An inside look at the UMass club baseball team

By Ryan Donovan

(Courtesy of UMass Club Baseball)
(Courtesy of UMass Club Baseball)

A large white van filled with black duffel bags barreled down the Massachusetts Turnpike on a late Sunday afternoon in October. Music blared out the windows while the members of the Massachusetts club baseball team sang along in unison to their favorite song after a win – Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”

Established in 2003 by Andrew Wilson, the UMass club baseball team is a Registered Student Organization that provides students the “opportunity to play competitive intercollegiate baseball,” according to the team’s website.

The team was developed out of passion for the sport, giving students an opportunity who would’ve been unable to play otherwise, sophomore finance major Nicholas Porter said.

“Andrew (Wilson) had a lot of passion about baseball,” Porter said. “He was just a kid who had the dream of playing varsity, but that never came to fruition, so he was disappointed to find out that UMass didn’t have a club team.”

Porter said Wilson did some research, found out there was an opportunity to have a school-sponsored club, and took it upon himself to create the team.

As part of the North Atlantic regional conference that features teams like Connecticut, Albany, Northeastern, Boston College and Boston University, the division inspires competitive play with a laid back atmosphere, something team members say is the perfect mix.

Sophomore Coleman Barnes said the competition is ideal, as there is talent across the board on opposing teams.

“What’s really cool about club is that we play with and against kids from every level from (Division III) to (Division I),” Barnes said.

“On our team we have kids who have played on the varsity team here, and every kid that plays on our team has the potential to play at least (Division III) … When we branch out to other schools, especially on the east coast, they have kids that are pretty much the same as us. So, the talent is really good.”

Planning their itinerary

Because their home field is located off campus at Amherst-Pelham Regional High, the Minutemen aren’t supported by a large fan base.

However, club baseball provides its players the opportunity to travel and visit other schools, mainly around New England, typically playing anywhere from 15 to 20 games at other universities.

“Traveling is the best part,” Barnes said. “When you think about college baseball, you have all this commitment and practice, which we do to a point … but we travel to wherever.

“We were just in Boston. Last year we drove down to James Madison University. The car ride was a blast obviously, but you’re just hanging out with some of the closest friends you have and playing the sport you love.”

Following the successful trip last year to Virginia, UMass is looking to visit Fort Myers, Florida this year. The Minutemen plan to play a tournament there and use their free time for spring break activities.

Junior Patrick Carroll has high hopes for the team’s potential trip. The rough draft itinerary features some of southwest Florida’s beaches and visiting the Boston Red Sox’s Spring Training camp.

“It should definitely be wild and I think it’s something we are all looking forward to,” Carroll said.

Barnes added: “The atmosphere of all the other college kids and seeing the Sox should be unreal. That’s why we are stoked for this trip so much.”

Lasting bonds

Although the games are competitive and the team trips provide unforgettable memories, for most players on the team, it’s more about building relationships with teammates.

Porter said his teammates are some of the closest friendships he’s ever had.

“From the jump, I knew that my incoming class of rookies on the club baseball team were going to be my best friends at school. That sort of like formulated from the beginning,” Porter said.

“It’s something that has carried throughout my three semesters here at UMass and something that’s going to continue after we graduate. I find that’s common with kids on the team.”

Carroll also felt the friendships he’s made with teammates are unforgettable.

“This is without a doubt the most fun with baseball that I’ve had since Little League,” he said.

Since the club joined the athletic department’s club sport program in the fall semester of 2004, the players are allowed to use the University’s athletic facilities, but they often have to generate funds for traveling and other expenses on their own.

“As a player, we have a user fee that ranges from $300 to $400 depending on the year and the number of kids on the team,” Barnes said. “That pays for uniforms and part of the trips, but the UMass campus itself – well, we put together a financial record of what we spend on the year and the school gives us a gas card for our trips, but they don’t just throw us a couple (thousand dollars) and say, ‘Here you go.’ They have to know what it’s for.”

Porter also explained how a GoFundMe account was created by the team last year for friends, family and the public to donate in order to help compensate for some of the costs.

Last year, the team raised slightly over $3,000, but this year, the goal is $5,000.

Matthew MacLean, the club’s vice president, said the Minutemen are looking to meet their financial goal by early spring.

“Last year we had a lot of success with the GoFundMe page and that was able to help the team go to James Madison,” he said. “This year, we’re hoping for a little more help because the trip to Florida will be more expensive.”

UMass is also trying to get more involved in the local community and is currently thinking of ideas for the beginning of its spring season.

“In years past, we haven’t done much, but this is a different group of guys who wants to give back, so we hope we can find a good cause to do that,” MacLean said.

A time commitment

Unlike the Division I team at UMass, players on the club team do not receive athletic scholarships. Yet, club members continue to play without the benefits of being a scholarship athlete for one reason – the love of the game. Every player on the 22-man roster is a former high school player.

Barnes was recruited by Fitchburg State, a Division III program, but he chose UMass despite not being able to play at the varsity level.

Barnes said the next best option for him was the club team because he couldn’t give up baseball.

Carroll, who once played Division II baseball at Babson University before transferring to UMass, said he joined the team to make new friends. He noted it also reduced the pressure he felt from always competing at such a high level.

“I like to mess around and have fun which is something I can do here but couldn’t at my old school,” he said.

Despite that eternal love for the game, the players maintain they are students first and play the majority of their games on the weekends. However, things can get a little hectic still, according to some players.

Barnes, an architecture major, said the balance between school and baseball isn’t always easy, but he and his teammates find a way.

“It’s tough. It’s not as tough as any of the varsity programs. … With us, we get it. We’re students first and everyone understands that,” he said.

“I do my best to get all my stuff done, but there are always those nights where you have to skip practice because of school or end up pulling an all-nighter because you go to practice.”

Many players also believe playing on the club team is a good way to build toward the future, forging relationships and connections that can make for an easier transition after their time at UMass.

“It’s like one big network,” Barnes said.

Carroll added: “You make great connections and great friends. … You’ll always have someone doing something and you can always find a connection through what you played.”

The road home

As the players switched off driving the bus home that day in October, uniforms untucked, the knob on the old Bose radio in the van was turned up a little higher as the song changed.

The team was coming back from Chestnut Hill in Boston after a doubleheader with Boston College that they split one game apiece.

Carroll, in control of the music in the passenger seat, told everyone to quiet down. He selected the next song – Justin Bieber’s new hit “Sorry” – and the speakers vibrated.

“It’s never a bad day to be on the club baseball team,” Barnes said.

Ryan Donovan can be reached at [email protected]