Major League All-Star Billy Wagner Makes Pitch for Bluefield College Scholarships

December 18, 2009 | RSS

Funded by the Tierney Foundation, the Scholarship Awareness Dinner at David's at the Club in Bluefield is designed to increase community responsiveness to the need for a strong scholarship program at Bluefield College, and BC officials were delighted by the fact that Wagner chose to join the cause.


"This is a very important event for Bluefield College in raising awareness of the need for scholarship assistance for our students," said President David Olive, "and we appreciate Billy helping us with that effort. Together, we're making a college education more accessible for the students of southwest Virginia."


Wagner, who in addition to being a three-time Major League Baseball All-Star is co-founder of the Second Chance Learning Center for at-risk youth of Tazewell County, agreed with the BC president.


"This (speaking at a scholarship dinner for students) is more important to me than going on the mound in the ninth inning," Wagner said, "helping Bluefield College, helping Second Chance, and helping the kids of Tazewell County. If I can help one kid have a chance for a better life, I'm a lucky man."


During his keynote remarks, Wagner, a native of Tannersville in Tazewell County, shared his life's testimony, one that included divorce for his parents when he was five, the instability of moving from house to house and school to school, depending on food stamps for meals and wood stoves for heat, and living off welfare just to survive.


"We're not all given that silver spoon, but you have to overcome that and work hard to achieve your dreams," said Wagner. "When I was five or six years old I used to dream of playing baseball for the Atlanta Braves. Now, I'm living my dream. I've achieved everything I ever went for, but for me to do that coming from where I came from, I needed a lot of help. This is my way of giving back and helping others just like me."


Despite great odds, Wagner became a dominating high school pitcher for the Tazewell Bulldogs, earned a scholarship to play baseball at Ferrum College, and landed a first-round selection by the Houston Astros in the 1995 Major League Baseball Draft.


During his eight years with Houston, Wagner became one of baseball's elite closers, setting a Major League record for batter strikeouts per nine innings (14.9) and earning a spot on the MLB All-Star team in 1999, 2001 and 2003.


After his career with Houston, Wagner moved to the Philadelphia Phillies, the New York Mets, the Boston Red Sox, and now the Atlanta Braves, where he said he's not focused on individual goals in his final years as a pro, but instead winning a team championship.


While he acknowledged pride in his accomplishments as a Major League pitcher, he said the greatest thing he will ever do as a person is give back to his community.


"When my career is over, I don't want to be known for what I did in baseball," said Wagner, who said he fully expects to retire in Atlanta. "I want to be known for inspiring and giving hope to these kids. That's why I believe God has given me the blessings of being a professional athlete."


Proceeds from ticket sales to the Tierney Scholarship Dinner go directly to the BC Fund for Scholarships, according to Ruth Blankenship, vice president for advancement, who noted that 40 percent of Bluefield College students are first generation college students and 90 percent wouldn't be able to attend the school without financial aid.


"It's not an easy task to get a student through college," Blankenship said. "When we ask for your support, please know that we are asking for your help for kids like Billy Wagner. The support you provide will help our students, like Billy, do incredible things."


Thanks to Wagner's connection to the event this year, a portion of proceeds also will go to the Second Chance Learning Center, which provides free counseling, mentoring, tutoring, and scholarships for at-risk public school students in southwest Virginia. In addition, during the Tierney Dinner the college announced and presented a $5,000 annual scholarship to Wagner for a Second Chance student to attend BC.


"We're grateful for the relationship we have with Bluefield College," said Erik Robinson, a longtime friend of Wagner's who helped establish Second Chance. "Our goal at Second Chance is to provide opportunities for kids to have a brighter future, and one way to do that is to help them get a college education."