David Yanni has played baseball at Pitt for a long time. In fact, Yanni, who took advantage of the NCAA’s universal extra year of eligibility and is now in his sixth year as a Panther, is the second-longest tenured baseball player – amateur or professional – in the city of Pittsburgh. Gregory Polanco of the Pirates is the only one who’s surpassed Yanni’s half a dozen years playing ball in the Steel City.
“I take pride in that,” Yanni said. “I like it here. I’ve had a lot of great memories, made a lot of great friends. I’m enjoying my time as I get to play baseball for another year, so I just took it and ran with it.”
It’s really that simple – he likes it here. And that hasn’t changed despite the massive alterations the Panthers program has undergone.
Yanni has seen an overhaul of the team colors, renovations to his home stadium and locker room, and most notably, a brand new coaching staff midway through his career. Mike Bell took over as head coach of the Panthers in 2018 and after less than two full seasons, has already overseen a rewriting of Pitt record books.
As the elder statesman on Pitt’s roster, Yanni has seen the program undergo a litany of changes – aesthetic and programmatic – that have helped him arrive at this moment. From a 25-26 season his freshman year to first place in the ACC Coastal Division, a consensus top-20 ranking and opportunities to rewrite program history even further in his second senior year.
Bell has been to college baseball’s summit. As an assistant coach at Florida State, Tennessee and Oklahoma, he has a wealth of knowledge and experience built over decades of success. But that doesn’t mean Bell thinks he knows everything. In a sport as aged and varied as baseball, no one does. That’s why when he arrived in Pittsburgh, Bell tapped Yanni’s knowledge.
If you think you got this game figured out or you think you got life figured out, It’ll definitely let you know that you don’t,” Bell said. “[Yanni] has been a great help with that along the way with all the coaches … As he’s said, we always try to control what we can control and win the day.”
Yanni is a steady presence in the middle of the lineup and infield and has been for his entire career at Pitt. He played in 194 games as a Panther, starting 183 of them. This season, he’s rebounded well from a slow start and is on pace to set career-highs in home runs, hits and on base percentage in 2021.
Entering last weekend’s three-game set against then-No. 7 Georgia Tech having recorded just four hits through 10 games. But returning to Russ Chandler Stadium in Atlanta provided a comforting environment for him to get back on track.
The last time Pitt visited the Yellow Jackets was in May 2018, his junior year. In the Sunday finale of that series, Yanni went 3-5 and launched three home runs off of Jackets pitching. Last weekend was his first visit to Atlanta since that dominant afternoon and he picked up right where he left off.
Yanni collected six hits in a dozen at bats – including a pair of home runs – and drove in four RBIs to help lift the Panthers to their second series victory over a top-10 ACC opponent in four weeks.
Might start a petition to rename this park after @dyanni2 😏. This is his 6️⃣th homer in the last six games here in Atlanta!
— Pitt Baseball (@Pitt_BASE) March 14, 2021
When asked what makes Chandler Stadium such a welcoming place for him to hit in, Yanni said it’s inexplicable, but he enjoyed the ride nonetheless.
“I’m not really sure,” Yanni said with a chuckle. “I guess I just saw it better than others. But I felt good about this weekend, we had a great approach all weekend, put together a lot of quality at bats. It was fun.”
The success Pitt has amassed so far this season has also made history. The Panthers are off to their best start in ACC play in program history, they are ranked for the first time since 2013 and given the volatility of early league play this season, they appear as poised as anyone in the league to make a run at the conference title.
Pitt was picked to finish dead last, not just in the Coastal Division, but in the entire ACC. Still, even after achieving all they have so far this year, Yanni doesn’t feel they were disrespected. He said his teammates remain humble, hoping that the work he and his teammates put in will continue to manifest in more wins.
“It wasn’t a surprise to us that it happened, but preseason polls don’t really mean much because everybody’s got to go out there and play their games,” Yanni said. “So as long as you go out there and do what you need to do then you have a good chance. We’ll see how it shakes out.”
The Panthers have one more road series — a three-game set with last-place Virginia — before they return to Pittsburgh for the home opener on March 24 vs. Bucknell. First pitch vs. the Cavaliers has been pushed back because of expected inclement weather in Charlottesville, Virginia. The series will begin on Saturday at 1 p.m., instead of Friday, and run through Monday afternoon.