UVM baseball team plays last game at home

05/13/09 6:08PM By Mitch Wertlieb
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AP Photo/Toby Talbot
Eric Fredette , front, is joined by his teammates as they watch batting practice before the University of Vermont's last home game in Burlington, Vt., Tuesday, May 12, 2009

(Host) The University of Vermont men's baseball team played its final regular season home game ever this week.

The team learned earlier this year that the baseball program was being eliminated--along with women's softball-to help UVM deal with a multi-million dollar budget deficit.

VPR's Mitch Wertlieb reports.

(Announcer) "Baseball fans, to honor America, will you please rise for the playing of our `Star Spangled Banner.'"

(Wertlieb) On a beautiful sun-drenched afternoon, the UVM Catamounts finished their regular season with a loss to Bryant College at Centennial Field. But the loss of the game doesn't compare to the loss fans, players, and coaches feel for the whole baseball program, which has been a part of UVM athletics since 1888.  

Bill Currier coaches the team. He's a native Vermonter from Essex, and even played for the Catamounts in the late 70's and early 80's. Currier says this season was by far the toughest of his 22-year UVM coaching career- because he and his players knew there would be no "next year."

(Currier) "This type of tugging on young kids' minds, it really affects their play."

(Wertlieb) Fans were affected, too. Tom Mertz attended the last home game.

(Mertz) "I sense some disappointment. It's hard to be too sad on such a nice day but nobody looks too excited for this one."

(Wertlieb) Josh Neirman is also a UVM student. He says the worst part of the decision to cut the program was the timing. Players didn't find out until the winter, so underclassmen committed to baseball had to start looking around at other schools while still playing for UVM.

(Neirman) "But I mean if you're going to cut a program, do it in the fall if they're playing in the spring. Don't do it just before their season starts. I mean, give the kids a chance to see what other opportunities there are for the sophomores or the first year students."

(Wertlieb) Bill Currier says he understands the school had to trim somewhere, but also says the loss of the program has been hard to swallow:

(Currier) "You know the school has received additional federal funds from the state, we read in the papers and things, upward of $5 and a half million, so that some jobs are being brought back to people that were cut and things, but we remain really the scapegoat of the school, not just the athletic department. They remain determined not to turn the cuts back over and that's unfortunate, but there was cuts to be made, tough choices and I don't wish this on any other team in the department. I wouldn't want this for anybody."

(Wertlieb) Back at the game, Laura Barber, a student athlete who plays lacrosse for UVM, says she's sad for the players. She's friends with some of them and says she knows how hard they've worked. But she also says she understands the school's decision.

(Barber) "It was one of the most expensive sports and they had to travel I think the farthest out of most sports and so it made the most sense-this and softball."

(Wertlieb) Coach Currier may not agree. He's says he's not sure where he'll find a new job, but is sure he wants to keep teaching the fundamentals of the sport that's in his blood.

(Currier) "Love to coach. Love to work with the kids, recruit kids that I really think are gonna be good and see it come true and give these kids a chance to play at a higher level, and even at a pro level and get a great education through the use of baseball and it's a nice thing to see a senior achieve these difficult things and move on."

(Wertlieb) Watching a play from the outfield at the game, fan Tom Batista says he sympathizes with how the players and coaches must feel, but figures it's also a sign of the times:

(Batista) "It's hard going into the season knowing it's going to be your last. ...Ooooh, nice throw! It's tough. I think we're all being victims of the economy right now and these guys just learned it first hand."

(Wertlieb) Coach Currier says the baseball program was cut once before in the 1970s and was restarted. But it's a difficult thing to do from scratch.

For VPR News, I'm Mitch Wertlieb.

(Host) There is one more chance for the home town fans to see the Catamounts play at Centennial Field-but the team would have to sweep a 4-game series on the road this weekend to host a playoff tournament.

 

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