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Joy in Mudville: Baseball returns to DU

The Pioneers' Kent McKendrey was an NCBA player of the week in April. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

With the slap of leather, an umpire barking out balls and strikes, and the thunk of an aluminum bat, the sounds of baseball have returned to the University of Denver.

The varsity program disappeared in 1997. But in 2008, baseball made a comeback at DU as a club sport.

But calling the new DU nine (actually, 13) a “club” sells them short. This is no co-ed beer and T-shirt league. This is hardball. Pitchers throw in the 80 mph range, the uniforms are crisp and professional, and virtually every man on the field has played varsity high school baseball before coming to DU.

Players say their education came first when they chose DU for college, but they missed baseball. “I just have a passion for the game,” says pitcher Anthony Floro, who expects to graduate in 2009 with a degree in finance. “I’ve been playing baseball since I was 11. You hate to give it up.”

But coming back after two years off the field hasn’t been easy, he allows.

“My arm’s on fire,” he says with a smile after a hard workout.

A week later, he opened the season on the mound, striking out 12 and giving up just two earned runs in his debut.

The team embarked on a month-long spring conference season against Colorado College, Fort Lewis College, Johnson and Wales, the University of Wyoming and Western State, all in the National Club Baseball Association (NCBA).

The return of baseball to DU is largely the work of Marissa Yandall, who is working toward a master’s degree at DU in interpersonal communications and has been accepted as a PhD candidate. With a love of baseball and interest in sports, Yandall tackled the challenge.

Organizing the team was a scramble that started with notices posted to bulletin boards, then a frantic winter of juggling logistics, finding a park, getting equipment and uniforms, gaining affiliation with a national sanctioning body and the blessing of University officials.

“It was kind of crazy,” Yandall says, “but we kept at it.”

Yandall serves as the club’s entire “front office,” organizing road trips, securing transportation and lodging, lining up fields and conducting player recruitment and tryouts. It’s a big job, she says, but she’s committed to making it work. Looking ahead, she hopes to host a regional tournament.

Sandy Sanderson, president of the national association, says Yandall is believed to be the first woman to found a team.

The association that started with 34 clubs in 2001 now boasts 162 clubs nationwide. There are two divisions, based on competitive ambitions. DU started at the lower level.

Pioneers player Nate Carlton says getting back on the field has been sweet, even if it’s been nearly six years since an injury cut his high school baseball career short. As he completes dual undergrad and graduate degrees in accounting, he says students who follow him will be able to enjoy the sport he loves.

“It kind of changes the shape of the college experience to be part of a team,” he says.

Yandall envisions a lasting future.

“If the team doesn’t last after I’m gone,” she says, “then I haven’t done my job.”


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