Smiles and excitement beamed toward one of Trenton's most famous former athletes as district and city officials watched J.J. Putz inspire children at Hedke Elementary Thursday morning-- the students enjoyed it too.
Major League Baseball closing pitcher Putz, 35, graduated from Trenton High School in 1995 and went on to play baseball at the University of Michigan, until he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. The Arizona Diamondbacks recently picked up Putz' contract option for the 2013 season for $6.5 million.
Putz returned to Trenton to speak to students at Hedke and Anderson elementary schools about the keys to following their D-R-E-A-M's (Drug Free, Respect, Education, Attitude and Motivation).
"If you can just touch a couple of those kids and maybe they remember a couple of things," Putz said. "Hopefully, the thing they remember the most is the drug free thing and how valuable education really can be."
Putz said he returned to the University of Michigan in 2010 to finish his degree after ten years of playing major and minor league baseball.
"(Education) is the one thing nobody can ever take away from you, no matter what you end up doing," Putz said. "I take a lot of pride of the fact that I did go back and get my degree."
The number Putz wore as a Trojan, 20, was officially retired last night at the Trenton Educational Foundation Signature Event. Former little league teammate and School Board President Mike Hawkins presented Putz with a framed jersey to honor his acheivement in baseball.
Hawkins played little league baseball and high school basketball with Putz. The Trojans won a state championship in baseball and a district championship in basketball during Putz's junior year.
Hawkins said Putz had played catcher since he was a boy, until he threw a "line drive to second base during freshman tryouts" at which time coaches asked him to become a pitcher.
After speaking to students, Putz posed for pictures and signed autographs.
"This is where everything started for me," Putz said. "I remember sitting in this gym and listening to adults come and talk to me."