Friday, April 03, 2009

NCAA Division III Baseball in the Northwest League

The past weekend, I was in the greater Portland area to watch NCAA Division III baseball within the Northwest League. A neighbor of mine has a son that plays, plays pretty good at that.

Lacking the money Division 1 schools have, the players have a role that goes beyond playing the game. Besides posh facilities and travel amenities, they are responsible for the field. They handle the infield tarp, rake the infield and batting area, paint the bases and home plate, and chalk the foul lines and batter's boxes. They care for the hitting nets. They handle between innings music and the walk-up music for each home player at-bat. They care and wash their own uniforms.

These schools do not offer athletic scholarships. Financial aid is needs-based. Players' families or the players themselves handle their educational costs in whatever means they can -- savings, second mortgages, loans.

I was impressed by the fans -- mainly parents, family members and fellow students. There were probably 200 fans, close to half from the opposing team that was located about two hours aways by car. The bulk of them understand the game of baseball. It is simple to strike up a strategy conversation with just about anyone.

The schools are primarily liberal arts institutions with enrollments in the 1500-3000 range. Many of the schools in the Northwest Conference are affiliated with Christian religions including Quakers (George Fox), Baptist (Linfield), Lutheran (Pacific Lutheran), Presbyterian (Whitworth)and Methodist (Willamette).

The baseball season is short -- around 10 weeks. They tend to play back-to-back double headers. Because they are in the rained-soaked northwest, they have many rain-delays and rain outs. Make-up are the norm. We experienced a double header rain out; they just extended the series another day.

The hitters and fielders a decent, some quite good. What they lack is deep pitching. They usually have one or two decent pitchers but nothing significant beyond that. It is the same everywhere: never enough quality pitching.

Division III baseball is fun. The players are serious; they love the game. Very few will play professionally at any level. They are getting great educations and will contribute to society in other ways, always cherishing their college baseball days.

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