PITTSFIELD, Mass. – When Williams and Amherst colleges next meet on the baseball diamond, it will be broadcast live nationally on ESPNU.
The matchup will mark the 150th anniversary of college baseball at, appropriately enough, historic Wahconah Park in the "Birthplace of College Baseball."
The two teams competed in the first intercollegiate game in 1859 in Pittsfield when a mutual site could not be agreed upon. The city's amateur Pittsfield Base Ball Club offered its original grounds, which now the site of a downtown coffeeshop.
"Pittsfield as the birthplace of college baseball, and the first city in America to play ball is proud to host the 150th anniversary game," said Mayor James M. Ruberto. "We are also looking forward to unveiling our new infield and upgrades to historic Nokona Field at Wahconah Park."
(The field is being renamed after Nokona Athletic Goods, owned by some of the partners in the city's new collegiate baseball franchise, the American Defenders of Pittsfield.)
Wahconah Park, site of minor league and key collegiate and amateur games for two centuries, was designated as college baseball's birthplace by the College Baseball Foundation of Lubbock, Texas, last year. The Ephs and Lord Jeffs weren't able to play the scheduled day because of heavy rain, but Williams prevailed 9-4 in a May 4 makeup tilt. A logo to celebrate college baseball's birthplace was revealed in pregame ceremonies.
Williams and Amherst's rivalry date back to Amherst's founding in 1821 by a splinter group from Williams who sought to have that college moved to a more central location, such as in Hampshire County. The spirited competition between the colleges is most obvious in its sports teams, especially football.
The schools originally challenged one another to a "friendly game of ball" in 1859 as players from both schools had competed in "rounders" and "base ball" on sandlot sites and at prep schools before the initial intercollegiate clash. This also was 47 years before the founding of the National Collegiate Athletic Association by President Theodore Roosevelt, so eligibility of contestants was not an issue.
Amherst won the 1859 game 73-32 (that's right) in 25 innings. Teams played (like cricket) in those days until the squads tired, or it was time to hitch the wagons or catch the trains to return to campus. The nine-inning framework for baseball contests followed in the later 1860s and early 1870s.
The Lord Jeffs and Ephs (both members of the New England Small Athletic Conference and solid contenders for the 2009 league crown) finished with identical 24-12 records (Amherst also had a tied to close at 24-12-1) last year and have two of the strongest baseball traditions among New England colleges.
"This 150th anniversary game will be preceded by a re-enactment of the original game under vintage rules with alumni players of both schools participating," said Dan Duquette, a 1980 Amherst alum and partner in the American Defenders. "We are also planning to honor Amherst baseball coach Bill Thurston (longtime head of the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee) who will be completing his 41-year Amherst coaching career."
The 150th anniversary game will be carried live nationally on ESPNU on Sunday, May 3, 2009, at 1 p.m.
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