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Celebrating Our National Pastime’s Opening Day

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Although the Philadelphia Phillies did not get to start Opening Day with a home game on Monday, 12 other teams got to experience the joys of playing with a rowdy and passionate fan base behind them at home for the first day of baseball season. I know players at any level get those butterflies in their stomachs before the first games of their seasons. But not all of us get the pleasure of having thousands of fans on the edge of their seats, with same butterflies, cheering on their teams.

Opening Day is a two-part event with three games on Sunday and 12 on Monday, making for quite a baseball-packed weekend.  Each team will get to play 162 games in their regular season, so the outcome of this one game does not hold a lot of weight in season statistics. However, it is a great opportunity to revitalize the fanbase’s energy and an opportunity for some players to show that this is going to be their year to shine.

In a few shining moments of Sunday and Monday’s games, we got glimpses of greatness from the classic stars like Madison Bumgarner, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw. Bumgarner became the second pitcher in history to have multiple home runs on Opening Day. With 16 career home runs, Bumgarner is a player often talked about as a dual threat with pitching and hitting. Even though his batting average (.187) may sometimes fall flat in comparison to position players, among pitchers he still stands as an impressive hitter. Maybe this year he will make an even bigger name for himself.

Then, of course, Mike Trout had to remind us all that he is the best of the best. For some of us, myself included, we have to get the perfect pitch and then rotate into a mechanically stunning swing to even have a shot at a home run, but for others — namely Mike Trout — a mistaken swing can lead to a home run. I guess that’s just how it works when you’re exceptional. As not to be left out, Bryce Harper hit his fifth Opening Day home run, setting high expectations for the season for himself once again.

Opening Day had numerous other home runs and was a pretty packed sequence of  terrific baseball overall, but there was plenty of stellar pitching as well. Bumgarner was just about as good on the mound as he was at the plate, tossing 7 innings while striking out 11.  Another huge name in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, left Dodgers fans with a lot to be excited about this season. In his seventh consecutive Opening Day start, Kershaw came out after seven innings having only given up two hits. Not a bad way to start the season.

Of course, the big names and their successes are not all that matter about Opening Day. In fact, some of the ridiculous stats that are reported out are almost laughable. For instance, though Kershaw’s ERA on Opening Day games and Bumgarner’s record number of home runs for a pitcher on Opening Day are impressive feats, they are not that relevant to overall outcome of the season. However, the creation of arbitrary measures for Opening Day just proves the significance of the day for the league and all those baseball fans who were quite ready to move past spring training games.

As teams return to their hometowns, it is almost disappointing that there is not a bigger uproar over the day. I would be overjoyed to spend a day at the ballpark with friends and my favorite team (regrettably, the Phillies did not get a home opener) to relish in baseball’s return to center stage.

All being said, Opening Day 2017 had some amazing performances and plenty of enjoyment for those who attended. Baseball is the ultimate American pastime and hopefully more of us will pay attention to the triumphant return of teams to their home stadiums, while basking in the wonderful weather and interacting with the spirited fans. If you ever get the opportunity to go to an Opening Day, I highly recommend it for whatever team you support. But if you’re missing baseball in general, there are always some Phillies games right down the road!

World Baseball Classic Takes Center Stage

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This March, people around the world have been tuning into an exciting tournament full of great players, upsets, passionate fanhood, and superstar performances, as players from across the globe compete to be the best team in the world. I, of course, am talking about the World Baseball Classic (WBC). The premier international competition of baseball is often overlooked by a lot of the sports-watching public. However, this year’s competition, coming on the heels of a historic World Series that concluded with the most-watched baseball game in 25 years, has brought baseball back with a bang this spring.

The WBC matches up 16 teams in four pools that compete in South Korea, Japan, Mexico, and the United States. In order to qualify, teams must either finish in the top three in their pool at the previous WBC, which was held in 2013, or teams must win a qualifying tournament held prior to the start of the WBC. This allows newcomers to have access to the tournament while keeping around the traditional powers of international baseball. This year, Colombia and Israel made their first appearances in the tournament.

The MLB founded and heavily promotes the WBC with the goal of spreading baseball around the world, and this goal has shaped the rules of roster eligibility for national teams. Players can be a citizen, be eligible for a passport, be born within the borders, or simply have parental heritage in the nation that they play for. This allows nations that do not have a strong basis in baseball development to still field competitive rosters, with the goal of increasing interest in the sport within the nation’s borders. For example, the Netherlands’ roster is full of players from their Caribbean constituent nations, such as Aruba native and Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, and Israel’s roster is full of Jewish-Americans like White Sox pitcher Brad Goldberg.

The first round of action brought some surprises. In Pool A, Israel was the surprise champion, going 3-0. The Netherlands followed behind, finishing 2-1, with their sole defeat coming to Israel. South Korea was eliminated, coming as a shock to the baseball world. They were the runner-up in the 2009 WBC, were the third ranked team in the world, and were playing all their games in the home nation. Chinese Taipei, the fourth ranked team in the world, lost all of their games and were eliminated as well.

Pool B was relatively devoid of surprises. Two-time champion Japan swept their pool, and former Olympic powerhouse Cuba finished behind them at 2-1. Newcomer Australia managed their first WBC win, and China went winless in the pool.

Pool C featured some exciting baseball and was a hard-fought opening round. The defending champion Dominican Republic went 3-0, but their pool victory did not come easily. They were down 5-0 against the United States in the sixth inning before rallying and winning 7-5. Against Colombia, they nearly lost on a walk-off, but outfielder Jose Bautista threw out Colombia runner Oscar Mercado at the plate as he tried to score on a flyout, sending the game into extra-innings. In extras, the Dominican Republic scored 7 runs in the 11th inning to seal their win and advance to the next round. Colombia also came close to defeating the United States, but the US pulled out a win with an Adam Jones walk-off single. The US advanced to the next round with a 2-1 record, and Canada was eliminated along with Colombia.

Pool D came down to a controversial finish. Puerto Rico was the unquestioned champion, sweeping the competition in a decisive manner. However, Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy all finished 1-2, so to decide which two teams advanced to a play-in game, a tiebreaker of runs allowed per inning played was used. Mexico believed that a win against Venezuela by more than one would be sufficient to advance; however, they were mistaken in the math calculating the tiebreaker. In their opening game against Italy, they failed to record any outs in the bottom of the ninth, and allowed five runs. They believed this counted as an inning played, but instead, it was scored as five runs scored without an additional inning completed. This pushed their runs per inning above Venezuela, and they were therefore eliminated. As a result, Adrian Gonzalez, one of Mexico’s best players, said that he would never play in another WBC. Venezuela and Italy played a tiebreaking game and Venezuela won, allowing them to advance.

In the second round, in Pool E, Japan and the Netherlands rolled through their competition, finishing 3-0 and 2-1, respectively. Israel’s Cinderella run ended, as they finished 1-2, and Cuba was also eliminated after losing all of their second-round games.

The other second round group, Pool F, was more closely competed. Puerto Rico was the champion, finishing 3-0, although not without close calls. Against the US, Puerto Rico held a three-run lead heading into the top of the ninth, but a two-out Brandon Crawford triple brought the US within one run. However, the US’s Josh Harrison struck out to end the game, sealing the win for Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico also ended the Dominican Republic’s eight game winning streak, which set up a decisive United States-Dominican Republic finale. The US, in, perhaps, their biggest win in international baseball history, shocked the star-studded Dominican Republic team 6-3, allowing them to advance to the semi-finals.

The semi-finals featured two thrilling contests. The first game, featuring Puerto Rico and the Netherlands, was an extra-innings classic that ended in a rather anti-climatic fashion due to the WBC extra innings rules, which start every inning after the 10th with runners on first and second base. Puerto Rico was able to execute small ball in the bottom half of the 11th, as they started the inning off with a sacrifice bunt, followed by an intentional walk, and ended with a walk-off sacrifice fly. The second game featuring the US and Japan was a battle against the elements, as both teams had to deal with the rare Los Angeles rainstorm. The US took advantage of the soggy conditions, and scored both of their runs as a result of the soaked field. Two runs were enough for the win, and the US was able to advance to their first WBC final.

The finale looks like it will live up to all of the hype the preceding games have brought. Right now, Vegas gives the slight edge to Puerto Rico, who seem to deserve it. Will Puerto Rico win one more game and complete a sweep of the whole WBC? Or will the US finally silence the critics and win their first title? We’ll see what happens on Wednesday night, but I think the US will be able to pull out the win and make their country proud.

After slow start, baseball bounces back strong

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After a slow start losing two doubleheaders to open up the season, the Baseball team bounced back over spring break in Fort Myers, Florida. The team flew south for their annual trip the first Saturday of spring break to escape the cold. After seven days of sunshine, the team returned with an overall record of 6-8, going 6-4 in Florida. Over 100 Division III baseball and softball teams from across the United States headed to Fort Myers to compete in the annual Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic. The tournament is a memorial for Cusic, a former Lee County Parks and Rec athletics manager and baseball fan. Established 26 years ago, the classic has expanded tremendously, originally having just 11 teams. Other Conference teams to attend this tournament included Gettysburg and Haverford.

The Garnet baseball team faced a packed schedule with 10 games in just six days. The trip began on an incredible high note with a walk-off win in extra innings in their first game on Sunday. Jared Gillen ’20 drove in the game winning run for the Garnet to defeat Rivier College in extra innings. The team lost a doubleheader on Monday to Defiance College and rallied to finish 4-2 in their next 6 games, defeating Hiram College, Rockford University, Baruch College and the United States Coast Guard Academy. One of the team’s losses was to Alvernia University who is currently ranked 23rd in the nation in Division III.

Other notable performances came from Conor Elliott ’19 and Cole Beeker ’20 at the plate, as well as Ryan Warm ’20 on the mound who, despite the loss, had a strong pitching performance against Alvernia. Elliot and Beeker lead the team with batting averages of .383 and .367 respectively.

Despite the busy schedule, the team was able to get some rest and relaxation during their spring break. Fort Myers is the spring training home of both the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins, offering a great opportunity to see some Major League Baseball. The team saw the Minnesota Twins defeat the Toronto Blue Jays before returning to Swarthmore on Friday to conclude their spring break trip.

Up next for the Garnet is a home doubleheader against Penn State Berks on March 18th after their game scheduled for March 14 against Eastern was canceled due to weather. Centennial Conference play will begin April 1 against Johns Hopkins University, who was picked to finish first in the conference coaches poll. The Garnet, who were picked to finish 10th in the same coaches poll, must make a strong conference play campaign to reach the Centennial Conference playoffs.

Baseball Eagerly Awaits Field Updates

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Following a 22-17-1 run last year, the Swarthmore Baseball Team sought to bolster certain aspects of the program for the bright future ahead. While bringing in a strong freshmen class still proved a priority for the program, it became clear that the outdated facilities would need work to keep up with the rapidly improving gameplay and influx of future recruits. This fall, the administration rewarded the team’s success and efforts, securing funding and beginning construction on key improvements to Clothier Field.

With the first home game currently scheduled for Mar. 18 versus powerhouse Penn St. Berks, construction has ramped up in hopes of finishing before the homestand. This first phase consists of upgrading a significant portion of the seating and technology around the ballpark, including a press box complete with improved broadcasting functionality. The second phase will continue throughout the season, as the Palmer, Pittinger, and Roberts (PPR) Halls undergo simultaneous construction, integrating the dormitory into the landscape of the outfield fence. The athletics department compared this state-of-the-art fence integration improvement as mimicking the likes of the right field fence at the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park, where fans have a close and intimate experience with the game before them.

Another important addition to the Swarthmore baseball program was assistant coach Dan Gusovsky, who came from William & Mary to lead the pitching staff and conduct recruiting process.

In an interview, he said “The renovations will enhance Clothier Field to an elite, unique facility, that we will proudly call home.”

In the meantime, the baseball team and fans will have to adapt to the ongoing construction beyond the left field and fence and around the ballpark. Most significantly, the left field fence now lies at a much shorter dimension, with a temporary telephone-pole fence separating the field from the construction.

The press box, named in honor of former legendary Swarthmore head baseball coach Ernie Prudente, the school record-holder for all-time wins as head coach with 216, will also be an adjustment for the team’s supporters and athletics staff. The press box will include brand new broadcasting equipment, which is particularly useful for the live online streaming of home games.

Our supporters will not only have an enhanced experience watching our games live, however, our supporters will be able to watch our games with higher resolution [online]… our program couldn’t be happier with the investment made by our administration that will bring everlasting recognition to a true Garnet great,” Gusovksy said.

However, this wait and accommodation will be worthwhile for the team in its long-term effects on the program. Citing a recent example of one of this year’s top-prospects leaving on account of inadequate baseball facilities, Gusovsky claimed, “The renovations will give us an edge in winning recruiting battles with competitor schools. The unique character of Clothier Field will separate our field on a national level.”

Nevertheless, the team understands the significant added responsibility and commitment the construction represents on behalf of the administration. As the season continues, the team will look to improve on last year’s foundation, with eyes set on the Centennial Conference Championship and beyond. Led by a seasoned senior class of outfielder Ryan Burnett ’17, infielder Wesley Fishburn ’17, and catcher Steven Matos-Torres ’17, the Garnet will kick off their 2017 season with back-to-back weekend doubleheaders on Feb. 25 and 26. This warm-up will be followed by the long-awaited Spring Break trip to Ft. Myers, FL with a 10-game road trip. All of this hard work seeks to jumpstart the team into peak form for the arrival of conference gameplay a few weeks later, with hopes of an eventual championship opportunity.

As Gusovsky would emphasize, “I believe that Swarthmore has doubled down on reasonable expectations for our baseball team’s home field, and I know that our players will continue their hard work on and off the field.”

The Garnet will continue to work hard and prove their value throughout the rest of the school year with hopes of winning a conference championship this upcoming May.

Baseball Primed to Do Big Things

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If one takes a walk into the fieldhouse these days, they’ll be greeted by the sounds of bats clinking and balls smacking against leather. That’s the Swarthmore College Baseball Team, hard at work as they prepare for their season. The Garnet team, coached by Matt Midkiff, is looking to rebound from a tough season which saw them finish with an overall record of 22-17-1, but a losing record in conference play of 6-11-1, earning them second to last in the Centennial Conference.

Last season saw the departure of key players Nate Booth ’16, Roy Walker ’16, and David Wolfson ’16. Booth pitched for the Garnet and posted a 2.06 ERA to go along with 35 strikeouts in 11 starts last year. Walker, the team’s right fielder, was the Garnet’s best hitter last season. He led the team with a .349 batting average and 36 RBIs while also playing stellar defense. Wolfson contributed 14 RBIs and 2 home runs, adding some power to the Garnet offense. The Garnet also lost Brian Gibbs ’17 who started 9 games as a pitcher, posting a 3.07 ERA while striking out 64.

Though the graduated seniors will be missed, the Garnet brought in a very large and strong recruiting class, including 18 freshmen who made the roster. The Garnet also return some key parts, most notably Wesley Fishburn ’17. Fishburn started all 35 games as a freshman in 2014, batting a solid .286 and contributing 12 RBIs. But his performance as a sophomore was truly a revelation for the Garnet. Fishburn batted .399 for the season and set a Swarthmore single-season record with 59 hits. He won the Centennial Conference Golden Glove Award, given to the best defensive player in the league and was also named to a number of all-star teams, including the All-Centennial Conference First Team and ABCA/Rawlings Mid-Atlantic All-Region second team. His junior season was not as spectacular but still impressive, finishing second on the team in batting average and RBIs. Fishburn, who tore his ACL in the final game of the 2016 season, is not yet at full health, but once he is, he will be a menace for opposing pitchers as he looks to cap off his exemplary career for the Garnet. Jaron Shrock ’18 returns as the backstop for the Garnet after a solid sophomore campaign cut short by injury. Charles Groppe ’19 also returns for the Garnet after his freshman season in which he posted a 3.33 ERA and struck out 36 in 8 starts and 12 total appearances. Griffin Kammerer ’18, a hard-throwing relief pitcher, looks to be effective this year as well.  

In an effort to be a step above the rest of the competition, the Garnet coaching staff has started holding 6 a.m. practices every Tuesday and Thursday. These practices primarily focus on conditioning drills and improving the fitness of the team. However, they also serve another purpose: to help with team-building and to give the team experience with adversity, something they will often face as they head into the thick of the season, playing four or five games each week and often two in one day.

Sawyer Lake ’20, a pitcher on the team, said, “We work hard and we’re proud of the fact that we’re training when everyone else is asleep. It’s been a great bonding experience, it’s something we all take part in. No matter the position, no matter the year, it’s the whole team putting in the effort to edge out our competitors.”

Hopefully for the Garnet, their 6 a.m. workouts will pay dividends. With the new training routine and the many new faces, the players have a lot to be excited about.

Fishburn said, “We’ve got some really talented freshmen and some upperclassmen who’ve worked really hard to take the next step, so I’m confident that we’ve got the talent to make a playoff push.”

Fishburn admits the team still has a lot of unknowns because of its youth but expects that many players, both freshmen and underclassmen alike, will step up and take important roles.

The players are also very excited to get back onto the new and improved diamond at Clothier Fields.

Outfielder Ryan Burnett ’17 said, “Our field has been undergoing a lot of renovations and we’re ready to get back out there, especially with the addition of our new press box and stadium seating that will allow everyone that comes out to a game to be more involved.”

Hopefully Garnet fans will come out in force this year to cheer on this Swarthmore squad that’s looking to strike big. The team plays their first game of the season on Feb. 25 at Arcadia University. After that, they’ll travel down to Fort Myers, Florida for spring break, playing in the Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic. They’ll play 10 games total in this tournament against such schools as Hiram College and the United States Coast Guard Academy. Then, they play their home opener on Mar. 18 against Penn State Berks. Centennial Conference play starts on Apr. 1 with a doubleheader at Johns Hopkins, last year’s Centennial Conference champion.

The Garnet, with a plethora of youthful talent, look poised to fight for a top spot in the Centennial Conference this year and in years to come.

Cooperstown, Where Do We Draw the Line?

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While there are many individuals out there with a wealth of knowledge on every baseball player and statistic, even for us average Joes, the recent Hall of Fame controversy provides a philosophical discussion. The debate regarding which players are selected to join the Hall of Fame has evolved from a simple opinion of their talent into a moral conversation. Now the question of whether to let in suspected steroid users is a judgement call that all of us have the right to weigh in on.

Though we all have our opinions on who should make the Hall of Fame, ultimately a group of veteran baseball writers get to make the decisions. Veteran members of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America are baseball writers who have given ten years of service to the Association, and they have received the privilege to cast a vote for up to ten players every year. There was a total of 442 ballots cast this year. Players are placed on the ballot in several ways, most commonly by waiting at least five years after their official retirement from playing in the MLB. From the time that players are placed on the ballot, there are three different ways which they are removed from the ballot. The first and most exciting way for a player to get off the ballot is for that player to have over 75% of the electors vote for them. If they get 75% or more of the votes, then they are accepted into the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. If a player does not reach the 75% mark, they can remain on the ballot for up to ten years. If they are unsuccessful after their tenth year,they are removed from the running. They are also removed if they receive less than 5% of votes from the electors in any given year; also lose the chance to enter the Hall of Fame.  

This year, the hall of fame will welcome its three newest members: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez. Ivan Rodriguez was even a first-ballot Hall of Famer. However, the most contentious discussions have not surrounded Raines, Bagwell or Rodriguez; controversy has arisen over the players who were not elected. Barry Bonds, a name even the most clueless fans know, shot up in vote percentage to almost 54%. Arguably one of the best hitters in baseball, with countless MVP awards under his belt, he seems like a shoe in for the Hall of Fame. However, his career and successes are mired by the steroid era and the dark cloud of performance enhancing drugs that cast a shadow on his accomplishments. The same goes for other players such as Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, and Sammy Sosa. Though none of these players received enough votes, recent increases in voting for Bonds and Clemens may be an indication that the day is coming where steroid use will no longer keep “The Greats” from the Hall of Fame.

There are two major factors that explain why Bonds and Clemens have received an uptick in votes. First, a new wave of writers with a different perspective on integrity became eligible to vote and flushed out an older generation of writers who actually worked in the steroid era. Second, Bud Selig, the former commissioner who presided over the steroid era and is often accused of allowing this behavior, was elected to the Hall of Fame. Others, such as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicler, who have previously voted against all-stars with known PED use are now reconsidering.

Slusser said, “[It is] senseless to keep steroid users out when the enablers are in the Hall of Fame. I will now hold my nose and vote for players I believe cheated.”

The moral and philosophical debate regarding these recent Hall of Fame votes centers around three questions. First, should steroid users be allowed in the Hall of Fame? Second, if there are players in the Hall of Fame who most likely used, but never confessed or got caught, why do they have the right to be in when “The Greats,” such as Barry Bonds, have to be kept out? Lastly, what about those non-users who might take a hit in votes and not be able to get in.

Speaking about himself and Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds said, “The guys that are supposed to be there are supposed to be there. Period. I don’t even know how to say it. We are Hall of Famers. Why are we having these conversations about it? Why are we talking about a baseball era that has come and gone?” 

From Bonds’ viewpoint, no “perceptions” of PED use should be allowed to stand in the way of the selection of the obvious record breakers and Hall of Famers such as himself. It appears that baseball writers are on the verge of agreeing with his perspective.

Of course, there will always be writers that reject any players accused of steroid use on the principle of the stated guidelines for BBWAA voting which say that integrity should be a considered factor in the voting process. Time will only tell how integrity will be interpreted with relation to the Hall of Fame as this wave of suspected steroid users comes through the selection process.

 

Should club athletes qualify as Athlete of the Week?

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The process of selecting the Athlete of the Week at the Phoenix every week is fairly simple, but that may change. Typically, the athlete who performed the best or had the biggest positive impact in their team’s game will get the weekly spot in the Sports section. The section, however, may begin to feature both club and varsity athletes in the coming years. The change comes as a part of a larger campus discussion regarding the cooperation, valuation, and, at times, animosity between the two groups of campus athletes. In the discussion of changing the way we select Athlete of the Week, the question of club athletes’ qualifications for selection as Athlete of the Week has arisen.

     Club sports play an important role in the lives of many students at the college. Between volleyball, ultimate frisbee, and rugby, some of the more prominent club sports on campus, non-varsity student-athletes have the opportunity to competitively participate in various athletic events. There are currently seven chartered clubs including Fencing, Men and Women’s Rugby, Men and Women’s Ultimate Frisbee, Men’s Volleyball, and Men’s Badminton. These clubs are highly organized and have clearly defined policies specific to club sports teams that they must follow. Like all students, members of club sports teams must also comply with policies set out by the college, including sexual assault and harassment, misconduct, safety, and hazing policies. Club athletes can face disciplinary action if they don’t adhere to these policies. The implementation of these policies suggests that club athletes are held to a particular behavioral standard as they are representatives of the school.

     Club sports are also held to standards of organization, similarly to varsity sports. Club captains are required to submit rosters, have their players sign an assumption of risk form, verify that the team has team insurance, and ensure that the team is authorized to travel. Most importantly, captains are required to develop and establish an attendance policy. Attendance policies are important in club sports, too, because club athletes can receive PE credit, which is a requirement for graduation, similar to varsity athletes.

     Because club athletes can receive PE credit, their activities are officially recognized by the school as competitive athletic events that contribute to a student’s learning in the same way varsity athletic events do. In order for a club sports to be eligible for PE credit, they must follow certain criteria. Club sports are required to hold at least three practices a week while they are in season, must have a committed coach or supervisor, and must keep attendance, as mentioned before. Club sports are classified as a chartered student organization, and thus receive funding from the Student Budget Committee. In the event that funding does not completely cover total costs, teams are allowed to fundraise on campus with approval of the athletic department although varsity teams also have the opportunity to raise funds through on-campus events.

     Much like varsity sports, club sports play a competitive schedule. Almost every club team played an away game last year, and every team could have qualified for their respective postseason, given they earned a good enough record. Teams are required to attend their scheduled games, or they run the risk of forfeiting.

     The competition creates rivalries. Last week, the Women’s Rugby team edged out Ursinus for the first time in five years. The long-standing rivalry between Swarthmore and Ursinus illustrates the competitiveness of many club sports on campus. Tim Greco ’19, a member of the Men’s Rugby team, spoke to the competitive edge not only present but required for competing in club sports.

     “The people on the team care about their performance very much. If you don’t care about doing well, you won’t be out there to begin with risking yourself getting hurt. There’s definitely a competitive spirit, on the same plane as varsity athletics,” said Greco. Greco also mentioned how club athletes represent the college, bearing the signature Swarthmore “S” on equipment and jerseys. He said, “We are still representing the college. It does not matter if it is through an official sport or through a club sport. We are still representing Swarthmore. Not only how well we do, but our level of sportsmanship reflects back on Swarthmore.” Some argue that many club teams are just as committed and dedicated to their sport as varsity teams.

     Rose Ridder ’19, a member of the Women’s Rugby team and former swimmer, spoke along these lines saying, “Some club sports are more hardcore than others, but some are definitely not hardcore. Some varsity sports are more hardcore than other, but some are definitely not hardcore.”

     Ethan Chapman ’19, a member of Men’s Ultimate Frisbee, approaches the question from a different perspective, saying, “The commitment level is higher [as a varsity athlete], but you’re bound to it. If you’re playing frisbee, and you’re committed that much to your team, the same level as a varsity player, that says a lot about you,” he said. “You’re not bound to that. Everyday, you have the option to not go, and nothing will happen. But if you choose to keep going, that just says so much about your dedication.”

     Chapman expanded on his statement when he said, “When a varsity athlete is on a team and is having a bad day, they are still forced to go to their practice. In club sports, if you’re doing it just for fun, and you’re having a bad day, you don’t need to go. But if you have that commitment, and you go on your own, again that just says so much.”

     On the other hand, many varsity athletes feel the current method for selecting Athlete of the Week, and for covering Garnet sports in general, should go unchanged. The argument, most often, was that only varsity athletes should be selected because they are more committed to their sport.

     Varsity athletes are, in general, not allowed to miss any practices except for emergencies, class conflict, or injury. By-and-large, coaches hold each individual athlete accountable for missing any type of team practice or lift, often requiring each player to make up the practice or lift on their own time. In some cases, athletes get sent back to their dorms for being late to a lift or practice without a proper excuse.

     “Some varsity athletes compete every single day for as many as three to fours hours, taking up a lot of your time. Varsity is official, people work really, really, really hard. Club seems to be more of a fun thing,” shared Chris Chan’ 17, a member of the Track and Field team.

     An anonymous player on the Softball team shared similar sentiments, explaining that she felt that varsity sports are more intensive than club sports.

     “They [club athletes] don’t put in as much time as we do, and don’t have official coaches. In general, they don’t get recruited or have to worry about getting cut.” She continued, explaining that she perceives club sports as less standardized and, therefore, less competitive.

     “They [club athletes] don’t have statistics or a league to be compared with. What would you be measuring them against? No one knows how good their competition is.”

     The majority of varsity athletes get recruited to play at the college; however, club athletes typically do not. Being recruited to play a sport in college is a slow and painful process. Most college coaches go to recruiting events that host hundreds of players, only being able to get a short glimpse at each of them. Many times, they go to recruiting events already knowing which players they want to take a look at. Other times, they rely on recommendations from travel coaches to build their recruiting classes. Some varsity athletes made the life-changing decision to attend one college over another solely because one college offered the opportunity to play on a varsity team.

     Of course, there is always the uncertainty of not being accepted into a certain college even after being offered a roster spot, which can make finding a school to play at even more difficult. Jackson Roberts ’19, a member of the Baseball team, recalls a situation in high school where he made plans to originally commit to another college.

     “I had made up my mind about playing and studying at [undisclosed college]. I had it taken away from me when I didn’t get in. I knew the baseball coach really wanted me, so I assumed I’d get in. I thought it was the best situation for me,” he said. In the end, the circumstances changed, creating undue challenges for Roberts.

     “I was forced to find alternative plans. Varsity athletes face and think about these things first. I don’t think club athletes think about that first. I think they choose a school based on academics, then reached out to club athletics after.”

     Another difference between club athletes and varsity athletes, many believe, is that varsity athletes are held to a different behavioral standard. Many varsity athletes can recall the traditional speech given by coaches before every weekend, which includes reminding ever player that, although they may be members of other groups, they are identified as a member of their team first. Many people identify well-known varsity athletes as varsity athletes first. Although club athletes still represent Swarthmore, they are not always identified as club athletes first. This distinction socially separates them from club athletes.

     All of this being said, the conversation will likely continue, as the athletic department and campus attitudes towards athletics shift and change.

 

First look: This year’s MLB Postseason

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As another MLB season chock full of storylines and controversy comes to a close, let us first reflect on the season before getting swept up in the rush of playoff baseball. In the beginning of a the new era, the Cubs seem primed to have a shot at a World Series, having not won a championship since 1908. The MLB also implemented new timing rules in an attempt to “Make Baseball Fun Again.” We saw multiple legends end their careers, as sluggers David “Big Papi” Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez both declared their retirement. It was a season of controversy between the famed Odor-Bautista brawl at second base and the usual never-ending hatred of umpires. Most of all, it was just another MLB season, full of the pleasure and fun that have made baseball America’s pastime.

      October baseball has begun, and the pool of contenders for World Series Champion has been narrowed down to eight teams. Before I make any claims or predictions about any of these teams, I should make a caveat: I was born in Maine and have lived in Washington, D.C. most of my life. I have been a lifetime Red Sox fan and a Nationals fan since they came to D.C. in 2005. I will try to keep as much of my personal bias out of this piece, but without further ado, my predictions for the 2016 MLB playoffs are as follows.

      The Baltimore Orioles will not win the American League Wild Card game. As much as I love our orange, aviary friends up Interstate-95, I believe that the Orioles cannot survive on their shaky pitching rotation. While Chris Tillman was tremendous in the first half of the season, he has since fallen off track. Dylan Bundy and Ubaldo Jimenez have picked up the slack for him, helping the O’s clinch a spot in the postseason. However, Bundy’s rookie status moved the O’s to shut him down after reaching his inning limit, while Ubaldo has proven to be one of the streakiest pitchers in the MLB since his record year with the Rockies. I will admit the Orioles have a solid lineup and one of the most underrated bullpens in the MLB, but their incredible home record of 50-31 at Camden Yards this season is not encouraging as they’ll have to face the powerhouse Blue Jays at the Roger’s Centre in Toronto .

The Toronto Blue Jays will get KO’d by the Rangers in the AL Divisional Series. While I do believe they will win the Wild Card game, our friends from above the border will unfortunately have to take on the red-hot Texas Rangers. Earlier this year, this matchup resulted in one of the more memorable moments of this MLB season when Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor knocked the helmet and sunglasses off of Blue Jays fielder José Bautista with a vicious right hook to start a bench-clearing team brawl. Animosity aside, this is the best Rangers team we have seen since Ron Washington’s squad lost in the World Series in 2011. While the Rangers certainly had success early in the season on the backs of their pitching rotation, which included players Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels, their front office made some key additions. After signing Ian Desmond in the offseason, accurately predicting a big comeback after his devastating season last year, the Rangers continued to make big moves in acquiring Carlos Beltran, Carlos Gomez, and Jonathan Lucroy. Their line-up already consisted of perennial All-Stars Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo. Frankly, the Rangers only have a small achilles heel in their bullpen, meaning they have a better shot at winning games early on in any series and will probably be hindered as they get deeper into the postseason.

The Washington Nationals will win their NL Division Series and lose in the NL Championship Series. This season’s Nationals team is quite different from last season’s platoon of players. As devastating as last year’s early exit from the postseason was, this Nationals team will only have so much gas in the tank this year. While you could chalk off the past few year’s losses to poor decisions from manager Matt Williams and poor performance from closer Drew Storen, it would be a tough case to argue that Dusty Baker’s career .421 playoff win percentage would do much to change that. I will say that the Nationals have definitely made some improvements, finding a more youthful pitching staff, led by Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. Similarly, Daniel Murphy has proven that he can hit in the postseason just as well as anyone else, but, with Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos out for the postseason because of an ACL injury, I am pained to say that the Cubs stand the best chance of winning the NLCS.

     In a previous article, the Phoenix had mentioned that this might finally be the Cubs’ year.  As much as I would love the Cubs’ World Series drought to continue, they, nonetheless, have a strong shot at bringing home a trophy. I have to give General Manager Theo Epstein credit as he was the mastermind behind quickly building a powerful team composed of both elderly and youthful talent. The Cubs appear similar to the Orioles in that they both have starters that carry the team for a short streak before the next one picks up. This works in the long-term season, but in a short five or seven game series, premier arms like Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks can only start twice. Ace Jake Arietta has simply fallen off since the All-Star break, posting a 3.69 ERA and a dismal 12.60 ERA in his most recent start. While there’s certainly an argument to be made for the Cinderella story, I’m afraid this is just not the year, Cubbies.

The Boston Red Sox will win the World Series. Yes, I am a Red Sox fan, but I am making this decision based purely on objectivity. The Red Sox, hands down, have had the best offense in the MLB this year. Between Jackie Bradley Jr.’s impressive streak earlier in the season and Mookie Betts’ breakout season, the Red Sox are moving into postseason play with an unforgivingly high level of momentum. The Red Sox were red hot with a stellar 11-game win streak coming into the playoffs. The Red Sox also have one of the most underrated rotations of the year between David Price, Rick Porcello, and Drew Pomeranz. Losing Steven Wright and Cuban sensation Yoan Moncada to injury does not sit well, but considering the Red Sox depth on the bump and in the outfield, they should be fine. Similarly, the return of Koji Uehara, adding onto the already stellar closing battery of Junichi Tazawa and Craig Kimbrel, serves as an impressive boost for the Red Sox playoff run. If all goes well, the Red Sox are destined to bring home a trophy.

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