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Praise from pros

Major League Baseball veterans and Olympic softball medalists made appearances Thursday night at the University of South Florida inaugural Baseball/Softball Leadoff Banquet at the Embassy Suites on campus.

Players and coaches from the baseball and softball teams, along with family members, fans and alumni, were among the approximately 450 people in attendance.

Among the prominent names present were Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada of the New York Yankees, 16-year MLB veteran and USF assistant coach Tino Martinez, Team USA gold medalists Michele Smith and Lovie Jung and NFL Hall-of-Famer Lee Roy Selmon.

Jeter, who played with Martinez for six years in New York, was also a guest at coach Lelo Prado’s banquets in the past when Prado coached at Louisville. Jeter has known Prado and Martinez since 1996, when Martinez joined the Yankees.

Prado, a Tampa native, makes his USF debut tonight in the Bulls’ season opener against High Point at Red McEwen Field. Prado looks to improve a USF team that struggled last season and got knocked out of the Big East Tournament after two straight losses.

“He’s the type of coach that likes to work hard. He likes to win, so he’s going to bring that winning attitude,” Jeter said. “As a player, if you’re working with coaches like that, it’s going to bring out the best in you, so I think USF did a tremendous job hiring him.”

Jeter said he thinks USF’s younger players will benefit from having Martinez – a two-time MLB All-Star – around as an assistant coach.

“That means I’m getting old – my former teammates are coaching now,” Jeter joked. “Tino has always been one to try to help out a lot of people, so you can tell that he’s going to be a good coach.”

Posada, a Yankees catcher since 1995 and teammate of Martinez’s for six years, said he thinks Prado will have the baseball team where he wants it in a couple years, and having a former major leaguer in the dugout will help USF build a better team.

“I think it’s going to help with recruiting – you have a guy like Tino Martinez helping,” Posada said. “It’s easy to think about things that you can do as a baseball player when you have guys like that with that much experience.”

Smith, a member of Team USA’s 1996 and 2000 gold medal softball teams, said she helps USF coach Ken Eriksen out whenever he asks her. Eriksen’s team is No. 22 in the preseason rankings and starts its season today at home against Western Kentucky and Arkansas, respectively.

“(I’m here) to help promote the program and really to get the softball team noticed because it is an outstanding program,” Smith said. “Ken’s done a great job with what he’s had to work with here.”