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Baseball champions’ surprise is a big hit

Six seniors on the Wheaton College baseball team missed out on graduating with their classmates on Saturday but got a special treat on Tuesday, May 23, when retired Red Sox player David “Big Papi” Ortiz and Colorado Rockies player Chris Denorfia ‘02 called to wish them congratulations, during a Commencement ceremony held for them at Cole Memorial Chapel.

Class of 2017 student-athletes Michael Bruemmel, Zachary Goodwin-Boyd, Jack Fant, Joshua LaJoie, Joey Santigate and Justin Sellar and their teammates spent Commencement weekend battling it out at the Mid-Atlantic regional tournament at York College of Pennsylvania. On Monday, May 22, they held off No. 2 Shenandoah to win 1–0, securing the NCAA Division III Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship and earning a spot in the College World Series.

Talking to the graduates via speaker on President Dennis M. Hanno's cell phone on Tuesday, Ortiz commended the teammates on their accomplishments and listed off three pieces of advice as they head to the World Series.

“No. 1: Don’t try to overdo things. Be you. Whatever you did to take it to where you’re at, you should continue doing it," Ortiz said.

His second piece of advice: Play as a team.

“And No. 3—the most important one: When you’re on that field, act like you’re the best of the best and nobody can beat you. Carry that with you, and I guarantee you, you’re going to have some good results," Ortiz concluded, adding, "God bless all of you and go and kick some butt.”

Denorfia, an outfielder who has played for several Major League Baseball teams, including the Cincinnati Reds, Seattle Mariners and Chicago Cubs, spoke to the Wheaton graduates through FaceTime, appearing on a screen set up at the front of the chapel. 

Getting that diploma is one of the most important things you’re going to do. It’s going to serve you for the rest of your life," Denorfia said. “I know the sacrifices that go into it, to all your families, the hours you guys put in... I know there’s a lot of sacrifice that goes into that. I’m really proud of you guys. Congratulations on getting those diplomas."

Joking that he might next bring up Babe Ruth, President Hanno remarked on the "power of networking" and said that the two pros' advice was not just words of wisdom for the World Series but also for life.

"Life is a world series. It's a series of games," Hanno told the graduates. "You have a chance to achieve something, but always remember that you already have achieved something and that you are a success."

The special guests were the talk of conversation as the graduates mingled with friends and family after the ceremony.

"It was obviously really special and unexpected. It’s cool to get advice from people who are experienced the way they are," Goodwin-Boyd said. "What’s funny is some of what both of them said is stuff that Coach [Eric Podbelski] says, too. It's cool that those mirror each other.”

The Wheaton Lyons will return to action in the World Series hosted at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wisc., May 26 through May 31.