Jan. 29, 2007
KNOXVILLE -- The 15th annual Tennessee Baseball Leadoff Banquet was a tremendous success Monday night, as more than 750 people turned out at the Knoxville Marriott to meet the 2007 Volunteers baseball team, witness the induction of Mike DiFelice into the Tennessee Baseball Hall of Fame and listen to an entertaining speech by special guest Tommy Lasorda.
Current UT catcher J.P. Arencibia also was recognized during the banquet after Monday afternoon's announcement that he had been named USA Baseball's Athlete of the Year for 2006. Arencibia and fellow Tennessee junior Julio Borbon both played key roles for Team USA last summer as the squad claimed the gold medal at the FISU World Championships in Havana, Cuba.
Later in the evening, Tennessee Athletics Director Mike Hamilton formally inducted DiFelice as the 16th all-time member of the UT Baseball Hall of Fame. A graduate of Knoxville's Bearden High School, DiFelice played for the Vols from 1989-91 and has spent the past 11 seasons in the Major Leagues.
Tennessee head baseball coach Rod Delmonico, entering his 18th season with the Vols, offered a brief preview of the spring season and introduced this year's team and staff.
The banquet was capped off by a funny, but heartfelt speech from Lasorda, who was making his third appearance as the UT Leadoff Banquet guest speaker (he also spoke in 1994 and 1997). While he shared a number of hilarious stories from his days as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he also spoke stirringly about the importance of traits such as dedication, confidence and pride.
Lasorda managed Dodgers for 21 seasons (1976-1996) and led the club to a pair of World Series championships. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997. He added to his legend by briefly coming out of retirement to manage the United States to the gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
The Vols open the 2007 season with a three-game series at Florida State Friday through Sunday in Tallahassee, Fla. Tennessee's home slate begins with a three-game set against Eastern Michigan at Lindsey Nelson Stadium Feb. 9-11. The Vols are ranked as high as 11th in the country entering the year.