German politician Helmut Kohl once said, “I have been underestimated for decades. I have done very well that way.”
The same could be said about the UC Santa Cruz men’s baseball team, which is starting to get some of the recognition its success warrants. The team has spent numerous years unnoticed due to its status as a club sport and not an NCAA Division team.
“A lot of it is notoriety,” said senior George Williams III, a third baseman and the club’s co-captain. “Being taken seriously is hard. Once we heard these dads from a Little League team saying that because we were chalking our own field we weren’t a real team.”
As if the notoriety issue weren’t enough, the men’s baseball team also has to deal with the financial drawbacks of being a club sport. As a non-NCAA team, it does not receive any funding from UCSC and has to depend on private individuals and businesses for sponsorship. This money, however, does not cover all necessities.
“We each have to pay out of pocket $300 at the start of every year,” sophomore left fielder Kris Williams said. “This goes toward umpires, uniforms, lights, etc.”
Team members agree that the biggest drawback of all is the absence of a home field. This means the team must rent Harvey West Field in Santa Cruz for $300 a game and coordinate with the city and other teams who want to use the field.
Sophomore center fielder Chip Hayashi said these financial issues are the reason why the team is often looked down upon.
“I think the natural tendency is to look at a club team and just because the word ‘club’ is in it assume we’re not as good as a Division I, II or III team,” Hayashi said. “But I think it’s partially because our school can’t fund us. That’s where we can put the blame if we’re overlooked.”
Senior starting pitcher and co-captain Colin Murphy said that more funding would increase the team’s success.
“[There’s] the fact that we can’t pay for a good coach to come in, pay for a field and have games scheduled around our classes like NCAA teams do,” Murphy said. “We’d be real competitive with all that.”
Despite these obstacles, the team is starting to garner recognition, thanks to a 10-2 overall record (including a 9-0 start) and a ranking as 24th among the top 25 club baseball teams in the country.
“Now people are starting to take notice of us,” Williams said. “It’s nice to be seen as a legitimate team.”
Being a club sport also has its upside.
“One plus is that because we’re a club team, we’re able to control how we play,” Hayashi said. “We affect ourselves and how we play.”
Hayashi points to the fact that the team doesn’t have a traditional head coach as a positive.
“You feel more connected because you see your captain on the field and batting,” Hayashi said.
Williams said that having player-coaches allows the team to relate more to them.
“It gives more respect to them because we [the players] know they’re trying to manage and do schoolwork … they’re in the same situation as [the players],” Williams said.
He added that coaching “has brought the team together this year” and is one of the reasons for the team’s success.
The co-captains also cite the team’s ability to outscore opponents, the pitching rotation and their depth at each position as keys to their accomplishments.
“It wouldn’t be fair to single people out [as standout players] because there’s so much depth at every position,” Murphy said. “The most valuable player is the guy who comes in late in the game with a pinch hit after sitting on the bench.”
Considering its success, the team has high expectations for the rest of the season.
“Florida or bust,” said Williams III, referring to the site of this year’s National Club Baseball Association World Series. “I’d be disappointed if we didn’t make it.”
To get to Florida, however, UCSC will have to win the regional tournament in Riverside. The game this Friday night at Harvey West Field will be important in determining whether the team makes it this far. The team takes on UC Davis in the first of a three-game series.
“If there was ever a Santa Cruz bowl game, this is it,” Murphy said.
To make it to the playoffs, UCSC will have to sweep UCD this weekend and Humboldt State next weekend.
Perhaps the growing recognition the men’s baseball team is attracting with their success means its days of being underestimated are numbered. But for those who remain naysayers, co-captain Murphy has one message:
“For those that talk down to us, sit on your couch and keep eating your potato chips.”