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February 25, 2014 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 2014-02-25

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The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - 7
Wilpon gives back after a career cut short

By MATTHEWKIPNIS
Daily Sports Writer
With a torn rotator cuff
his junior year in 1956 , Fred
Wilpon's time on the Michigan
baseball team was over. Who
would have thought 58 years
later, the complex on the
athletic campus that includes
the baseball stadium is named
in his family's honor?
Wilpon, chairman and CEO
of the New York Mets and
co-founder and chairman of
the board of Sterling Equities,
continues to maintain strong
ties to the University he loves.
"The University of Michigan
changed my life more than
anything, other than my
parents," Wilpon said.
The Wilpon family's strong
relationship with Michigan has
been well documented through
generous donations to both
the athletic department and
University at large. With the
start of the upcoming season
next month and addition of
new turf, Wilpon opened up on
his past and connection with
Michigan.
Baseball was a big part
of Wilpon's life growing up
in Brooklyn, N.Y. Wilpon
was fortunate enough to
play baseball in a Kiwanis
organization sandlot league that
gave out scholarships to one of
its players each year. Wilpon
won the scholarship in 1953 and
it opened the door to a collegiate
future. Colleges would later
offer him baseball scholarships
as well.
Scouts in Brooklyn invited
Wilpon to Ebbets Field to pitch
batting practice to the Brooklyn
Dodgers for a summer and a
few professional contracts were
offered his way. His parents,
though, were very insistent that
he become the first person in his
family to attend college and that
he get a degree before playing
professional baseball.
The president of the league
advised Wilpon to attend a
school that excelled in both
academics and athletics. The
president recommended a few
schools, but Wilpon didn't know
the difference between Duke,
Michigan or any of the other
schools mentioned. To make
his decision, Wilpon decided he
would attend the first school to
admit him.
Michigan's acceptance letter
came in first and, with his
scholarship, Wilpon arrived
in Ann Arbor. But his time on
the baseball team was filled
with frustration. Early in his

career, he tore his rotator cuff,
though at the time, doctors
misdiagnosed him with merely
a sore shoulder.
Injured and unable to play
his sophomore year, Wilpon
felt guilty about occupying a
scholarship, enough that he
contemplated quitting until his
coach, Ray Fisher, convinced
him otherwise.
Duringhis junior year, he still
hadn't made progress, so Fisher
came through again. The coach
advised Wilpon step by step
what to do and wrote a letter
on behalf of Wilpon, which he
gave to the dean responsible
for student aid. As a result,
Wilpon received a grant in aid
equivalent to his scholarship
for the two remaining years at
school.
"He was a wonderful mentor
and an outstanding man,"
Wilpon said. "Whenyou played
for coach Fisher, no matter
how you did on the field, you
left being a better person. That
is the great mark of a superior
coach, teacher and mentor."
The financial aid changed
Wilpon's life; he otherwise
would've had a difficult time
remaining in school. This
afforded him the opportunity
to finish school debt-free, where
he met his wife, Judy Kessler.
With his liberal arts degree,
Wilpon entered the real estate
business, where he went on
to co-found Sterling Equities,
valued in the billions. In
2002, he became the principal
majority owner of the New York
Mets.
In 2007, the Wilpon family
made a significant donation to
the University - none more
notable then to the baseball and
softball programs.
In 1954, the baseball stadium
- now known as Ray Fisher
Stadium, named after his
coach - was hardly expansive.
In fact, facilities throughout
campus came nowhere near
today's levels. During the cold
weather, the baseball team had
to practice inside Yost Ice Arena
with almost every major team.
Wilpon's donation helped
renovate 'The Fish,' as Ray
Fisher Stadium is affectionately
called, and Softball's Alumni
Field, with both stadiums
receiving new seats, press boxes
and indoor batting cages.
Wilpon was, in a sense, able
to reunite with the late Fisher
as the neighboring fields were
given the combined name, the
Wilpon Baseball and Softball
Complex.
"My family is very proud to

JtFFN YdbEke/P
New York Mets owner Fred Willpon donated to the Unoersity in 2007 to help renovate both the softball and base ball stadiums, along with a scholarship endowment.

be a part of the complex and
being associated with Ray
Fisher (Stadium) is a privilege
for us," Wilpon said. "I believe
in the University of Michigan.
I believe in the student athletes
and I wanted them to have first
class facilities.
"I thought it would help
their experience and their
education - education being
broadly defined - not just in
the classroom. You learn a
lot being on a team about the
values of teamwork, friendship
and sacrifice."
Most recently, in 2013,
Wilpon partnered with the
University to add turf to the
Wilpon Complex stadiums,
after it became clear the
natural grass fields had to be
addressed. With the new turf,
the teams can practice outside
on their field much earlier in
the year, instead of having to
wait for the ground to thaw
after the snow clears.
Wilpon's donations also
spurred the creation of the
Sports Injury Prevention
Center - in conjunction with
the school of Kinesiology
- to conduct research into
sports-related injuries. It was
a personal matter for Wilpon,
who knows first-hand the
hardships sports injuries can
cause.
The family sought to creatc
a need-based schola ship
for students who qualify for
admission to the University,
but financially cannot afford

it. Thus, in partnership with
the University, they created
the Irene and Morris B. Kessler
Presidential Scholarship
Program, named in honor of
Judy Wilpon's parents.
The Wilpons visit with the
Kessler students every year
at a scholarship luncheon,
spending time getting to know
the recipients. Many Kessler
Scholars see the Wilpons as
more than just scholarship
donors because they are very
invested in the program, as
Fred was in their shoes when
he was younger.
"With a lot of scholarships,
you just receive a notice that lets
you know you have a grant or
a scholarship. This was a little

more personal," said former
Kessler Scholar Travis Gonyou.
"It was a direct outreach to all of
us, trying to get to know us, and
I felt it was more personal than
other scholarships you could
get."
Lately, Wilpon has been
able to join two of his biggest
investments - the Mets and
the Michigan baseball program
- inviting the University's
baseball team to New York's
spring training facility in Port
St. Lucie, Fla. In five of the past
seven years, the two clubs have
faced off in exhibitions.
Win or lose, Wilpon knows

it's beneficial to the Wolverines.
"If you ask the coaches,
they will tell you it is one of
the highlights of their season
and also helps the (Michigan)
coaches' recruiting efforts,"
Wilpon said.
Not only is it helpful for the
team but, it's also rewarding
for Wilpon. The university that
helped him become one of the
most successful businessmen in
New York is on the field with his
current organization. His past
and present are coming together
on the field.
"I tellyou this from my heart,"
Wilpon said. "The University of
Michigan will always be among
the most important parts of my
life's experiences."

SNEAK PEEK! FREE MOVIE SCREENING
MFlicks invites you and a guest to an advance screening of BAD WORDS
on Wednesday, February 26th @7PM at the MICHIGAN THEATER.

PATRICK BARRON/Daily
The Michigan baseball team sits in the dugout of Ray Fisher Stadium after the generous donation of alur Fred Wilpon.
FOUR DAYS UNTIL SPRING BREAK!
SO KEEP UP WITH US ON TWITTER. WE'LL TWEET
UPDATES FROM OUR TRIPS TO OUR BEDS
@THEBLOCKM

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Seating is on a first come, first serve basis and is not guaranteed!
The Michigan Theater is located at 603 E. Liberty Street.

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