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For more than 30 years, his involvement with USA Baseball has taken Mike Gaski to various places around the world. On Tuesday, Jan. 21, Gaski will visit Wilson as the featured speaker of the 45th annual Wilson Hot Stove banquet at Recreation Park Community Center.
Gaski, who has served as USA Baseball president since 2001 and was the first coach at UNC Greensboro, will talk about his experience as a Team USA coach at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, as well as the current national team’s prospects for making the field at the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
“So those are the two topics that I was asked to address and then any other lies I can tell, they said that would be okay too,” Gaski quipped during a telephone interview this week.
The evening will also feature the usual array of awards and announcements from area diamond entities as well as recognition of the Wilson City Little League state championship team from last summer. There will also be a memorial to three individuals who passed away in 2019 — Lee Gliarmis, E.D. Hall and Walt McKeel. McKeel, a former Greene Central High star, spent parts of three seasons in the major leagues. He died on New Year’s Day 2019 at the age of 46.
Hall, who was Beddingfield’s first baseball coach and a longtime educator and administrator in Wilson and Johnston counties, was on the N.C. Baseball Museum board of advisors for many years. He died unexpectedly Jan. 25 at the age of 66.
Gliarmis was one of the founding members of the Wilson Hot Stove in 1975 and the N.C. Baseball Museum nearly three decades later. A member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, Gliarmis was one of the most recognizable figures in Wilson through his family restaurant, Dick’s Hot Dog Stand, and his work in the community. Gliarmis was 91 when he died March 14.
The list of former and current major leaguers who have indicated they will attend the banquet includes last year’s featured speaker, Lonnie Chisenhall, a Newport native. Chisenhall signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates after the 2018 season that he spent as a member of the Cleveland Indians but various injuries kept him from seeing any action in 2019 with the Pirates. Other former big leaguers expected to be present at the banquet are Monty Montgomery, Scott Pose, Floyd Whicker, Tim Talton, Mike Wallace, Billy Harris, Dick Such and John Donaldson as well as former Negro Leaguer Clifford Layton. Two longtime banquet attendees, Jim Holt and Jim Coates, also passed away in 2019.
Heading the list of award winners is recent East Carolina University player Spencer Brickhouse, who once played for the Wilson American Legion Post 13 team. Brickhouse, who was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the seventh round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft last June, will receive the Trot Nixon “Gamer” Award, named for the Wilmington native and former major league. Brickhouse is the fifth Pirate to earn the “Gamer” Award, joining former teammate Bryant Packard last year, Parker Lamm (2017), Seth Maness (2012) and Trent Whitehead (2010).
Another Diamondbacks prospect, Blake Walston, will receive the Gaylord Perry Amateur Pitching Award after leading New Hanover High to its second straight state 3-A championship. Walston, the son of 1984 Beddingfield High graduate David Walston, went 13-0 and struck out 137 batters last spring. He had signed to play at North Carolina State University but was drafted by Arizona in the first round with the 26th overall pick and turned pro.
The Clint Faris Award, given annually to the top amateur player in the Wilson area, will go to not one, but two recipients this year. Hunt High senior Tyson Bass and Fike High senior Hunter Stokely will be co-recipients. Both were named to the North Carolina Baseball Coaches Association 3-A all-state team last spring.
Earl Taylor, a Wilson attorney and longtime youth baseball coach, will receive the Willis Hackney Award for his contributions to baseball in the community.
Former Wilson mayor Bruce Rose will receive the Charles H. “Red” Barrett Special Achievement distinction for his years of contributions to baseball in Wilson.
Charlie Long, who spent 20 years as the head coach at North Carolina Wesleyan College before retiring after the 2018 season, will receive the Clyde King Excellence in Coaching Award. Long directed the Bishops to the NCAA Division III championship in 1999, his first season as head coach.
John Whitehead of Rocky Mount will receive the Eunice Sasser Memorial Award as the Eastern Plains Athletic Officials Association’s top umpire in 2019.
Gaski has served as president of USA Baseball since 2001 and has been part of the national governing body for amateur baseball since 1991 when he helped coach the national team that won the gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, the first year baseball was a medal sport. Gaski, who played baseball at the University of Detroit, had been an assistant coach at Cleveland State, Ohio State and Florida Southern, which he helped win the NCAA Division II title in 1985, before assuming directorship of the Spanish Olympic Baseball program in Barcelona from 1988-91.
He was named the first head coach at UNC Greensboro in 1991 and spent 22 seasons leading the Spartans, winning 650 games. The school built a baseball stadium and training facility during his tenure and Gaski is a member of the UNCG Athletic Hall of Fame as well as the Guilford County Sports Hall of Fame.
Now a resident of Hilton Head, South Carolina, Gaski has seen quite a few changes in international baseball over the past three decades. One of the biggest changes was when the world governing body for the sport, the International Baseball Federation (which merged in 2013 to become the World Baseball Softball Confederation) began to allow professional players in 1998.
“Obviously, up until ’98, the United States and all the other countries in the world. were required to use amateurs in all their competitions,” he said. “And then in the 2000 Olympics, professionals were used for the first time and fortunately we were able to win those 2000 Games in Australia.”
Gaski also pointed to the formation of the World Baseball Classic, a quadrennial tournament that began in 2006 and has MLB players playing for their home countries. The World Baseball Classic, which Gaski likened to soccer’s World Cup, was most recently held in 2017 and won by the U.S. for the first time.
Gaski said that while professional players have yet to play in the Olympics, that could happen in 2028 when the Games return to Los Angeles.
The next Olympic Games, however, could be without a team from the United States, which has yet to qualify. The USA’s last chance will come at a qualifying tournament in Arizona in March.
Gaski was excited for his first trip to Fleming Stadium, not to mention a chance to sample Parker’s Barbecue.
“But I know nothing but good things,” he said of Fleming, which opened in 1939. “But I hear it’s pretty cool from what everybody tells me.”