The Diamond Days: CCNY Baseball in 2015 

By Curtis Ashley, Contributor | 

“Division III” is a title that looms over sports at City College. It emits a sense of worthlessness; as if nothing you do matters in the end. Well, that may be to those on the outside looking in. But you will never find a student-athlete in a Division III school with that mentality (or at least they won’t show it). The City College of New York baseball team is a great example of the sentiment.

To begin, I would like to thank the CCNY baseball team and staff, especially head coach Steve Macias, for their cooperation this season. As an emerging sports journalist, I am thankful for the team’s transparency and accessibility throughout the season. I would also like to thank Michael Rupp, the Sports Information Director at CCNY, for providing me the necessary details and accommodations regarding my coverage of the team this season. Lastly, I would like to thank my editor, and the founder of CCNY BeaverBeat itself, Jeff Weisinger. His hard-work and dedication to sports media at this school is the reason I even have the opportunity to cover baseball. He also, over the months, has helped me better my journalism skills, such as interviewing players, and writing articles.

Now back to the focus of this piece, the team. Not just any team — this is the CCNY baseball team of 2015.

I say ‘of 2015’ because, from their record alone, they are unlike any roster the team has seen in recent years. The Beavers went 14-18 overall this season, improving upon last season’s 12-17-1 record. They managed to snag a 4-4 conference record in he CUNYAC, which to some may seem mediocre, but not to me. They are part of a conference which features Baruch College, City’s rivals from downtown, and The College of Staten Island, one of the best, if not the best baseball team in the CUNYAC, as far as wins and titles go.

So to come out with a .500 conference record deserves applause.

“We set a goal at the beginning of the season to play .500 baseball and make the playoffs. Although we did not reach the .500 mark we had great improvement,” head coach Steve Macias said in a post-season interview.

Their record was certainly below .500. A few cancellations and postponements early on the season could have assisted or deterred them from reaching that goal. With double-headers on the weekend, and any time they faced a conference opponent, there were many opportunities for CCNY to pile up some wins. They took advantage of this scenario when they faced St. Joseph’s College and John Jay College in March. After that, it seems the team would split a majority of their double-headers, including a pair of games against Baruch College in April, at which I was in attendance.

“We would’ve liked to sweep,” junior pitcher Sacha Urbach said after the Baruch match-ups. “I really think we had a better team talent-wise.”

But towards the end of the season, generally when a team wants to bag up as many wins as possible, they gave up a few key double-headers. This included match-ups against CSI, and NYU.

Even with those losses, the team would still be able to achieve at least one of the goals they aimed for at the beginning of the season: to make the playoffs. They would head in as the No. 4 seed.

The CUNYAC Championship Tournament was an event that City College’s baseball team had not been a part of in five years. No team enters any playoff picture without the hopes of winning it all. City has not been to the final round of this tournament since 2007, where they were defeated by John Jay College. The last time they actually won the tournament: 1994.

The tournament began on May 7th and CCNY faced off against CSI in a game that they would eventually lose, 10-1. The tournament follows a double-elimination setup, so the team would have one last life for the remainder of the tournament.

The following day, the tournament headed to MCU Park in Brooklyn, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the minor-league affiliate of the New York Mets. It is here that City would defeat Lehman College, the No. 3 seed, in the first game of the day, 10-2. City advanced to the semifinal round, where they would face CSI again, in a win-or-go-home elimination game.

By the bottom of the eighth inning, City and CSI were all tied up. The game would be suspended due to fog and there was careful deliberation to see if the game would be continued, but at 10 p.m., the announcement was made that the game was suspended, and would be continued the following day, just before the final round commenced.

The next day came, but CCNY would not be able to hold on for the win, and made it another year without a conference final appearance or title.  Jhosse Estrella came on to pitch for the Beavers as play resumed in the eighth inning and his second pitch went high of catcher Nazar Aprahamian, allowing the runner to advance, however Aprahamian’s throw was off, allowing CSI to score the go-ahead run.

Having watched them play during the tournament and the regular season, and sat with or by the team before, during and after matches, there is one thing I can say was not the reason they didn’t win it all: team spirit. Whether down by seven in the seventh, or moments away from winning the game, the City College bench is something you will hear. Their cheers ranged from creative name chants for their fellow team members, to a disputation of an umpire’s call, to simply help keeping their pitcher’s head in the game.

“Our guys really got into it. It helps the guys around the field, it helps them,” Urbach commented after the Baruch double-header.

And while the team functions as one, it’s the individual efforts that combine to make things happen. Some of those individual efforts have been acknowledged by the CUNYAC, with six of City players selected on the All-Star team this season. This includes the senior shortstop Gabriel Pena, who had 18 RBI’s with a .354 batting average, and junior pitcher Sacha Urbach, who attained a 4-1 win-lose record along with a 3.25 ERA. Both were named First Team All-Stars.

Gabe Pena in action.   Photo by Denis Gostev
Gabe Pena in action.
Photo by Denis Gostev

The four others were a part of the Second Team All-Stars. They include sophomore second baseman Adrian Pena (40 hits, 20 RBI’s), sophomore shortstop Jhosse Estrella (.429 on-base percentage), senior centerfielder Bobby McDowell (15 stolen bases, 23 runs scored) and senior right fielder Yoribaldis Olivo (.366 slugging, 4.63 ERA on the mound). While these players received recognition from the conference, each player deserves individual recognition. Every hit, stolen base, ball taken, strikeout and fielding play led to the teams success. And each of those are the result of hours of practice, years of experience, and just the love for the game.

I started off by mentioning Division III as that dark cloud hanging over players. And while many of them don’t address it directly, they understand what it means. It’s something they may think of when they’re choosing a major, taking a final, or even graduating college. The realization that they may not have the chance, or may not want, to make a career out of baseball. But it’s not something this team thought of when their shot at the conference finals were on the line.

Being a Division III team never stopped them from trying their hardest. No player stopped at first base when they were sure they could reach second, just because baseball was not a part of their career plan. They still took the extra base, made the extra effort, and worked extra hard. That’s because for CCNY’s baseball team and Division III athletes across the country, it’s not about playing well so that they can sign a contract for a large bonus. It’s not about becoming the next Babe Ruth, or Derek Jeter. It’s solely about winning the game. This year, the team had some good days, and they had some off days. But years from now, when college and maybe even the days of playing baseball are behind them, they can say they had fun.

There was nothing like the diamond days.

 

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