FAYETTEVILLE – The president of the Republic of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal, is scheduled to throw out the first pitch for Arkansas’ baseball game on Saturday when the Razorbacks play host to Ball State at 1:05 p.m. in Baum Stadium.
The Razorbacks defeated Ball State in the season opener yesterday, 10-2, and continue their three-game series with today’s game with our special guest.
Martinelli is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, earning his bachelor’s in business administration in 1973. He is in Fayetteville this week to visit the University of Arkansas campus as a guest of UA Chancellor Dr. G. David Gearhart.
"We are honored to welcome President Berrocal back to the University of Arkansas campus," Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Jeff Long said. "We are looking forward to his visit to Baum Stadium and his participation in a special first pitch ceremony. It will be a memorable afternoon as we welcome home a distinguished alumnus to cheer on the Razorbacks."
Martinelli was honored with the Citation of Distinguished Alumnus award from the Arkansas Alumni Association in 2002.
He was elected to the presidency in Panama in 2009 and this is his first trip to Fayetteville since the inauguration. While in Arkansas, he will also receive special presentations from the University of Arkansas, the city of Fayetteville and the state of Arkansas.
Following his graduation in 1973, he returned to Panama and started his own supermarket chain, Super 99, which yielded $100 million in sales in 2008.
He assumed the office of president in July 2009 after winning the spring election by the largest margin in Panama history, earning 60 percent of the votes.
Since becoming president, Martinelli has sought to strengthen trade relations with the United States and Arkansas, in particular through work with the Arkansas World Trade Center.
The university began its relationship with Panama in 1951 when an agricultural teaching, research and extension program was established. It was the first foreign agricultural mission started by a U.S. land-grant institution, and it helped to create a lasting bond between Panama and Arkansas.
The program, developed by Paul Noland, a professor of animal science in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, helped stimulate the growth of Panama’s agriculture and strengthened the academic ties between the two countries. It also eventually paved the way for Panamanian students – including Ricardo Martinelli and his brother, Mario Martinelli, B.S.B.A.’74, – to attend the University of Arkansas.
Last summer, Noland, who worked in Panama from 1955 to 1957, traveled to Panama with a delegation of university and other officials where he was honored with the "Vasco Nunez de Balboa" award, the highest civilian honor given by the Panama government for distinguished service. In 1997, he was recognized with the country’s highest honor given to a non-Panamanian, the Manuel Amador Guerrero award.