Fresh to the University of Maryland campus, the three transfer students ran around the baseball field like the little boys we were just a few short years prior.
We tested our throwing arms from shortstop to first base, and stood at home plate and did that little self-toss and crack-the-bat move to try to whack the ball over the outfield fence. We took turns pitching from the mound and catching behind the plate. I’m pretty sure we ran the bases for the sheer thrill of rounding first and digging to second and imagining beating the throw in from right field as we slid into where we figured the second base bag would be.
Three juniors on an August day, New York Staters all, baseball lovers, brand new Terrapins getting the feel of College Park, some three or four miles from our new apartment in the big and roach-infested complex in Adelphi, Md., frisky before our first classes even started.
Aggo, Twenty and I suddenly saw a man leaning against the field’s fence.
Hell, it wasn’t a field. It was a small and inviting on-campus stadium, the green, green grass of the home Terrapins.
And that probably wasn’t just any old man. He sort of looked like a coach, wise, belongs right in that spot, wearing a baseball hat with an “M” on it.
He asked us if we were having fun. He was smiling.
Sure, we said.
He asked us if we were new students.
How’d he know?
He said Shipley Field wasn’t open for just any old baseball any old time for any old student.
He said the Maryland baseball team played its home games there, and all students were always invited to drop in to root for the home team.
He said there were open tryouts for walk-ons every year, if we thought we were good enough.
Later on, what with my Phys Ed minor to go with my Journalism major — I oh-so-badly wanted to be a sportswriter — I had Elton “Jack” Jackson, the University of Maryland baseball coach, as my teacher for a class plainly enough titled “Coaching Baseball.” Yes, it was taught by the man who was the head coach of a varsity sport at an Atlantic Coast Conference college from 1961 to 1990, the very coach, in fact, who took over guiding the Terrapins’ baseball team from H. Burton Shipley, for whom the on-campus stadium is named. No wonder he would show up to kindly inform new students they shouldn’t be throwing the ball around inside that important plot of land.
The memory came back during the last two weeks as my Terps’ baseball team has, quite surprisingly, hung on as the last squad to represent Maryland as part of the ACC. I thought it would be one of the lacrosse teams that would hold the ACC banner aloft before this summer switch to the Big Ten. Well, yes, the Terp men did make the lacrosse Final Four, and the Terp women did even better, beating Syracuse to win the lacrosse national title.
But after that on the diamond, Maryland won the ACC Tournament down in Greensboro, N.C. And that earned the Terps their first berth into the NCAA baseball tournament since 1971. That year, the Terps, coached by Jack Jackson, were 11-4 in the ACC and 15-10 overall.
Last weekend, the Terps won three straight games in the sub-regionals in South Carolina, advancing to this weekend’s best-of-three in Charlottesville against ACC rival Virginia in the round that’s dubbed the Super Regionals. The winner goes to the College World Series. That would be sweet for Coach John Szefc and his squad. The Terps are one of the hottest teams in college baseball. The ACC record was just 15-14, but they are 14-2 since the calendar flipped to May, and the overall record is 39-21.
No, the Terps that I used to root on as a student in Shipley Field were not this good, but I did have fun following along.
Some of them were in my Coaching Baseball class. By then, Jack Jackson used to throw me an extra arched eyebrow because he knew how badly I wanted to be a sportswriter, and likely followed my stories in the campus daily, the Diamondback, on men’s soccer, women’s basketball and men’s lacrosse, my three beats, one each for the three collegiate sports seasons.
I ended up becoming friends with Jack Jackson’s shortstop, a fiery Long Island kid by the name of Jeff Schaefer. Jeff was from Patchogue, just a couple towns away from where I grew up in Stony Brook, and when he heard that I was a Ward Melville High School grad, we clicked.
We liked talking about baseball strategy, perfect for that class, and about the New York Mets, perfect for that class, too.
I was thrilled that Jeff’s persistent effort and strategic ways continued to pay off on the baseball diamond following his Maryland career.
He played in the minor leagues, and I became the assistant sports editor of the daily in Syracuse, then home of the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.
One game Schaefer was on the opposing team.
I went down by the opposing dugout and called his name.
He poked his head out and gave me the big Jeff smile, and we caught up as quickly as we could in a hurried moment.
In 1989, Schaefer was called up by the Chicago White Sox, and played four games at second base.
I was watching a game on TV, against the Yankees, and a beanball led to one of those benches-clearing things. And there I saw rookie Jeff Schaefer wading right into the skirmish, my friend from Terp days, still determined to get in his licks.
His career also included parts of major-league seasons with the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics, and his baseball almanac line reads five seasons, 225 games played and a batting average of .203. Nobody ever told him to get off the field. He belonged.
There have been other Terps who’ve gone on to play in the major leagues.
In fact, one of my all-time favorite New York Mets, Ron Swoboda of the 1969 World Series champion Amazin’s, was a Maryland Terrapin for a season or two before leaving college to try professional baseball.
Pitcher Eric Milton was a Terrapin, and lasted a decade in the bigs, most notably for the Minnesota Twins and Cincinnati Reds.
Brett Cecil is still in the major leagues, pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays.
A Terp punter whom I covered in high school while working for the Prince George’s (Md.) Journal, Alan Sadler, went back to pitching after his Maryland years, and his career in the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization brought him through the Syracuse Chiefs’ stadium for a hello, too, but he never got above those Triple-A seasons with Denver.
Maybe there will be others to rise to the majors from this year’s Terp squad, which is still playing, long past when anybody thought they would.
Here’s the source for Jeff Schaefer’s pboto.
Here’s the source for the Maryland 2014 team photo.
Have you ever played a pick-up sports game on a field where you weren’t supposed to be? Were you friends with somebody who went on to play in the major leagues? Have you ever watched a college baseball game?