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There were smiles aplenty at the Utah Utes baseball 2014 pre-season dinner

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They can sure play a lot better than they dance.
-- Bill Kinneberg, Utah Utes Baseball

As head coach for the Utah Utes baseball team, Bill Kinneberg has a lot on his plate. His athletes must not only perform well on the field, they have to meet academic standards to preserve their scholarships and comply with a tangled web of NCAA rules that govern student-athlete conduct.

On Tuesday evening at the Utah Utes baseball fundraiser dinner and auction, in front of a packed room at the Sheraton Salt Lake City, Kinneberg offered a snapshot of the inner workings of a head coach’s mind when the unexpected pops up.

An old friend called. He asked about Kinneberg’s current team of ballplayers, “Bill, have you seen the video?”

“What video?”

The room rippled with laughter as Kinneberg described his next actions, which included watching the video, followed by some calls to departmental staff. Feeling relieved that trouble had been avoided, he was then struck by a follow-up thought — the video was dated the first week in December, just prior to the fall semester finals.

“So then, I was very anxious to get the grades for that year. But I do have to say, ...I do like to brag on these guys academically. We have 19 guys on the honor roll, 5 guys on the dean’s list.”

“I really do know this. They can sure play a lot better than they dance.”

Kinneberg described his goals for the upcoming Utes baseball season. He thanked his staff and praised this year’s team of young ballplayers. The Utes face a tough schedule in 2014. The Pac 12 Conference currently has five teams ranked in the NCAA preseason top 30: Oregon State (No. 4), Oregon State (No. 6), UCLA (No. 15), Arizona State (No. 22), Arizona (No. 24) and Stanford (No 26). In the face of this steep challenge, Kinneberg voiced high hopes that “this team has the chance to be special.”

Overall, the mood for the evening was warm and lively. The guest speaker, Boston Red Sox Manager John Farrell, spoke passionately about how the right combination of unselfish teamwork and the will to win can bring home a championship.

It is said that winning (or losing) is contagious. Certainly something in the room caught fire as the evening closed with an auction emceed by the ever-energetic Bill Riley, Voice of the Utes broadcaster and Program Director at ESPN 700. (And beleaguered Kansas City Royals fan.) The items up for bid were a Red Sox jersey autographed by Farrell, deluxe fly fishing trip in Star Valley, Wyoming, VIP suite for all 22 Utes home games at Spring Mobile Ballpark, private dinner prepared by award-winning chef Pete Hodgson and four Red Sox tickets to two games at Fenway Park this season.

The highest bids of the evening went for the Red Sox Tickets, which Farrell donated from his personal seating allowance. After a rush of enthusiastic bidding from around the room, the final bid closed at $6,600. Farrell spiced things up by offering to match the ticket package for anyone willing to plunk down the final bid amount. Another hand went up, making the final tally $13,200 for the tickets.

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