Club baseball team gives new life to sport at UWEC

Kathlyn Hotynski

In 1995, UW-Eau Claire dropped baseball as a varsity sport. The team had won only two conference championships before that date, both in the 1950s.

Following the disbanding of the varsity team, baseball became a club sport, run entirely by students.

In two of the past three seasons, the team has won two conference championships in the Western Lakes Conference of the National Club Baseball Association, took fifth in the 2004 NCBA World Series and third in 2005.

Most of the players from the 2005 team are gone now, but a younger group of players started practice at 6 a.m. on Jan. 29 in McPhee Center with aspirations of duplicating what the club baseball teams of the past have accomplished. But as the leaders of the team will tell you, it’s no easy task running an athletic team.

There’s a priority list when it comes to access to facilities on campus. Academics are first on that list. Varsity sports are next in standing, followed by recreation. Club sports fall under recreation, but so do intramurals, and intramurals have priority over club, said Tammy Normand, program assistant at University Recreation and Sports Facilities.

The team practices from 6 to 8 a.m. three times a week in McPhee. Senior and president of the team Pete Storm said the team has practiced at those hours since he started playing.

Storm, who is also an infielder on the team, estimated the cost of funding the baseball team for a season is somewhere between $8,000 and $10,000.

Junior third baseman and coach Drew Rollins said the team receives $1,500 from the university.

Andy Jepsen, sports club coordinator at University Recreation, said money comes from student segregated fees. He said the money University Recreation gets from segregated fees isn’t great, but he didn’t complain.

“It’s not comparable to athletics teams,” he said. “But we’re happy with what we get.”

The $1,500 is only enough to cover NCBA league dues. After that, the team has to raise money to cover traveling expenses, hotel accommodations, umpires and equipment on its own.

The team sends out letters to parents, relatives and alumni. It holds an annual alumni banquet in May as well as a date auction where students can bid on a date with a player. Storm said he is also working on selling advertising space on this year’s team poster.

As most people around the team will say, the structure and organization of the team was built by one student.

Kyle Buchmann served as team president from 2003 to 2005 while he was a student at the university.

“He was pivotal in continuing the transformation of baseball at UW-Eau Claire from a varsity sport to a self-sustaining successful club sport,” team faculty advisor Mike Dorsher said, “and he was just excellent at organizing practices and especially organizing fund-raising activities.”

Both Storm and Rollins echoed Dorsher’s comments on the current NCBA director of tournaments and championships.

“(Buchmann) really worked with the team a lot,” Storm said. “He loved what he did and he built us up to where we are now.”

“I hear that before he came it was pretty relaxed,” Rollins said, “kind of like an intramural-type sport and he turned it into almost a varsity-type sport.”

There are people who want it to be a varsity sport again, athletic director Scott Kilgallon said.

“There’s been requests (to make baseball a varsity sport again),” he said, “but there’s a lot that goes into adding a team.”

Kilgallon said it would be tough because of the budget.

Because of Title IX, adding baseball would mean having to add another women’s sport. Kilgallon, who took over as athletic director after baseball was disbanded, emphasized that he doesn’t believe in dropping sports.

But Dorsher said the team operates well as a club program. He said he has little involvement, and the players run the team on their own.

“They really do (have it together). There were guys before Kyle (Buchmann) who really put in a lot of time and effort to build it up as a club sport,” he said. “I hope that there are more like him coming up.”

Head coach and second baseman Mike Peatross described the process of being one of the players to run the team as “almost a mini internship.”

“There’s a lot of hoops we have to jump through to keep everyone happy,” he said.

One of those hoops with be managing a young team. Storm said there are only three returning starters this year. But he said almost the entire pitching staff is back, and both Storm and Rollins said a return to the NCBA World Series is their goal.

“I think we have enough talent and enough coaching,” Rollins said. “I think we can beat any team out there.”

Storm said there are three new teams in their conference, and as in past years, UW-Madison is the Blugolds’ toughest competition. Madison is a team they will have to beat to make it back to the NCBA World Series.

Rollins said it is tough playing schools who are Div. I size. In 2005, Eau Claire was the only team that didn’t have a Div. I athletic program.

“I figured if they were a big school they would have a lot better talent pool and be a lot better team,” he said, “but we hung with a bunch of them and beat a few of them.”

The Blugolds will head to Florida, as they have done in years past, over spring break for practice. Storm said the team typically doesn’t cut players, but that the practices before the season and the week in Florida is a good opportunity to see what players are going to travel with the team, because it only brings around 20 players on road trips.

“We’re a club sport and we’ve got guys who were offered baseball scholarships to different schools and guys who were all-state,” Rollins said. “There’s a lot of talent.”