UMass baseball program rumored to be cut

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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On the cover of the soon-to-be-released 2009 media guide for the Massachusetts baseball team, there is an artist’s rendering of a new baseball field, dubbed: ‘The future home of Minuteman baseball.’

According to several published reports Tuesday, not only does UMass baseball’s future likely not have a new field ‘- it may not even have a team.

The Boston Herald and Daily Hampshire Gazette reported that, because of the budget deficit problems at UMass, the baseball program may be cut as part of the planned decrease in spending.

Nothing has been officially announced yet, but UMass athletic director John McCutcheon says cuts in the athletic department are virtually inevitable.

‘The campus is going through a historic reduction in funding. We are a part of that like every other unit on the campus. To comment on what the outcomes may be would be premature at this point,’ McCutcheon told the Gazette.

‘Obviously the chancellor [Robert Holub] in his comments to the state Legislature indicated that program reductions are going to be necessary for us to get to where we need to be.’

Rumors are swirling that the baseball program, which dates back to 1877 and is the longest-running team at UMass, will take the brunt of the damage.

Mike Stone, who has been the coach in Amherst since 1988, is both worried and mystified that this may happen.

I’m obviously concerned. There are a lot of rumors, and each day that I’ve heard them, there’s been more and more,’ Stone told the Gazette. ‘It’s very disturbing and distracting. We’re trying to play a season and we have to deal with this issue. It’s not good.

‘To even think about dropping baseball with the history and tradition that it’s had at UMass for over 100 years doesn’t make any sense to me.’

The UMass Baseball Diamond Club Committee, which recently helped fund the designs of a new UMass baseball complex, is spearheading the movement to try to save the program. Phil LeBlanc and Dick Bresciani, the co-chairman of the committee, sent McCutcheon ‘- as well as Holub, UMass president Jack Wilson and the board of trustees ‘- a memorandum on why the program should not be cut.

‘We implore you not to eliminate UMass baseball. Doing so will negatively impact the reputation, character and culture of UMass,’ reads the memorandum. ‘The future of UMass Baseball has never been brighter than now due to the successful planning, financial commitments and partnership that the UMass Baseball Diamond Fund has put in place over the last year.’

McCutcheon said that one or more programs could be cut. In 2002, seven UMass teams, including men’s tennis, men’s and women’s gymnastics, women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s water polo and men’s indoor track and field, were cut. In 2004, men’s indoor track and field was reinstated.

‘My job is try to assess it and have as competitive a department and as representative a Division I program at the end of the day that we possibly can have. I’m sure whatever recommendation I can make would not be supported by everybody,’ McCutcheon told the Gazette. ‘It’s an extremely difficult process. Whenever you look at the process of eliminating sports, it’s catastrophic to those that are involved in it.’

‘The opportunity to participate means a lot to the coaches, the student-athletes, to the fans. It’s a painful process. But the reality of where we are in the economy and where the state is in support of the university, it’s a reality that we unfortunately have to deal with.’

Former UMass baseball coach Dick Bergquist, who coached the team from 1967-1987, is joining in the movement to save the program. In a letter sent to McCutcheon dated March
23, Bergquist offered his thoughts on why getting rid of the program would be a mistake.

New England is baseball country. Baseball is one of the two sports in Massachusetts high schools that is most popular in terms of numbers of teams. Denying participation in baseball at the State University would be tragic,’ Bergquist wrote.

Bergquist thinks that a ‘hasty decision’ is the quickest and easiest way out for the athletic department, ‘but it does not recognize over 100 years of baseball tradition.’

He has an alternative idea for McCutcheon.

‘If the money problems are really that severe, other programs must assist by sacrifice also. This may be a time to restructure UMass athletics. A ten percent budget reduction by ALL teams would not be out of the question.’

The baseball program has made two NCAA Tournament appearances in Stone’s tenure (1995, 1996), has five Beanpot Championships (they won in 2008), and has captured eight Atlantic 10 titles. Overall, the program has qualified for 11 NCAA Tournaments ‘- including two appearances in the College World Series (1954, 1969).

However, the team has struggled over the past five years, going a combined 89-141 from 2004-2008.

Bergquist concluded his letter with the following: ‘Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, ‘Do not go where the path leads. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

‘I urge you, John, to blaze a new trail by not cutting teams. Even though cutting teams is very painful, it is still the easiest way out. Do not make a hasty decision that the entire University may regret in the future. Baseball is worth saving!’

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]