JONESBORO, AR (A-STATE) – The Arkansas State baseball team and supporters will gather to celebrate the upcoming season at the 2016 Grand Slam Banquet Tuesday, Feb. 16 at the Convocation Center. Doors for the event open at 5 p.m.
Former Major League pitcher and outfielder Rick Ankiel will be the keynote speaker. Ankiel's MLB career spanned 11 seasons, seven of those spent with the St. Louis Cardinals. He also enjoyed stints with the Kansas City Royals, Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, and New York Mets. He is one of only two players in MLB history to start a postseason game on the mound and hit a postseason home run in a career with the other being Babe Ruth. He retired after the 2013 season.
Several ticket options are available. Grand Slam tables are $600 for eight seats (or seven seats and choose to have an A-State player sit at your table.) The Heavy Hitter deal is $1,000 and includes seven tickets, an A-State player seated at your table, a premium table location, an autographed baseball by Ankiel, a picture, and an exclusive reception and photo opportunity with Ankiel prior to the event. Individual tickets are available for $75 and youth tickets are available upon request for $25.
"I am excited to announce, along with the Red Wolves Foundation, that former major leaguer Rick Ankiel will be the guest speaker at our annual grand slam banquet," A-State head baseball coach Tommy Raffo said. "His story reminds me of Roy Hobbs in "The Natural.' One of a few that went from being a big league pitcher to later becoming a big league hitter. The most notable player was Babe Ruth. I would say that's pretty good company and we are thrilled to be hosting Rick. We want everyone to join us for a great event to kick off the 2016 season."
Ankiel was a second-round selection in the 1997 MLB draft by the Cardinals out of Port St. Lucie High School in Florida and quickly ascended to the big leagues when he made his debut about a month after his 20th birthday on Aug. 23, 1999. The 6-1 lefthander put together his best season on the mound in 2000 with an 11-7 record and 3.50 ERA with 194 strikeouts in 175 innings. He finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, but struggled in 2001 before suffering injuries in 2002 and 2003. He made his last appearance on the mound during the 2004 campaign.
A native of Fort Pierce, Fla., Ankiel made a permanent switch to the outfield in 2005 and returned to the majors in 2007 with the Cardinals. He hit .285 with 11 homers in 172 at-bats that season before playing in more than 120 games in both 2008 and 2009, which saw the pitcher-turned-outfielder hit 36 home runs with 109 RBIs. All in all, as a hitter, he hit 101 doubles, 76 home runs, drove in 251 runs, and stole 21 bases. He was also known as a solid defender in the outfield with the majority of his time coming in center field and registered 32 assists as a position player.
The Voice of the Red Wolves, Matt Stolz, will emcee the banquet, which will also feature a live and silent auction, dinner, a photo booth, and a 50/50 raffle.