Less than 14 hours after the Union College hockey team hoisted the NCAA Division I championship trophy at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, the Division III side of Dutchmen athletics was going about its business.
Under a clear, blue sky and with a warm breeze blowing, the Dutchmen baseball team was hosting Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in a double-header on a hill in Central Park.
No ESPN, no Jumbotron, no Barry Melrose. Just 50 or so fans, a handful of coolers, the omnipresent red Solo cups and a single microphone PA system that played music between innings (can’t “Jessie’s Girl” just go away?) and also played “entrance” music when the Dutchmen came to bat.
Before the first game was even over, a grill was rolled and the hot dogs went on the fire.
This is the true essence of athletics at Union College: Sunday double-headers in the park. tailgating and Tina Audino’s cowbell at football games in the fall, sneakers squeaking at the Vanier Center in the dead of winter.
And now, to top it off, the Division I hockey championship trophy.
While winning the NCAA hockey title puts Union in a class with Minnesota, Michigan State, et al, the rest of the Union programs are light years away from their Division I brethren.
While many of the parents at Sunday’s double-header wore Union baseball T-shirts, Rick Beaule had topped off his Union garb with a “2012 ECAC champions” hat, a memento of Union’s first appearance in the Frozen Four.
“I didn’t go,” said Beaule. “I bought it here.”
Beaule makes the trip from Windsor, Conn., to watch his son Andy, a senior pitcher for the Dutchmen, play when Union is home. He was in town Saturday night and made sure he also watched Union play Minnesota in the NCAA championship game.
“I love hockey,” said Beaule. “I played when I was younger, and my oldest son played in high school. I’ve seen a lot of hockey games, and last night’s game was one of the best I’ve ever seen.
“I watched the game in a restaurant with my wife and a couple of other couples, and after the game, my wife and I circled through campus. The kids were everywhere, and they were coming up to my truck and high-fiving me. It was great.”
Baseball and many of the other sports at Union are played in relative obscurity, in front of small crowds of parents and friends. Baseball is an even tougher draw, because home games aren’t played on campus.
But that doesn’t mean the players and the fans aren’t just as passionate about their sports as the hockey crowd. When Jake Fishman drilled a two-run triple to keep a rally alive against the Engineers, the fans made as much noise as you’d expect from a crowd of about 50, and the Union players were on their feet in the dugout, hootin’ and hollerin’.
The excitement of a two-run triple might not rank up there with Daniel Ciampini’s go-ahead goal against Boston College in the NCAA hockey semifinals, but for the Union College baseball fans, it was a moment to savor.