en years ago to the day, and Joe Plumeri remembers as if it were yesterday. Sunny and brisk afternoon. Shiny new ballpark before him. Beloved alma mater around him. Father alongside him in spirit.
A wonderful day that fell a couple of steps short of perfect, only because the man who raised him, who taught him, who loved him, wasn't there to share it with him.
"My thoughts were with him the whole time," Plumeri recalled Friday morning, talking about his father, Samuel. "I remember it very, very vividly, saying to myself: He would have loved today. He would have loved to have seen this built because it was part of a vision that I had."
Plumeri's vision included a home for
's baseball program, one befitting his family's legacy and the school that nurtured him.
"This is more than just a guy giving money to a college to build a ballpark," Plumeri said. "This is about affection. This is about a relationship between a father and a son, translated into helping a college."
Ten years later, Plumeri Park has aged well, and the man who made it happen shows no signs of slowing down.
Joe Plumeri, Class of 1966, is a major player in the world of international finance (He's chairman and CEO of British-based insurance broker The Willis Group) and a walking infomercial for William and Mary.
He played baseball and football at W&M, and his fingerprints are all over the school — from the athletic department, to the business school, to his chair on the Board of Visitors, to the newly minted faculty awards program, to the campus guest house that also bears his name.
"When he believes in something, he does it with passion," W&M athletic director Terry Driscoll said. "When he's passionate about something, he devotes the time and effort and expense to make sure it's done right. He's gone way beyond what you might expect even someone in his position to give back."
Plumeri, 65, took a break from globe-hopping and parachuted into Williamsburg for a couple of events. He attended what will be an annual faculty awards affair that rewards professors in an increasingly tight economy for higher education. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch Friday evening before the Tribe's game against Georgia State — the 10-year anniversary of Plumeri Park's opening on the first day of spring in 1999.
Plumeri, the grandson of Sicilian immigrants who settled in New Jersey, grew up around baseball. His grandfather, Joseph, owned the minor-league Trenton Giants, who once employed a young outfielder named
He worshipped the likes of Berra, Rizzuto and DiMaggio, themselves the children of Italian immigrants who used the game as a way to assimilate into American culture.
Indeed, baseball also helped a Jersey teenager fit in at a small, liberal arts college in southeastern Virginia.
"I remember very vividly saying, 'Jeez, I'm not sure I belong here,' " Plumeri said. "But I hung in there. It's like lots of relationships. You hang in there long enough and you fall in love, and that love lasts forever. Part of what defines me today is my experience here."
As Joe professionally climbed through the financial world, Samuel Plumeri, in his 70s, had a vision to resurrect minor-league baseball in Trenton. That led to a ballyard that opened in 1994 and was credited with helping to revitalize downtown, and the Trenton Thunder, now a Double-A farm club of the Yankees.
Meanwhile, Joe increasingly gave back to his alma mater. For years he attached his name to an annual W&M golf pro-am that raised $2 million for Olympic sports. He wrote checks and eventually provided the baseball program with its most visible gift: Plumeri Park, which was built for a total of $1.8 million.
Unfortunately, Samuel Plumeri, friend and partner as well as father, passed away at 84, just months before the William and Mary ballpark opened.
Joe Plumeri now owns both the Thunder and the Lakewood BlueClaws, a Single-A
affiliate at the Jersey shore where Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard played.
"It's a combination of my grandfather owning the Trenton Giants and the inspiration I got from heroes and role models in those days," Plumeri said of his affection for baseball. "That made for a family legacy, and I wanted to help my father carry on, and I carry on as well."
Though Plumeri loves the game, he is both a realist and historian. He is troubled by the steroid scandal within professional baseball, but he takes the long view and finds common ground in two of his passions.
"Scandal is not new to baseball, scandal's not new to society," he said. "You've got to look past that. You've got to say, because there are problems in the economy today, it doesn't make capitalism bad. You've got problems in sports; that doesn't make sports bad. You've got problems in baseball; it doesn't make that bad. I think you have to look at the broader landscape."
Knowledge and transparency, he believes, are the remedies for both baseball and the current economic mess.
"I think they're correcting it," he said. "I think the fact that it's become newsworthy and the fact that it's surfaced will make the sport better. In life, you go through your ups and your downs. The downs, if you view them properly, help you reach higher highs when you get out of them. I hope that happens with baseball and I'm hoping that happens with the economy and we learn a lot."