AU’s baseball-deprived start club
When Ryan Morton thinks about baseball, thoughts of old Yankee Stadium fill his head. His father had season tickets and they would trek from New Jersey to the storied stadium at least 20 times a year.
“I remember walking out of the tunnel and seeing 50,000 fans,” he said. “It was perfect — the warm weather and summer nights. It was amazing.”
Logan Ruppel, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs, would make that same journey during the summer months. The Yankees, Yankee Stadium and Derek Jeter are a way of life for many New Yorkers. In Philadelphia, life in the summer is largely centered around the Phillies; in Los Angeles, it’s the Dodgers. For diehards, it’s not just a team, a logo or a player — the sport itself becomes romantic.
Coming to AU is like coming to baseball hell. There is no AU team, no pickup games on the diamond and no mass exodus to Nationals Park on game days. In fact, there is no baseball field on campus, just a combination softball field. It is essentially an all-purpose turf field that harkens back to the days of concrete outfields and lime-green “grass” in the Astrodome.
Last year, a group of freshmen missed the smell of fresh-cut grass, stained baseball pants, the frustration of a strikeout and the elation of a hit. As a result, they decided to start a club baseball team.
“It means a lot to get out there and just throw a baseball around, you know?” Ruppel said. “No pressure.”
The club started when a group of students, primarily freshman, were reminiscing about their past exploits on the field.
“We were lamenting the fact that we couldn’t play baseball anymore,” Morton said. “Now we’re playing 15 games this semester.”
Steven Costanza, a sophomore in the Kogod School of Business and the founder of the club, said he came to AU partly because there was no baseball team.
“I knew I would not be able to make varsity, but still loved the game and wanted to play,” he said. “When I decided to start this endeavor last February, I figured that there would be at least a few other guys in a school as large as AU who had similar feelings to me.”
For many, the romance of the game brought them back. Ruppel remembers back to middle school when he knocked in two runs in a playoff game.
“It felt great to be able to contribute,” he said. “I’m excited to be able to do that again.”
Morton still remembers his first — and only — home run. In fifth grade, he was facing the best pitcher in the league — a real “athletic type,” he said. The pitcher sent a ball right down the middle of the strike zone and Morton knocked it out of the park. He was so excited that he slid into home, even though the ball was still in the outfield.
AU used to have a Division-I baseball team. In 1986, the program was canceled to save and redistribute money to other teams. The players from the discontinued team started a club team that competed against D-III teams, but the club fell apart. In 1997, the club was revived and survived for a few years before disappearing again.
Costanza said it should be easier to keep this club active because they are a member of the National Club Baseball Association.
“By being in this national league with hundreds of other colleges, we will have a built-in schedule of games against near-by schools like Georgetown and the [University of Maryland], College Park,” Costanza said.
The Athletic Department gave the club $500 this year, which was not enough to cover all expenses. Members of the club pay $250 in dues to make up the difference. Despite the cost, the team is able to fill a full lineup.
Costanza is the perfect coach for the team, according to Morton and Ruppel.
“He has the right amount of intensity for everybody,” Morton said. “There are some people who are not as into it as everyone else and he still connects to those players really well. We all have enough reverence for the game of baseball that we don’t want to disrespect it or ourselves by turning in a crappy performance.”
Because everyone is paying dues and playing for the love of the game alone, Costanza tries to give everyone field time.
“Managing a club team is a balancing act,” he said. “I want to beat the teams in our division more than anyone. I make sure to find at least some playing time for everyone who shows commitment.”
The club practices at least three times a week. Last week, the team played their first games, but lost all three.
“We got crushed,” Ruppel said.
Despite the losses, the team enjoyed being on the field again, some for the first time since middle school.
“It definitely got the adrenaline rushing once the lights turned on,” Ruppel said. “It felt like we were in a real stadium.”
The team has small goals for now, like winning their first game.
“If we can get the first win this weekend, then after that we’ll try to win our first series,” Morton said. “If we can do that, it’ll give us some good momentum going into the end of the season.”
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