There’s an exciting sport that’s been played since this past February where fans are starting to be welcomed back. By the time you’re reading this, regional playoffs will have begun. The game would be nearly unrecognizable to fans and players of major league baseball, but baseball it is. Strict major league purists sneer at college baseball and only think about the “PING!” sound of a metal bat hitting a ball. Metal bats are cheaper than wood and keep college baseball in business. In our colleges, particularly the smaller colleges where a player’s chance of becoming a pro is small, the game is much more like 1960’s major league baseball than today’s game of wild swings and misses, a sport in which entirely too many no-hit games have already been pitched and unwritten rules have been transgressed.
The beauty of today’s college baseball can be demonstrated by a doubleheader played on May 21 in Glassboro, New Jersey, a small town 24 miles south of Philadelphia. Rowan University, Whose Profs’ teams were called Glassboro State College when I slept through classes there, was taking on William Paterson College for the state conference championship. The winner would go to the Division 3 regionals, and maybe on from there to the Division 3 World Series in Iowa.
Neither team scored through 4 and a half innings of the first game. Both teams opened with their best hurlers, and while both teams mounted rallies, the pitchers stood firm until the home half of the fifth. After 3 singles loaded the bases, Nick Schooley singled home Rowan’s first two runs of the game. After a walk reloaded the bases, the coach of William Paterson, showing little faith in his offense took out his undefeated ace pitcher. In a major league game, in all likelihood the next 3 hitters would have struck out. In this game, Rowan’s Eric DiDomenico hit a “blue darter” down the left field line driving in two more runs, putting men on second and third. His double was the only extra base hit in game 1, though runs were plentiful. While the pitcher retired the next two men, they put the ball in play. So did Ryan McIsaac who reached on a first baseman’s error allowing the other two runs to score making it a 6—0 game for the Profs. Though the visitors put up 2 in the top of the 6th, Rowan’s attack continued. With two men on, Schooley bunted (anybody remember the bunt?) and reached first safely. A run scored on a fielder’s choice, then one came in on a single followed by two more on a wild throw. Again, the visitors countered with a pair but Rowan made it 12—4 which was the game’s final score. Not a home run was hit by either side. Nobody called for an umpire’s review though the doubleheader was televised on youtube. Is this still baseball, somebody might wonder.
Now, to have a chance in the best of 3 series, William Paterson had to win the second game. Under the conference rules, Paterson played the role of the home team in game 2. They trotted out their second-best starter, Jack DeFouw who had a 7—1 record and a 3.15 ERA. He had nothing this day. He walked the first batter, then after a passed ball he fired in ball 4 to the second hitter. The runner broke from second, causing the catcher to airmail the throw. Just like that, it was 1—0 Profs. Alex Kokos singled and Ryan Murphy walked, loading the bases with nobody yet retired. The next two Profs hit scoring fly balls making it 3-0 right off the bat. Rowan’s starter Eli Atiya, 7—1 with a 2.05 ERA took it from there. He handcuffed a usually potent Paterson offense. DeFouw couldn’t finish the second inning. He got the first two men, then surrendered a single and a triple which landed him in an early shower. The triple by Victor Cruz was the longest hit of game 2. Paterson scored once in their half of the second, but with the bases loaded and none out, they looked like major leaguers striking out 3 times in a row. With more small ball, the Profs scored single runs in the third and fourth. Then came the play which would outrage major leaguers today. Recently we’ve heard of the unwritten rule about not swinging when the count is 3 and 0 in a game when a team has a big lead. In this game, with the bases full and a 6—1 score, Rowan’s Trip McCaffrey stole home with the bases loaded. Guess who complained about the runner stealing home? Guess who was outraged and called the Profs and McCaffrey in particular every name in the book? Nobody on either side, that’s who. The local radio announcers on WGLS/FM acted like it happened every day. When I broadcast on their station almost 40 years ago, I would have channeled my inner Howard Cosell cheering the play and mentioning great base stealers of the day like Rod Carew and Lou Brock. I would have taken a ration from my professor, but who would have cared? My defense would have been “It was the playoffs.”
From the steal of home, it was all over but the shouting-and there was much shouting and clapping from the fans who hadn’t been allowed to attend games until the tournament finals. No home runs, no problems as long as the Profs played the game as it should be played and won. Check out the college playoffs in your area and see if you get the kind of play I’ve described here.0