March 8, 2004
Before the Iowa baseball squad opened its 2004 spring season with an 11-5 victory over Centenary, Feb. 27, in Shreveport, LA., it got the season started with the first-ever Lead-Off Dinner, Feb. 2, at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center in downtown Iowa City.
First-year Hawkeye coach Jack Dahm brought the lead-off dinner concept from Creighton University, where he had experienced success with the format as a fundraiser and excitement-builder.
“I just think it’s a good way to kick off the year and build up some excitement for the program,” he said, adding he was concerned about the turnout when he came to Iowa.
But turnout wasn’t a concern, as the dinner brought out more than 350 spectators despite a massive blizzard bearing down on the Iowa City area during the event. Approximately 400 tickets were originally sold.
“We need to get some excitement in the fans, and with us going to places throughout the state like Sec Taylor (Stadium in Des Moines) and playing the Iowa Cubs and going up to Cedar Rapids, hopefully that will get some people excited too,” said Dahm.
The dinner featured meet-and-greets with Milwaukee Brewers pitcher and former Iowa standout Wes Obermueller and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and Iowa Cubs owner Michael Gartner, who also gave speeches in the program.
“My heart has always been an Iowa Hawkeye,” Obermueller said. “I always call back home or get online to see how things are going. And playing baseball, you really want to see how the people after you are doing. I keep an eye on them.”
Obermueller said that he looked forward to what the new coach could bring to the Iowa program.
“He has a lot of people excited,” Obermueller said. “I think the kids and maybe even some people around the city were looking for some new faces or some new blood and some new excitement.”
In his speech, Obermueller spoke to the Hawkeye players, stressing the importance of the mental game, saying that was his biggest transition from college to the pros.
“He has a lot of people excited. I think the kids and maybe even some people around the city were looking for some new faces or some new blood and some new excitement.”
Brewer Wes Obermueller
“You always hear that, but I think it’s truly a mental game,” he said. “You’re so focused and concentrating on every pitch, it takes a mental toll on you. That’s a big transition.”
As a collegiate player, Obermueller said that he never felt at ease on the mound. However, his confidence has grown with success.
“I didn’t have the mentality where I knew I belonged, and we could have been the best,” he said. “I wish I would have carried that through my time in college. I wish I thought, ‘I’m going to dominate you.’ That’s the sort of mentality that you have to have in the majors or else you’re going to be out. Not to the point that you’re cocky or patting yourself on the back, but have confidence that I’m going to beat you.”
Before the evening closed, Gartner, who replaced Cubs’ general manager Jim Hendry in the program after Hendry suffered a fall that prevented his trip to Iowa City, got the crowd going with baseball anecdotes.
An avid Cubs fan growing up, Gartner mentioned that believing his team could win the World Series was a little like leaving a porch light on for former union boss Jimmy Hoffa. “It’s a nice gesture, but nothing much will come of it,” he mused.
The dinner finished with a live auction of six premium items of baseball memorabilia.
The “Colorado Rockies Dream Package,” which featured airfare, lodging, meals and four tickets to the Giants-Rockies game on July 16 and 17, with an opportunity to throw out the first pitch on July 17, went for $3,275.
Tickets to the College World Series in Omaha netted $175, while an Official Major League Baseball signed by Sammy Sosa brought in $400. A Chicago Cubs package featuring four tickets to two games brought in $1,080.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com