With finals inching closer by the day, the end of April brings a mass migration of anxious Hoyas to the Rafik B. Hariribuilding of the McDonough School of Business, where spacious study lounges and convenient group work rooms make for the ideal cramming location. Today, Georgetown students flock to the impressive building with worries of flunking their finance classes. But 12 years ago, on the very same ground, a bystander’s biggest concern was being hit by a foul ball.
With home plate nestled at the midpoint between Yates Field House and Reiss Science Building, the GU Baseball Diamond — home of Hoyas baseball — stood proudly in the heart of the Hilltop. Facing the south side of campus, the ballpark occupied the space currently filled by the Hariribuilding, MultiSport Facility and Regents Hall, and beyond the right-field fence lay the foundations of a fledgling Southwest Quad.
The Georgetown baseball program dates back to 1866. But in 2000, after a 134-year stretch that saw the team play on Copley Lawn, Old Varsity Field and the Diamond, a season-ending loss to Connecticut on May 15 marked the end of an era. As the first campus plan of the new millenium was drawn up, Georgetown faced many of the same issues as it does today — namely, a shortage of on-campus student housing and pressure for improved classroom buildings. But the renovations to campus came at a cost: The boys of summer were suddenly homeless.
“Grab a beverage, or maybe a burger … and come out to Harbin Field for Saturday’s doubleheader against St. Joseph’s, starting at noon,” wrote John Nagle, a columnist for The Hoya, in 2000 as the team faced an uncertain future. “Catch ‘em while you can.”
On March 1, 2001, Georgetown took to the diamond for the first time ever at Shirley Povich Field, its sparkling new hitters’ park in Bethesda, Md., which it still occupies to this day. While the “ping of the metal bats resounding off the ICC” Nagle recalled is now absent, the new ballpark brought with it a new chapter for the oldest intercollegiate sports team on campus. The move brought with it a number of changes, including perks.
“[Shirley Povich Field] has become an asset,” Head Coach Pete Wilk, then in his second year, said in an April 2001 interview with The Hoya. “[At the old field] you’d have lacrosse girls walking around, people would come by looking for me, the kids would walk out 10 minutes late after talking to an English professor — this stuff going [on] that takes your attention off the field. Now there are no distractions. When we’re out there, it’s baseball.”
However, the issue of practicing and playing a solid 15- or 20-minute van ride away from campus was not to be ignored. With baseball already a very time-consuming sport, the added commute time has at times been difficult for players’ busy schedules. But despite the inconvenience, it has also facilitated team bonding.
“I did the rough math, and in [my] tenure at that fine institution, I spent approximately two weeks of my life — a little over 16 days — travelling in vans to and from that field,” former first baseman DanCapeless (MSB ’11) said jokingly. “It has its positives and negatives, just like anything, and being confined in that small of a space for that amount of time … it’s a team bonding thing.”
While the pitcher no longer turns his back mid-windup to the towering Harbin Hall, Georgetown baseball has carried on business as usual. At 18-18, the Blue and Gray are faring better than they have in recent seasons, and with an entire month left in the season, their total of five conference wins already matches last year’s total.
Although no one can deny that a venue closer to campus would be ideal, the Hoyas have maintained a workmanlike attitude and an accomodating approach to their situation.
“For an off-campus field, it did a good job for us. It was a place to call home,” former outfielder Tommy Lee (MSB ’10) said. “It becomes a second home, so yes, [we] liked it. Do we wish we could have played on campus? Absolutely. Who wouldn’t?”
Attendance and recruiting were also affected by the transition.While student turnout at competitions understandably suffers, the Hoyas attract a more eclectic audience of local families, amateur teams and affiliates of the university. The team has occasionally arranged for fan transportation to and from the field.
In terms of attracting talent to the Hilltop, Hoya baseball team alumni were clear that Georgetown’s reputation and standing in a competitive major conference was of far greater importance than the length of a bus ride.
“[The field] wasn’t anything to move the needle,” Capeless said of his recruitment. “It wouldn’t have swayed me … given the university itself.”
Lee transferred from Winthrop University, home to one of the finest ballparks in college baseball, but offered further testimony to the importance of viewing the Georgetown program holistically.
“Frankly, Georgetown plays in a great conference, Northeastern based. … [At] a lot of those other places, you’re going to be baseball focused, and academics might be second in your mind, whereas Georgetown is very close in aligning the two,” he said. “Once I got there, it was the best move I ever made.”
While memories of the GU Baseball Diamond are relics of a bygone era, the program is moving on and could be switching locations again in the future. Though concrete steps are still a long way away, the relocation of the Hoyas to a closer ballpark — in nearby Virginia, for example — is a focus of successful program alumni, who could potentially push for a change in the future.
Until then, one can use the upcoming study days to remember a time when the scent of Cracker Jack and popcorn wafted across the Hilltop and the bellow of the home-plate umpire rang loud and clear from Yates to the campus cemetery. Or you can seize the afternoon by hopping on the Red Line to Bethesda: Georgetown hosts Notre Dame for a four-game series this weekend, with the opening pitch coming at 4 p.m. today.