Growing Northern College Baseball

I spent last week discussing the proposed April to August season in Division I, focusing on the drawbacks of something I think would be a net negative for the game. Today, I’ll take a slightly different approach, asking: how can we grow college baseball in the North, specifically in New England? A summer season is one idea, but I’ll offer some others as well. As always, feel free to respond below in the comments, on twitter (@NECollegeBsbl), or via email (necollegebsbl@aol.com), and let me know what you think.

The scene is Yale Field in New Haven. A throng of 14,000 fans crowds around the baseball diamond for the biggest game of the year, Harvard vs. Yale. The spectacle attracts so much attention that a presidential candidate is in attendance to garner headlines for his campaign. The Nashua Telegraph’s correspondent gushes about the atmosphere, anticipating “the greatest game of baseball ever played in New Haven.”  “The grand stands,” he reports, “cannot begin to hold the purchasers of tickets.” Nearly every student at the university, along with thousands of alumni and fans, pack the stands, heckling the rival Crimson. Yale, reeling from a 5-1 loss in Cambridge the week before, pulls out an upset 3-0 victory behind a shutout from ace Charles Van Vleck, a top recruit from New Jersey. Settling a winner of the season series is so important that the two teams play a rubber match in New York City, which Harvard wins 9-5. Everyone agrees the games were the high point of the season in college baseball.

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Coach Mazey’s Proposal, Point-by-Point

D1Baseball.com, the fantastic new website that’s been helping spark discussion of the summer season, posted several items of interest yesterday. One was a piece from Randy Mazey, the West Virginia head coach who’s crafted a proposal in support of an April to August calendar. Aaron Fitt and Kendall Rogers, the site’s top two writers, also posted a podcast on which Mazey, who seems like an awesome guy (he’s on twitter), expands on what he wrote. They also started a forum thread for anyone interested in discussing with other fans.

In this post, I’ll try to respond to Mazey’s points. I won’t get to everything, but I’ll cover as much of what he says in the piece and on the podcast as I can, starting with the ideas I think make the most sense. He’s spent several years coming up with a comprehensive proposal, and it’s worth some in-depth consideration. I’ll put his points in bold and mostly paraphrase him, since I don’t want to copy and paste from another site, even one that I’m linking to. I encourage you to read the original and let me know if I’ve misrepresented him.

When I think Mazey makes a good point, I’ll say so. If I think he’s wrong, I won’t hold back. I’d expect nothing less from him if he was responding to something that I wrote. I encourage you all to do the same in the comments, on twitter, or via email. As Mazey and many others have said in the past week, this proposal deserves nothing less than a spirited debate. So let’s get started.

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Why a Summer Season Really Would Be Too Hot

One of the more common reactions to the idea of a summer season goes something like this: “Well, yeah, it’s really cold now. But it’ll be way too hot for baseball in July and August.”

From what I’ve seen, the supporters of an April to August calendar laugh this one off. Why? There’s a seemingly obvious solution. Play night games. For eighty-odd years, this has been baseball’s trademark method of beating the heat. Major League Baseball does it. The minor leagues do it. Summer leagues do it. Play at night, the reasoning goes, and you keep the fans cool, happy, and coming to the park in droves. Problem solved.

But things aren’t that simple. An all-night-games-all-the-time utopia is at odds with one of the biggest reasons the sport would make this change in the first place. Television.

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Why a Summer Season Would Be Bad for the Game

Unless you decided to go on a long, twitterless vacation at the start of February, you’ll have noticed some things.  It’s snowing.  A lot.  On top of that, we’ve gotten frost, sleet, freezing rain, wind, wind chill, ice, falling ice, black ice, slush, and even some subzero temperatures for good measure.  You’ll also have noticed that you can’t exactly play college baseball in this weather.  Teams around the country have had to practice indoors, cancel games, move to far-flung neutral sites, change game times, and play on frozen fields (assuming the weather didn’t prevent them from getting to the park in the first place).  There’s no other way to put it: this sucks.

If you’re part of a program from the Northeast or Midwest, this sounds all too familiar.  More years than not, snow and cold wreak havoc on fields, schedules, and coaches’ hairlines.  This year, though, things are different.  We’re not the only ones.  From Kentucky to Florida and Virginia to Texas, the South has gotten hit hard with snow and cold this winter.  For perfectly legitimate reasons, they’re not happy about it.  Besides all the extra travel costs, field maintenance, lost games, and shredded schedules, they lose a lot of gameday revenue, something we don’t have to worry about up north.  I’ve sometimes been harsh to them on twitter, but that’s completely uncalled for, and I’m sorry for that.  It sucks for them just as much as it does for us.

In the uproar over the weather, however, people have proposed a solution that hurts more than it helps: a summer season from April to August.  Its supporters include people I have immense respect for.  Like West Virginia’s head coach Randy Mazey, who’s been advocating for years for this sort of change.  He’s a cold-weather coach with a brand new ballpark to fill up, so playing games in the cold isn’t ideal.  Some of the national media have picked up on the idea, too, most notably Aaron Fitt, the brilliant former Baseball America beat writer who’s part of the star-studded team at the new D1Baseball.com.  Among fans, sentiment on twitter has grown more strident with every cancellation and snow-covered field that floats across a timeline.  These are all great college baseball people who have the game’s best interests in mind when they say we should push the season back to April.  But I sincerely believe that switching to a summer season would be an overreaction that harms the game.

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First Thoughts

It’s not every day you care about something so much you start a blog over it.

That’s where I find myself today. The debate over a summer season has really struck a chord.  As a fan, seeing another drastic overhaul proposed on the heels of TD Ameritrade, BBCORs, and flat seams makes me uneasy.  As someone who got into the game through summer ball, it kills me to see these leagues put in jeopardy.  And as a New Englander, it feels just plain weird that one snow storm and some 30 degree weather can cause such an uproar.

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