Baseball team prepares for season
There is a place where young men still play baseball for nothing more than the pure love of the game. It is not heaven nor is it Iowa. It happens in Eau Claire, where the University of Wisconsin Club Baseball will resume another club season.
One ballplayer, wide-eyed and excited to begin his fifth such season, is senior Colin Clark. Practice starts at 6 a.m.
“It is kind of demoralizing when you walk out after practice and the sun still isn’t up yet,” Clark said. “But the lights of the gym feel like the warm Florida sun.”
As major leaguers fly down to Florida and Arizona to begin their extended vacation of spring training, Clark and his teammates find themselves exchanging winter mittens for baseball mitts.
However, Clark and his teammates are looking forward to begin their season next Tuesday when they travel to Winona State University (Minn.).
The team also is looking forward to hosting this year’s conference tournament on May 5 and 6 at Carson Park.
Clark and Matt Geitl founded the club team five years ago. Geitl has since graduated leaving Clark the only original member left on the team.
The two founded the team in response to the university cutting the men’s varsity baseball program.
“It felt like there was a great void here without varsity baseball,” Geitl said.
The Eau Claire team plays a very old-school style of ball: lots of hustle mixed in with dirty uniforms and a strong team-first attitude.
This will be the second season since the creation of the Wisconsin Illinois Baseball Conference, which was also created in part by Clark. The conference consists of eight teams total, including five teams from Chicago and three from Wisconsin.
Eau Claire went 12-2 in conference last season and 20-6 overall. Eau Claire’s junior varsity and varsity teams will combine to play 35 games this season.
Team road trips consist of all but a team bus, team trainer, team meals and hotels paid for by the university, just the players’ love of the game. They are very much like an old-school barnstorming baseball team, traveling from city to city, sometimes playing six games in a weekend.
Clark reflected on a past weekend road trip consisting of doubleheaders in Madison, Milwaukee and La Crosse.
“Exhausted, we returned to Eau Claire late Sunday night after 600 miles of driving, six ball games, two nights on the floor and five meals at McDonalds,” he said.
These modern-day throwbacks do not have the best equipment, team buses or the promise of a comparative Alex Rodriguez contract. But they do have something stronger than that, an undying love for the game.
This love for baseball has brought them together from small towns to large cities to relive the forgotten art of America’s favorite pastime, where nothing matters besides another chance to stretch a double into a triple, sliding head first amidst a cloud of dust, wrapping your arms around the bag like a long lost lover and hearing the umpire bark out, “Safe!”