Saturday, March 29, 2014

College Baseball: Cold Weather Revives a Rivalry

Washington College traveled east to face Navy earlier this month (photo / W.C.)
by Boxer Journal Mar 29. 2014
Annapolis - Few college sports have been more impacted by the extended Eastern winter than baseball. As of this writing, a cold rain is falling in Baltimore and a slate of weekend games for area teams have gone by the boards as a result. 

On March 10 one of the highlights of the long winter, and for college baseball fans it's a short list, was a once in a half-century baseball game at Terwilliger Brothers Field at Max Bishop Stadium. There the Division I Navy Midshipmen topped the Division III Washington College Shoremen, 9-3, in the first meeting of the two teams since 1957. 

Washington College is located on Maryland's Eastern Shore, across the span of the Bay Bridge and northeast to the town of Chestertown. Founded in 1782, the college is tucked into the rolling folds of a farm-laden landscape that often bears more resemblance to the Midwest than to the East.

The game was a rare inter-divisional contest, created essentially by the prolonged winter weather. Both Navy and Washington College were looking for an opportunity to add games to cancellation-depleted schedules. Fortunately, they didn't let the wide divisional gap between the two schools preclude the opportunity for needed repetitions.   

As Shoremen head coach (and former Baltimore Redbird) Travis Turgeon told Boxer Journal, "Basically I got a call from Navy assistant coach Bryan Stark saying they needed a game and later Coach Kostacopoulos said they'd love to play us. I know Coach Stark pretty well from the recruiting trail and I have a lot of respect for him and for Coach Kostacopoulos who, like me, is a New England guy," said Turgeon. 

The two schools are only 45 miles apart, a closer distance than most of either teams' regular opponents. 

Max Bishop Stadium is an updated minor league-sized park, well larger than the typical DIII ballpark experience of the Shoremen. 

"We played a little nervous at the beginning," added Turgeon, "but it was a great experience." The Washington College coach only found out after the game, from a former player who pitched in the 1957 contest, that it had been that long since the two foes had faced one another. One of his current pitchers, Joe Dipaola, has strong ties to the Naval Academy as his father is a former Midshipman and played, taught and coached at the Academy.

The Shoremen settled down and acquitted themselves well in the field, with only two miscues while holding the Mids scoreless in four of the eight frames (Navy did not bat in the bottom of the ninth). Two Washington College freshman, Logan Dubbe and Charlie Meder, combined for five hits. "They were probably too young to be nervous," added Turgeon. 

From Annapolis the Shoremen headed south for a spring break road trip. They played Southern Virginia and then continued on to Myrtle Beach for three more games. The elevated competition of the Navy game proved the perfect trip primer, as the Shoremen went on to take three of their next four contests on their southern swing.  


Washington College's Scott Matthews fouls off a pitch (photo / W.C.)
Navy Head Coach Paul Kostacopoulos also saw plenty of benefit from the rare event. 

"The primary reason we were able to make the game  occur was Washington's willingness to play. With the weather wreaking havoc on both of our schedules, the meeting that day came about perfectly," said Kostacopoulos. 

Navy got in much needed work, sending freshman George Coughlin to the hill for his first collegiate start. Coughlin notched his first win, giving up no earned runs through five innings while striking out five. On the afternoon, Navy was able to rotate in 19 different roster players. 

"It was a a good day of competitive baseball on what was possibly our best afternoon of weather, too." 

As to the kick start of a rivalry with roots dating back to Prohibition, "When myself and Coach Turgeon agreed to schedule the game we hadn't even considered the historical factor of the two programs not meeting in over 50 years," added Kostacopoulos.  

The Mids won 6-3 in 1957 as the stadium's namesake and former major league standout, Max Bishop, coached his team to victory. The two squads faced each other earlier in 1923 and 1943, with Navy winning those contests as well.

Both teams have talked about potentially making the game an annual event.

The college sports world would do well to take notice of the example.