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The Forgotten Game

Justin Courtney
Emmitsburg News-Journal

(6/1) On Thursday, March 6, 2009, the sun was shining bright and a cool, gentle breeze was swirling around the baseball diamond on the campus of Mount St. Mary's University. A sign that reads "E.T. Straw Family Stadium" glistened in the rays, seemingly enticing anyone in the area to enter the small, yet comfortable stands behind home plate.

Catcher Kyle Lane headed for third at a recent game

On the field, players had begun to go through their normal pre-game routines as some elected to jog around the edge of the outfield fence, while others warmed up their arms playing catch. There was nothing abnormal or special about the game that was about to begin, just a simple baseball game between the Mount and George Washington University.

At 3:37 p.m., the "pop!" of the first pitch hitting the catcher's mitt was heard, and the game had begun. What many Emmitsburg locals and Mounties don't know, however, is that baseball has a rich tradition at the Mount.

As Emmitsburg is a small community, one would think that some families would venture out to see a baseball game, and a free one at that. Interestingly, though, no Emmitsburg residents were present at the game.

Maybe baseball is not a favorite among locals, or maybe many residents just simply don't care, and who could blame them? After all, the team gets very little publicity and Emmitsburg isn't necessarily a hotbed for baseball. Most Mount sporting news tends to come from the basketball team, which recently has been very successful.

When the Mount's basketball team made it to the NCAA tournament last year, for example, the entire town seemed to be buzzing about the news. Emmitsburg residents and Mount students alike celebrated together at the Ott House to witness the "little school that couldn't" take on the mighty North Carolina Tar Heels.

There may not have been a single person who believed the Mount would win, but everyone knew the Mountaineers were representing a town and a university, and that was all that was ever asked of the players that day.

The question that remains, then, is why do more people, especially Emmitsburg residents, not know about the baseball team?

"I just think more locals like the basketball team because they hear about it more," said 20-year Emmitsburg resident Charles Garbar. "Especially with a Hall of Fame coach in Jim Phelan and going to the tournament last year, people just hear about it more."

Surely, the basketball program at the Mount is more widely known and recognized than the baseball team. Most people would prefer the loud, intense atmosphere of the Knott Arena to a long and slow-paced game of baseball on the back side of campus.

What the basketball team has done in recent years has been great to witness, but there is a rich and long history to the baseball team as well, a history that few know about and a history that Emmitsburg locals and Mounties would be proud to know.

Mount Picture Mike Matta

In 2007, for example, the Mount Saint Mary's baseball team celebrated its 125th anniversary. The first baseball game in school history was played in 1882 against Pennsylvania College, which later was named Gettysburg College. Unfortunately, the records from this game have been lost, so the final score will forever remain a mystery.

None-the-less, baseball in those times was a very popular sport. Crowds at Mount games could be as high as 1,000 fans, which is only 500 short of the school's current enrollment. Though the team endured periods of mediocrity through the years, it also enjoyed great success. In the 1890's, for instance, the team went 29-6 and posted an 81-40 record in the 1920's.

Several of the players from around these periods went on to have successful careers in Major League Baseball. John Chapman played for the Philadelphia A's in 1924 and Ed Edelen played for the Washington Senators in 1932.

Joe Engel, who was a member of the class of 1911, had a Major League career that spanned from 1912 1o 1920. He played for the Senators and the Cincinnati Reds. He also pitched one game for Cleveland. Don Costello, who graduated in 1914, played for the New York Yankees in 1913 and the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1914-1916.

Even the Great Bambino himself, Babe Ruth, took some swings on the Mount's Echo Field. Ruth visited the school in 1921 and put on a hitting demonstration for players and students alike. In fact, pictures of his visit can be found at the Archives Office on campus.

In recent years, several Mount players have been drafted by Major League Baseball teams. Ivor Hudson, for example, was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in 2007 and is doing well in the team's minor league system. Pitcher Dustin Pease was also signed, as an undrafted free agent, by the Royals last year.

Apparently the Royals like Mount graduates because they drafted Brian Santo in 2003, and Mike Gioioso was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 2007.

As for competition, the team plays in the Northeast Conference, which is Division 1. Schools that the Mount has competed against range from Miami, Villanova, Bucknell and Penn State. Regular conference competitors include Fairleigh Dickinson, Wagner and Monmouth.

After joining the NEC conference, the Mount struggled to win a consistent basis as it failed to compete for the conference title for several years. Recently, though, the team has made a strong comeback and is very competitive.

Last year, for example, the team won its first NEC Championship when it defeated rival Monmouth twice in the final round of the conference tournament. Head coach Scott Thompson, during the same tournament, earned his 200th victory when the Mount defeated Wagner in the semi-finals on May 23rd.

Coach Thompson deserves much of the credit for the team's recent success. "Coach Thompson has built the Mount's baseball team into an annual contender in the Northeast Conference," said Mount St. Mary's Sports Information Director Mark Vandergrift. "With the success in recent years, coupled with the great facility in Straw Family Stadium, the baseball program definitely has a bright future ahead."

With such recent success, expectations are high for this season. Tom Flynn, a writer for the Navy Midshipmen Examiner, lists Mount Saint Mary's as the fifth best baseball team in Maryland this year, placing them behind only Maryland, Towson, Navy and UMBC. The team is starting to get attention.

Though it might not yet receive the recognition that the basketball team does here in town, there is still a great deal of history, pride, and tradition on the line when the team takes the field.

"We just want to win, and we are doing that," said senior catcher Ryan Stamp. "We aren't the most popular team around, but we would love to see more Emmitsburg residents and students watch our games because Emmitsburg is part of us, and we are part of it."

What few locals and Mount students have noticed, however, is that there are potential MLB stars on that field, and if there aren't, there is a good team that is a great deal of fun to watch.

Editor's Note: Justin Courtney is a Senior at Mount St. Mary's University. During his four years he has gotten to know many Emmitsburg residents. We look forward to his sharing his perspective as a Mount student.

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