously a guy like Chipper coming here today.
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I was interested to hear during the UVA at VT Men’s Basketball broadcast the other day that Chipper Jones had played at Virginia Tech! 😂. ESPN court side reporter should have done her homework!
He was a great Hokie! Right up with Franklin Stubbs and Lynn Tutzler.
How much was the speaker’s fee
A+ article, thanks for it!
Chipper Jones seems like a great culture fit for VT. I know a lot of us Tech fans always rooted for him and those Braves teams. I am a Orioles and Nationals fan but I also like the Braves.
It is so great to see such a buzz about VT baseball. I guess it was just my ignorance, but I would never have thought that Coach Szefc would be such a program builder even though he had a good record at UM.
I knew he was a good hire because he took Maryland to a super regional or two. That program was abysmal before him
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