COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Diamond Club, Ohio State’s booster organization for the baseball program that has been doing good things since its beginning in 1989, held its annual “Meet the Team” night Saturday at the University Plaza Hotel. And judging by the turnout of Diamond clubbers, friends of the program, family members of the players and the coaching staff, and alumni, interest in the 2011 Ohio State baseball season and the start of the Greg Beals coaching era is incredibly high.

“This is by far the largest Meet the Team event we have ever had,” Diamond Club treasurer Jim Durham enjoyed telling the crowd. “We had 338 people RSVP for this dinner. Our annual golf outing is July 25 so I suggest if you want a foursome in that event you better sign up early.”

There were players’ families – some from as far away as Florida, Virginia, Maryland and Eastern Pennsylvania – and many first-time families at the event as the team features 15 first-year players. There was a large contingent of Beals’ family members from Springfield, Ohio, including his mother and step-father, Karlene and Mark Keating, and his grandparents, too, along wife, Kathy, and daughters Kayla, Amber and Morgan.

There was the “Village of Dezse” in attendance, as emcee Frank Fraas named that table or two of family and friends who came out to whoop and holler in support of freshman Josh Dezse, from Powell, Ohio.

There were Ohio State athletics administrators, including multiple representatives of the business office, as well as the team’s academic advisor, fan experience and marketing coordinator, game-day operations coordinator and a senior-level administrator or two.

And, there were baseball alumni in the house. At least a dozen and there could have been a baker’s dozen or even more including (and our apologies if we missed anyone): Mike Durant (lettered from 1989-91), Bob Spears (1994-96), Kevan Cannon (1993-95), Derek Kinnear (2001-04), Mike Rabin (2002-05), Dan DeLucia (2004-08), Mike Mulligan (1989-92), Cory Cox (1998-01), Mike Check (1999-01), Rich Marcucci (1966), Jim Townsend (1984-87), Mike Hanlin (1978), Matt Middleton (1996-99) and Terry Streng (1972-73).

“You guys cut the path that we are running on today,” Beals said to the baseball alumni. “You are our tradition and we thank you for the work you’ve put in.”

The evening, starting off with a social hour and including a silent auction and then a real auction, was not only enjoyable, but it had to be considered a smashing success. A few thoughts and notes:

  • The menu, always a topic of discussion, featured spaghetti, chicken, green beans with slivered almonds and an attractive garden-fresh salad accompanied by (to steal the description of one former Buckeye) restaurant-quality Ranch dressing. There was another starch, perhaps potatoes, that at least one person overlooked because the cookies and brownies were giant, moist and tasty.
  • The players looked sharp in suits and ties, and when it was their turn to come up to the dais and introduce themselves because this is a meet the team event, they each wore their blazing scarlet jersey with a script “Buckeyes” across the front.
  • Ryan Cypret, whose father, Greg, was the longtime assistant at Ohio State under Bob Todd, gave the invocation and then spoke thoughtfully of his father when he introduced himself. “It was a privilege and an honor from the Lord that I got to play for him for two years,” he said of playing for Greg, who is now an assistant at Akron.
  • Wisconsin native Brad Hallberg had this to say on a day the Wisconsin Badgers defeated a No. 1-ranked Ohio State team for the second time this academic year: “I’m from Barron, Wisconsin and I’m not a Badger fan.”
  • Beals commenting on the crowd: “The turnout is amazing and the support is noticed and something we all feel in the baseball family.”
  • Jim Durham announced that mostly through donations from the baseball alumni, more than $47,000 has been raised toward a locker room renovation project.
  • Emcee-turned-auctioneer Frank Fraas then raised another $800 with several live auction items, including an autographed No. 9 Greg Beals jersey.

When it was Beals’ turn to speak he graciously thanked everyone in attendance for their support and had personal thanks for the members of his family and his coaching staff – assistants Mike Stafford, Chris Holick and Josh Newman – and their wives (Amanda Stafford and Sarah Newman were in attendance while Holick’s fiancé, Debbie Cash, was unable to make it up from Florida). Beals also thanked each member of the athletics department whose job “touches” the baseball program…whether in attendance or not.

And Beals talked baseball. He said with the new NCAA bat restrictions that moms and dads of pitchers can breathe a little easier because there will be fewer runs scored and less home runs this season.

“It’s going to be a faster paced game, but a safer game with less runs scored,” Beals said. “Our game is going to become a game of the finer skills – defense…throwing strikes…aggressive on the base paths – and we want to be ahead of this curve.”

The Buckeyes open their 2011 season Friday, Feb. 18 in St. Petersburg, Fla., against Cincinnati in the Big East/Big Ten Challenge. Game time is 1 p.m. and, one thing is for sure: the Buckeyes will be ready.

“We’re ready for the challenge,” Beals said. “We’re ready to stop throwing at each other and swinging at each other. We need an opponent.”