The college baseball season is winding down, which means it's conference tournament time. Much like March Madness, most conferences hold a tournament with the winner getting an automatic bid to the national championship. This year, the Atlantic 10 Conference (which actually has 14 teams, though only 13 participate in baseball with Duquesne opting out) is holding their tournament at Houlihan Park on the campus of Fordham University in the Bronx. Fordham is just a few stops from Yankee Stadium, so I decided to pay a visit Thursday morning before heading to the Jays/Yankees game that afternoon.
Fordham's campus is about a ten-minute walk from the Fordham Road stop on the B and D subway lines, and right next to the Metro North stop. The campus is gated, and you must pass a security guard, but all you have to say is that you are going to the baseball game and you will be allowed in. It is an incongruously beautiful spot and well worth a walk around to see some excellent architecture. The stadium is located at the far end of the football field, with the bleachers a tempting home run target as you can see above. Baseball games are normally free, but they were charging $8 for a day pass for the tournament, a reasonable amount as there were four games scheduled. The dome in the background is the conservatory in the New York Botanical Garden.
Before going to the seating bowl, check out the plaques honouring past Rams, including Frankie Frisch. Vin Scully is also a Fordham alumnus and has a plaque as well. The concession stand is here too, but if you want a bottle of soda, you should walk over to the McGinley Center where the vending machines sell the same bottle for $1.75 instead of $3.
There are six small sections of metal bleachers with seat backs behind home plate. There is no covering, so fans seeking shade were forced to sit in front of the press box. Most fans were family and friends of the players participating, with a few local unemployed weirdos like myself who just enjoy watching baseball.
The shot above is from the left most seat, so you can tell that this is a very small facility, but still one worth a visit if you are in NYC while the Rams are at home.
Only seven teams make the double-elimination tournament, with #1 seed Rhode Island Rams earning a bye to the second round. The first three games had been played on Wednesday, so the early game on Thursday was between the #2 VCU Rams and #6 Davidson Wildcats, both of whom had won the previous day. You might have noticed that three teams in the A10 use the Rams nickname, a weird coincidence that is not unique in the college world; the SEC has three Tiger teams.
Anyway, it was steaming hot when I arrived at the ballpark at 10:30 with the game already in the bottom of the 2nd. Davidson, playing as the home team, already had an early 3-0 lead and added another run just after I sat down, but VCU chipped away to get within a run and make things interesting. In the bottom of the 8th, with two out and Lee Miller on second, Eric Jones grounded to short. The ball was bobbled, but Miller kept running expecting that the out would be recorded at first. An accurate throw would have nailed him, but the throw was offline and Miller scored a lucky run to make it 5-3 Wildcats. Will Robertson, always dangerous (that's a very bad Lost in Space joke for you youngsters), followed with a monster home run to the bleachers to make it 7-3, which ended up being the final. This was a very good game that took only 2:24, meaning there was over an hour until game #2 started at 1:30.
This one featured the other two Rams teams, with Rhode Island starting A10 pitcher of the year Tyler Wilson, whose 0.79 WHIP was third in the nation. He gave up an unearned run in the top of the first when third baseman Martin Figueroa yipped a throw to first, but that was all Fordham would get. Rhody notched 2 in the first, and another 2 in the third, while Wilson completed 6 innings yielding 2 hits and two walks, and withstanding another Figueroa error. I had to leave to get to Yankee Stadium with the score 4-1 after five, but Rhode Island tacked on 6 runs to win easily 10-1. Wilson improved his record to 12-1, which ties him for the most victories in the country.
I really enjoyed my time here; the games were well played and moved quickly, no doubt because there were four of them to be contested. Also really enjoyed the fans, who were into the game so much more than fans you encounter in the majors. Obviously that is because it is their kids who are playing, but it is nice to hear intelligent chatter from the fans instead of seeing them do the wave.
VCU has a player named James Bunn. Whenever he batted, the 007 theme was broadcast over the speakers. Great creativity by the game day crew!
Rhode Island won their game on Friday to advance to the final, where they played Davidson, who had to win twice to make it to the regional. The Rams hammered the Wildcats to win the tournament.
I'll be in Omaha next month for one or two College World Series games and who knows, maybe the A10 will be represented! Don't laugh, 2015 champion VCU made it to the Super Regional before bowing out to Miami. Update: #1 regional seed South Carolina should have read this post as they lost their opener to #4 regional seed Rhode Island 5-4, with Wilson striking out 11 Gamecocks through 7 innings for the win. Unfortunately they lost their next two games, including getting blown out in a rematch with South Carolina, thus ending their season.
The Jays won their game 3-1. Yay! I saw 21 innings of baseball and was still home in time for dinner, so pretty much a perfect day all around.