The Wolfpacker

November-December 2023

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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50 ■ THE WOLFPACKER Remembering The V Foundation's First NC State Fundraiser Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker and can be reached at PACK PERSPECTIVE BY TIM PEELER W hen one-time NC State home run leader Tracy Woodson heard about the death of former men's basketball coach Jim Valvano, he knew he wanted to do something to honor a hoops guy who loved baseball enough to be a 42-year- old batboy for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Besides, the former All-America first baseman and member of the Los Ange- les Dodgers' 1988 World Series cham- pionship team had spent enough time in baseball coach Sam Esposito's of- fice with Valvano, men's soccer coach George Tarantini and wrestling coach Bob Guzzo to fully appreciate what the Pack's basketball mentor meant to the broader athletic community. Valvano loved baseball and was close with Woodson's manager, Tommy Las- orda. Rumor has it that when UCLA of- fered Valvano its head coaching position in 1988, the pot was sweetened for the coach with a role in a sitcom and a job as the Dodgers' first-base coach. "I called my agent and said we need to do something," said Woodson, who Valvano once invited to walk on to the Wolfpack basketball squad. "He helped me put something together, and it was a pretty good time." What they did was the two-day Tracy Woodson Celebrity Basketball Clas- sic, in which 19 Major League Baseball players gathered in Raleigh and played a highly competitive basketball game at Reynolds Coliseum right before the NC State men's team played its first exhibi- tion game of the 1993-94 season, with proceeds going to the newly formed V Foundation for Cancer Research. It was the first NC State-related event for the unique foundation, which was formed at the end of Valvano's fight against cancer and funded primarily through ESPN, where Valvano worked as a commentator and analyst after he left NC State following the 1989-90 season. The event was simple: Woodson in- vited teammates and other baseball players who had an affinity for playing hoops in the offseason. They had a big Italian banquet (emceed by broadcasting legend Bob Costas), a live auction of do- nated sports memorabilia and a crowd- pleasing exhibition game on the storied court at Reynolds. Former State pitcher Dan Plesac, an Indiana native and one-time NC State basketball signee, was there. Pack in- fielder Doug Strange, a nine-year ma- jor leaguer, participated. Woodson, the Richmond native who had been headed to High Point to play college baseball and basketball before ultimately signing to play for Esposito's Pack baseball team, was a gracious host. Future Hall of Fame reliever Lee Smith and outfielders Kenny Lofton and Mar- quis Grissom were there. Lofton, the starting point guard on Arizona's 1988 Final Four team, is the only other person besides NC State pitcher Tim Stoddard to appear in both the Final Four and the World Series. A handful of North Carolina natives, all raised on ACC basketball, eagerly signed on to raise money on behalf of the late coach: Roanoke Rapids' Brian Barnes, Siler City's Greg W. Harris, UNC-Charlotte pitcher Chris Haney, former Carolina Mudcat Steve Cooke and former Durham Bull Al Martin. Fans could buy all-inclusive tickets for the Sunday afternoon autograph session, the Olive Garden-catered spaghetti banquet and the two Monday night games. The highlight of the live auction was a bidding war between Plesac and Costas for a Mickey Mantle-autographed rep- lica New York Yankees jersey. When bid- ding reached $2,500, Costas conceded to Plesac, then pledged to contribute $2,000 to the cause anyway. Plesac then won the bidding for a Mantle-auto- graphed bat for $1,300. "Those are still my two most prized pieces of baseball memorabilia," said Plesac, who made 1,064 major league appearances in 18 seasons, the longest tenure of any former NC State player. "It's hanging on the wall right beside my autographed Phillies jersey from my 1,000th appearance." The game was a barnburner, with Lof- ton leading his team to a 105-104 victory by scoring a game-high 25 points. Earlier in the day, Lofton was notified that he had won the first of his four career Gold Glove awards. "Lofton was ridiculously good," said Strange, a nine-year MLB veteran who now works in the Pittsburgh Pirates' front office. "I'm sure Woodson was firing up three-pointers as often as he could — and he will probably tell you he made most of them. "And I know I missed more than I made." Smith, the Hall of Fame reliever who was baseball's all-time saves leader and an intimidating presence on the mound, loved to play basketball and signed up for every charity game he could find. "The biggest memory I have of that game is trying to drive on Lee Smith," said Plesac, who now serves as an ana- lyst for the MLB Network. "I ran into him in the lane, and it was like dribbling into a tree." In the end, Woodson handed a check for more than $18,000 to Pam Valvano. That sum might sound modest in rela- tion to the nearly $350 million raised by the organization in its 30-year existence. But it was NC State's first contribution to the cause and an important initial step to the groundbreaking cancer re- search that has been done in the coach's memory. ■ NC State pitching great Dan Plesac was one of 19 Major League Baseball stars who gathered in Raleigh in November 1993 to play in an exhibition basketball event in support of the fledgling V Foundation. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE ATHLETICS

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