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Hampton gets taken out of the ballgame

In Hampton's pastime, there was baseball.

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(JohnnyBaseball)

Jelani Scott | Sports Editor

While Hampton University has recently gone through the process of further diversifying their athletic program with the addition of both soccer and lacrosse teams, there is still one sport that needs to make its long-awaited return to the lineup.

Baseball, along with basketball and football, is widely acknowledged as one of the top sports in this country. Based on television ratings and the number of amateur leagues that exist, it is hard to dispute that. In the wake of the Kansas City Royals, a team loaded with talented players of Black and Hispanic descent, defeating the New York Mets to win the 2015 World Series Sunday night, it is hard not to wonder about the state of baseball amongst minorities in this country.

Historically Black colleges and universities  (HBCU) have noticeably taken less interest in “America’s Pastime” over the years for a variety of reasons, but there was a time when Hampton was on the short list of schools with a stock in the sport.

Since the late 1980s, the Lady Pirates’ softball team has had a stellar performance, winning six combined Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) and Mid-Eastern Athletic (MEAC) championships with the most recent being in 2013. The club has also produced 37 first and second-team All-MEAC selections since 2002. Despite the highs the program has achieved, it is almost impossible not to notice that Hampton University is one of four MEAC schools without a baseball program.

Hampton Nation is likely unaware that our “Home By the Sea” once had a baseball team, however, that made quite a name in its heyday. Then known as the Hampton Institute “Seasiders”, the baseball program first appeared on-campus in the 1880s and it thrived as one of the school’s most prominent teams.

According to the book, Baseball: The People’s Game by Harold Seymour, early HBCUs such as Hampton, Howard, and Fisk “developed their own recreation to avoid the humiliation students might face” in their respective towns. By the 1890s, the school had both African-American and Native-American “nines”, a term that refers to the number of players in the starting lineup for a team.

The school made history in 1910 when legendary professional baseball player, manager and pioneer executive Andrew “Rube” Foster’s Chicago American Giants, one of the most successful black teams ever, played Hampton and Atlanta University, later named Clark Atlanta University, in exhibitions. Foster created the Negro National League (1920-31), the first professional league for African-American ballplayers.

Not much is known about the team’s progress during their near century existence as the university doesn’t have complete records of the team’s seasons. The Hampton University Museum archives hold press releases that highlight the team having seasons in 1923-1925. In a 1924, release about the team having open tryouts, team captain Joseph Jackson issued a statement, praising the large turnout. “I can see that we shall have some lively competition but that’s what we want. Competition makes a good team better,” he remarked.

Oddly, 1972 marked the end of the program after what was their most successful season. As detailed in a yearbook from that year, the team claimed first at the CIAA Championships. Head coach Bobby Martin was named “Coach of the Year” and led his team to notable wins over Norfolk State University, William & Mary University and Shaw University. In the May 20, 1972 issue of the The Afro, a weekly newspaper released in Baltimore, “financial difficulties” were cited as the downfall of the program and it has not returned since.

Although HBCU’s have sent 30 players to the MLB since 2008, they have not lasted long. Should the team be brought back, it could assume the role it left in 1972 and take the lead once again.

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