Athletics & Recreation

Club baseball no beer and T-shirt league

With the slap of leather, an umpire barking out balls and strikes, and the thunk of an aluminum bat, the sounds of baseball have returned to the University of Denver.

DU’s varsity program disappeared in 1997. But in 2008, baseball is back at the University as a club sport, joining a growing association of colleges who have either dropped their programs or offered clubs as a lower-cost “junior varsity” to give talented players an option when they don’t make the senior squad.

But calling the new DU nine (actually, 13) a “club” sells them short. This is no co-ed beer and T-shirt league. This is hardball. Pitchers throw in the 80mph range, the uniforms are crisp and professional, and virtually every man on the field has played varsity high school baseball before coming to DU.

Coach Jared Floyd, who played junior college ball, says he has a love for the game and wants to give back. Despite having no affiliation with DU, he spends hours working with the team, just to be part of the game.

Players say their education came first when they chose DU for college, but they missed baseball.

“I just have a passion for the game,” says pitcher Anthony Floro, who expects to graduate in 2009 with a degree in finance. “I’ve been playing baseball since I was 11. You hate to give it up.”

But coming back after two years off the field hasn’t been easy, he allows.

“My arm’s on fire,” he said with a smile after a hard workout.

A week later, he opened the season on the mound, striking out 12 and giving up just two earned runs in his debut.

The team embarked on a month-long conference season this spring against clubs fromColorado College, Fort Lewis College, Johnson and Wales, the University of Wyoming, and Western State, all in the National Club Baseball Association. The Pioneers are currently 3–3.

The return of baseball to DU is largely the work of Marissa Yandall, who is working toward a master’s degree at DU in interpersonal communications and has been accepted as a PhD candidate.

She says she was talking with Floyd, a longtime friend, when the idea came up. With a love of baseball and interest in sports, Yandall tackled the challenge.

Organizing the team was a scramble that started with notices posted to bulletin boards, then a frantic winter of juggling logistics, finding a park, getting equipment, uniforms, affiliation with a national sanctioning body and the blessing of University officials.

“It was kind crazy,” Yandall says. “But we kept at it.”

Sandy Sanderson, president of the national association, says Yandall is believed to be the first woman to found a team.

The association that started with 34 clubs in 2001 now boasts 162 clubs nationwide. There are two divisions, based on competitive ambitions. DU will start at the lower level.

“It kind of changes the shape of the college experience to be part of a team,” Sanderson says.

Yandall envisions a lasting future.

“If the team doesn’t last after I’m gone,” she says, “then I haven’t done my job.”

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