Cal State Fullerton baseball program’s biggest fundraising event of the year, Dinner With the Titans, served as an opportunity for Titan fans to meet and mingle with the current team, coaches and former baseball greats.
Catcher Kurt Suzuki (2002-04), one of the most notable Titans of all-time, served as keynote speaker.
“I came to Cal State Fullerton because I wanted to play in a College World Series,” Suzuki said. “I’m from Hawaii, and most people never want to leave the islands. But I wanted to play baseball and I figured, if things don’t work out, I’d just come back to Hawaii and surf. I showed up in my flip flops, with a fanny pack — I’ll never live that down — and puka shells.
“I stuck out like a sore thumb but I was welcomed into this family — this Titan family — and that was pretty special,” said Suzuki, who is entering his 12th season in the pros. “The relationships we made here follow us throughout our lives. I knew at Fullerton that you could earn a place in the starting lineup.”
Suzuki was an instrumental part of Fullerton’s 2004 National Championship squad and was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the second round of the 2004 MLB Draft. Since being drafted, he’s played for the Athletics, Washington Nationals, Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves. In 2014, Suzuki was named to the American League All-Star team as a member of the Twins.
“We want to thank all the supporters of Titan Athletics,” said Jim Donovan, athletics director. “You have all been instrumental to our success. In fact, the Dinner With the Titans event has raised more than three-quarters of a million dollars over the past six years.”
CSUF President Framroze Virjee also spoke to the hundreds of attendees, welcoming them to the dinner and offering praise to the baseball team, coaches, staff and supporters.
“I’m the new guy on campus,” he told the audience. “Not sure how first-year players are welcomed onto the baseball team, Coach, but rookie presidents are asked to read piles of paperwork about the university and its history. And in doing so, I learned some interesting facts. Here’s one of my favorites: When we win the College World Series this season, the Titans will be the first university in history to win a national championship in five consecutive decades.”
Cal State Fullerton wrapped up the 2017 season with a 39-24 overall record and made its 18th consecutive trip to the College World Series.
“Athletics isn’t ‘extra-curricular,’” added Virjee. “That is a misnomer. Athletics is co-curricular, meaning that the life lessons, camaraderie, teamwork, pride and personal growth that come from being a student-athlete complement and enhance everything learned in the classroom.
“Just as importantly, the power of sport transcends the benefits to the student-athletes, lifting the spirits and engagement of all students, faculty, staff and alumni who revel in Titan Pride and look to all of you for inspiration.”
Virjee illustrated his points by noting that Cal State Fullerton has sent 65 players to the big leagues; has a 26-year postseason streak, the second longest active streak in the nation; and its players have an exemplary academic progress rate in the classroom, while being ranked on the field in all three of the 2018 preseason polls.
He also talked about how another of CSUF’s alums, Kevin Costner, touched on these points two years ago.
“Speaking to our current and former players, many of whom are here tonight, he said something special and moving,” Virjee said. “He said: ‘You were brought here for your character.’ And as I have been doing my research as your rookie president:
- Character is all I see in this team,
- Character is all I see in these players and
- Character is all I see in this program.
“It’s in your grit, your willingness to do the little things. And it’s in the way you serve as the face of this university when the cameras are all focused on you in Omaha.
“But more importantly, as I did my research, I saw it in the way you treated a little boy who was facing one of life’s rare curve balls that nobody, especially an eight-year-old child, should ever have to face. What you all did — and continue to do — for Coben Swanson and his family, as he battles cancer, tells me everything I need to know about this program, these coaches and this university.
“You don’t just say, ‘Titans Reach Higher,’ you live it,” he continued. “You don’t just wear hats that say ‘Grind,’ you personify what it means both on the field and at that little boy’s bedside. And you don’t just hashtag #Team Coben on social media, you join the team and do everything you can to ensure its star player wins the only battle that really matters.
“If that’s not as transformative as any class offered on our great campus and by our wonderful faculty, I will take what’s left of my hair and get one of those terrible box bleach jobs you guys inexplicably wore to Omaha last year.
“Joking aside, the point is, ‘pride’ doesn’t begin to describe the way I feel about the individual character of every Titan in this room and the collective character of this program and every person who’s here to support it.”