Sunday, April 21, 2013

Essay: Of Hoyas & Terps

The Terps celebrate a walk-off win (Photo T. Flynn)

On Saturday I drifted down into DC from the Maryland suburbs to see the Georgetown Hoyas host Syracuse in lacrosse. Once in the District traffic slowed to a crawl, but fortunately Washington on a clear spring day is not a bad place to crawl through. 

I parked in a street just across from the main entrance to Georgetown and walked first past and then behind the iconic Healy Hall, en route to Harbin Field where the lacrosse team plays its home games. I'm coming to know the GU campus, and this trip cements the notion that it is a collection of slopes interrupted only at times by level ground. 

Making my way down several stairwells, I caught my first glimpse of the north end of the field just as I walked behind the Jesuit Cemetery that sits above Harbin several hundred yards to the east.

Syracuse came in as the #3 team in the country and left with that ranking intact or bettered several hours later. The hosts played well throughout, shutting down the Syracuse transition game and largely limiting the Orangemen to a half-field set. When the Hoyas' midfielder Charlie McCormick, a Bronxville, New York native, finds the back of the net with just over a minute left, Syracuse clings to a 9-8 lead. The crowd roars and echoes itself to twice the 2,500 seat capacity. 

In the end, the slim lead stands up, as an errant Georgetown pass with 20 seconds left seals the score, and the game, in favor of the Orangemen. 

The Orangemen hold on (Photo / T. Flynn)

I walked with the crowd away from the field, mostly in the company of happy Syracuse parents who exchange back pats, exhales and a muttered consensus of relief. I make my way again past the Jesuits, look down at the emptying Harbin, and think this is not the worst view to have to spend out eternity. 

Overlooking Harbin Field (Photo / T. Flynn)

From there I drove north, again through DC gridlock, but knowing my destination was much nearer at hand in College Park. There I planned to meet my son Neal and watch the Terps host the Virginia Tech Hokies at baseball.

Maryland's Shipley Field is right up my alley, a small ballpark with a brick semi-circle of stands behind home plate, topped in places by a slate-roofed pavilion. 

It's the bottom of the 9th of the front-end of a doubleheader when I arrive, and the Terps trail the visiting Hokies, 9-8. The Hokies' soon-to-be-struggling righthander Clark Labitan walks the first batter, a can't miss sign that the one-run lead is not built to last. A between-hop bounder to the shortstop is misplayed (at least in the estimation of the muttering Hokie mom behind me; the scorekeeper rates it a single) and there's first and second and no one out. 

The Terps' Kevin Martir squares to bunt, lays it down the third base line, and Labitan sails the throw to third, pulling his fellow Hokie off the bag. Freshman Anthony Papio then steps into the box for what is about to surely be one of the better moments of his young life. Papio pulls the 1-0 offering through the right side of the infield, sending two Terps home, sealing a 10-9 win, and emptying the Maryland bench in his direction.

Neal arrives in time for the second game, and we walk over to the smoldering grill along the leftfield line for a bite to eat and a better glimpse of the action.  

As the game enters the bottom of the first inning, the Terps' centerfielder Charlie White steps to plate. By the days' end he will be batting .354 to go along with 35 stolen bases. In the field he has just two errors in 41 starts, against 86 putouts and five assists. 

Neal once roamed center field as a boy, a fleet left-handed fielder who closed down gaps to both sides with no small measure of grace. After college, I played some centerfield for a local baseball team, and given that trifecta at the position, I'm prattling on about White as he steps in.

"He doesn't look big," Neal said.

"5'9" listed, I'm not sure I'd give him 5'8". He's going to be playing after college, you heard it here first," I add, knowing full well I'm not likely the first person to speculate that the talented sophomore might have a pro career ahead of him.

White sails a liner to rightfield, a ball nearly lost to the slanting light of the 6:00 o'clock sun, before the Hokies' Tyler Horan pulls it in.

We finish our brats and Pepsi, and from there things rapidly worsen for the hosts en route to an 11-0 Maryland loss. It's a typical college second game mismatch as one team sets up pitching for the next day, while the other has its sights on rescuing the tail-end of the twinbill. 

In an area best known for its collegiate lacrosse, the Terps and Hokies, with a little help from  Mother Nature, remind me of the timeless beauty of the other college game. - TF