It was just a game, really. Two hours on a cool Saturday evening at Staunton’s historic John Moxie Stadium. But for more than 20 Mary Baldwin University student-athletes, those few hours represented the end of the NCAA fall baseball season and the temporary summit of their young playing careers. Long hours in the batting cage and endless drills on the practice field culminated in a split-squad gray and gold game on October 12 that marked the first public appearance of MBU baseball.
Gray and Gold Game Introduces MBU Baseball to the Public
October 22, 2019
For the players divided into two teams wearing home and away uniforms, the crowds and lights brought a surge of adrenaline that rivaled their professional counterparts playing in Houston and St. Louis. Finely- laid chalk marks lined the batters boxes and baselines, framing a manicured infield and green grass as soft as carpet stretching to the outfield fence. For the players, John Moxie could well be a cathedral when compared to the ball fields of their high school years. No wonder, then, that game time became an exercise in calming butterflies.
But what about the coach?
When asked, head coach Scott Hearn grinned and nodded. “Oh sure, I was nervous,” he said. “I wanted everything to be perfect for the players and the fans. We showed up early to help get the field ready, along with the city of Staunton. We have a great partnership there. It was just a great experience, playing on that field for the first time.”
It truly was a great experience, made greater by the attendance. The number of spectators who attend a Division III split-squad baseball game can usually be counted on two hands. Yet MBU’s inaugural gray and gold game brought over a hundred fans that included Mary Baldwin students as well as local residents drawn by music stadium lights. By the game’s first pitch, a stadium normally colored with the blue and white of the inter-collegiate Staunton Braves summer baseball team was awash with MBU gold. Families of players were on hand to watch sons, brothers, and grandsons play their first innings of college baseball. Parents wore nametags to make themselves easily identified, giving the game a truly family atmosphere that was entirely intentional.
“This game was just as much for the parents as the players,” said Hearn. “I wanted them to see how far we’ve come as a team in such a short while. But more than that, the parents need to be invested in everything we do. It’s so important for them to feel like they’re a part of things, because we’re all in this together.”
Those butterflies didn’t last long. Players on both sides settled into the game’s natural rhythm by the early innings, their nerves blunted by Hearn’s steady presence. The pitchers began dotting the corners of the plate with fastballs and breaking pitches. Fielding became crisp. Hitters found their strokes, sending line drives into the alleys. The infield chatter took on a poetic cadence. And for seven solid innings, a boisterous home crowd cheered every hit and putout.
“That was great to see,” Hearn said, “our players rising to the moment. The biggest obstacle these kids face when jumping from high school to college ball is the speed of the game. The pitches, the fielders, the balls off the bat, everything in college is faster. The key to beating that is to make your reactions faster while slowing the game down mentally, and that’s what our guys did. They put in the work, and it paid off.”
Indeed it did. For a single night in October, fans and players alike were treated to a taste of everything that is to come before enduring the cold winter offseason. It won’t be until January when coach Hearn brings his players together once more. In the meantime, they’ll be studying and working out on their own while honoring the Division III tenet that athletes are students first. The jerseys will remain unworn until February 16, when the team will play the first regular season baseball game in MBU history during a doubleheader at Eastern Mennonite.
Until then, October 12 will shine in the minds of coach Hearn and his players. It was just a game, really. Seven innings of a split-squad contest that NCAA rules prohibit from disclosing even the score. But it was also the public’s first hint that Hearn is building something special at MBU. It could be seen in the fans who danced in the aisles as music blared between innings; in the smiles of children who ran the bases after the game, cheered on by the very players they want to someday be; in the team meeting held afterwards, when parents were invited to huddle with coaches and players at the pitcher’s mound.
Just a game, yes. An opportunity for Hearn and his coaching staff to find the arms and bats to carry MBU baseball through its inaugural club sport season. But for the fans and players alike, those few hours on a ball field were so much more. It was a celebration of MBU itself, and a moment to marvel at how far a university has come in so short a time.