Friday wasn’t the first time Joe Girardi has seen Wake Forest’s baseball facilities.
He was there a couple of years ago, when the Chris Hurd Player Development Center was mostly just concrete. And Girardi was back last year, when the pitching lab was a finished product.
This time, Girardi was at Wake Forest as the keynote speaker for the baseball program’s First Pitch Banquet — another chance to be blown away by the state-of-the-art facilities for the Deacons’ baseball program.
“I’m just overall impressed with the facility,” Girardi said. “You look at the field, it’s gorgeous. You go to the clubhouse, it’s beautiful. The food room that they have, it looks like they have a study hall place for them where they get to do their academics — it’s just conducive to being successful.”
Girardi is entering his first season as the Philadelphia Phillies manager. He last managed in 2017, the last of his 10-season tenure with the New York Yankees.
The Phillies’ pitchers and catchers report to spring training Wednesday, and Girardi was going to see his daughter’s basketball game on Saturday, but he made a trip to Winston-Salem on Friday and spent the day at David F. Couch Ballpark, later going to Bridger Field House for the First Pitch Banquet.
“He’s been blown away by (the facilities),” Coach Tom Walter said. “So yeah, that was the first thing he commented on, he walked in and he goes, ‘You guys have got a team meeting room?’ He’s been wide-eyed since he’s been here, so it’s been cool to see.”
The gem of the facility is the pitching lab, and that’s part of what attracted the Phillies to send five administrators to town a couple of weeks ago.
“It’s amazing to me, you think about, you have all these huge Major League ball clubs, and we don’t sometimes have the facilities that colleges have,” Girardi said. “And the colleges put all the money that they earn back into the sports, right?
“Our game is a business, so it’s a little bit different. But I think teams are taking notice of things like what they have at Wake Forest, the labs, and are considering putting one in themselves.”
Girardi, a four-time World Series winner (three as a player, one as manager, all with the Yankees), counts former Athletics Director Ron Wellman as a mentor. Wellman was his coach at Northwestern, was in Girardi’s wedding and has kept in touch with his former catcher.
“To be able to show him this, especially knowing what he had when he was in college, which was much, much different than this, he was really wide-eyed when he first saw this,” Wellman said. “He came here last year and saw it, and he took his camera out and starting taking pictures and said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it. This is just as good as it gets.’
“He said, ‘In fact, there are Major League locker rooms that are not as nice as this one.’ And then we showed him the pitching lab and he was just fascinated by that.”
That’s not the extent of Girardi’s connection to Wake Forest — his nephew, Larry Mascolino, was a bullpen catcher for the Deacons.
“My nephew went here and was on the baseball team here,” Girardi said. “Just seeing him — he surprised me. Everyone else knew but me. Which is usually the case in life.”