Falcon baseball alumni reminisce about seasons past
Eight years have passed since UW-River Falls last had a competitive varsity baseball team. A sense of bitterness still remains in players of the past and in current students fighting a nearly impossible battle for its reinstatement.
According to the UWRF Area Research Center & University Archives, “The very first baseball game played at River Falls took place in May of 1896.”
After several attempts by the Athletic Committee to end it, the baseball program was eventually cut after the 2002 season.
“Cutting baseball was one of the more difficult decisions we have ever faced as an athletic department,” UWRF Athletic Director Rick Bowen said in an article written in May 2009.
“Because of the cold weather in the Midwest, the conditions are not good enough until early to mid-April to start play. Sometimes players were required to show up at 10 a.m. for batting practice before a noon doubleheader. The end result is that players were missing too much class trying to squeeze that much playing time into April and May.”
According to Bowen, professors complained more about baseball players missing class than all the other sports combined. Adding to the problem, UWRF was unable to bring on a full-time baseball coach and the school had extremely high turnover with part-time coaches.
The head coach for the final 2002 baseball season, Steve Hucke, saw the situation much differently and said he doesn’t believe the reasoning was justified.
“There really weren’t very solid reasons for ending the program: lack of coaching stability, lack of team success, money and Title IX. I was fully prepared and qualified to be the full time coach, which they never offered. I would have taken it in a heartbeat. The weather was fine for the most part and we made due. I never required anyone to be there if they had class,” Hucke said.
Hucke said that there were many reasons why the decisions were unjust.
Being offered part time positions that didn’t keep coaches around, the team finishing one game away from conference play-offs its final year and title nine making cause for more female athletes were big reasons, he said.
The UWRF alumni baseball players said they hold similar feelings on how the entire situation happened, but still look fondly on their time as Falcon team members.
“The best years of my life so far were playing baseball for the Falcons. Most of my lifelong friends are from those teams. ‘Someone’ tried to end the program while I was playing, but it held on until 2002. It left a pretty bad taste in my mouth when it finally was terminated,” said Nate Stellrecht, who was a 1992-96 team member.
Brian Nadeau, a team member in ‘94 and ‘95, said he had similar feelings about his experience playing for the Falcons. “I pitched in the starting rotation both years, freshman and sophomore, and had to quit due to family reasons. It was an awesome experience… The University should be ashamed of the fact that they can’t field a competitive team, considering the budget for baseball is very small compared to other programs,” Nadeau said.
Bill Knutson, a team member from 1991-94, holds the record for the most strikeouts in UWRF baseball history. Knutson said he loved playing for the team and being a student-athlete.
“Playing baseball and attending college at UWRF were some of the best years of my life. Being a student athlete, I earned a quality education while playing the sport that I loved—baseball. As a student-athlete at UWRF, I felt supported and cared for by my peers, faculty and administration. After my senior year of baseball, administration attempted to cut baseball. I was part of a group that refuted the cut and baseball was saved for awhile. Then, a few years later, baseball was cut and there was no chance to refute the decision. I am saddened by the lack of due process the second time baseball was cut. Even though I am thankful and have fond memories of my experience at UWRF, I refuse to give money to the University,” said Knutson.
Since 2002, students at the University have attempted to bring a baseball team back to campus.
In 2005, a club baseball team was formed on campus. It took until 2007 to finally get into a league.
“Our team was in Div. I the first year and moved to Div. II last year,” said Eric Resch, a fifth-year senior at UWRF.
“This year we all decided to take the year off and focus on graduating, and no one really stepped up and took over the team. Hopefully in the future someone can take over again and get it going. It’s too hard to run a team when you don’t have a local field to practice or play on. We played our home games in Minnesota,” Resch said.
Robert Silvers, UWRF club baseball team leader from ‘07- ‘08, said he would love to see a team start up again, but doesn’t think it’s likely.
“With the current economic situation I don’t see it starting up any time soon. Minnesota with their amateur leagues. Minnesota is by far the most organized and largest amateur baseball in the nation with just under 300 teams playing in 3 different classes in the state’s largest baseball organization, the Minnesota Baseball Association. Wisconsin is the second biggest in the nation, and for a school that sits on the border of these states to not have a team is a shame,” Silvers said.
Baseball has become a missed thing on campus to even those who are more interested in being fans than athletes.
“I think it’s a real travesty that this University doesn’t have a baseball team. Baseball is, after all, America’s pastime. However, with all of the recent budget cuts, the odds of us getting a team anytime in the near future are about as good as us getting an Olympic sized swimming pool. Unfortunately, I just don’t see it happening,” said Jim Cipera, UWRF junior and baseball fan said.
When the decision to cut the baseball program was made in 2002, the reasoning behind it came out on the UW System Administration Web site: “New (2002-2003) WIAC rules require more games to be played on weekends. This significantly increases the program costs. The inability to recruit and retain coaches, with seven changes in 15 years, also played a role in the decision.”
At the time Hucke said he thought that the University gave the baseball program enough support, but that there was a hidden agenda then entire way.
“I never ran into resistance for equipment, meal money, bus travel or hotels. Had I of known that baseball was even being considered for elimination, I would have taken measures to show that we were cutting costs,” Hucke said.
In order to try and save the team, Hucke even attempted to rally financial support from alumni and set up funding programs for the team.
“I had five alumni committed to a five-year plan of around $5,000 dollars each year. I wanted to start a booster club and was told that I would not be able to. The whole situation was handled very unprofissionally. They called me on my cell phone to tell me the team was cut. They didn’t even have the professionalism to call me into the office to tell me face-to-face. The committee was very tight lipped about everything,” Hucke said.
According to Hucke, if the team continued into 2003 it would have had seven starting position players returning and 24 newcomers joining a team that missed the playoffs by one game in 2002. The ‘01-’02 varsity baseball team finished with a record of 14 wins and 25 losses.