Duquesne's baseball team plays (and loses) in its final appearance at home
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On the surface, it all looked the same as any college baseball game.
The sun beamed as broad-shouldered young men -- some with eye-black neatly applied, some with scruffy beards, all going full bore on that diamond -- clashed not for million-dollar paychecks, but for the name sewn across the front of their uniforms.
With every ping of aluminum, every flyout, every windup and pitch, Duquesne and Temple battled at Green Tree Field Sunday afternoon in their Atlantic 10 Conference game until the end bore this much out: Temple, 8, Duquesne 3.
There was, however, a deeper ending -- much more finality than the conclusion of nine innings when Duquesne's Mark Tracy flew out to the center-field warning track to Temple's David Hall.
This was the final home game in Duquesne's baseball history.
The Dukes had won their five previous games, but what will be remembered most was not the recent hot streak or even a single play Sunday, but, rather, that this was the final time Duquesne fans could root, root, root for the home team.
It was a Duquesne program with a history dating to 1888.
It sent nine players from the Bluff to the major leagues, most notably brothers Dick and Dave Ricketts (also stellar basketball players) and Joe Beimel, a left-handed relief pitcher currently playing for his sixth big-league club, the Colorado Rockies.
This was a program whose lineup included the late Steelers owner and founder Art Rooney, long before he became "The Chief."
Sunday was another benchmark day -- a somber one at that -- for the guys with the caps bearing an old English 'D' emblem.
"I don't think I was feeling too much of the emotion until just before the game, until I was talking to some people, then I started to feel it," Duquesne coach Mike Wilson said.
In January, Duquesne announced a strategic restructuring of varsity sports programs in what the university called, "an effort to maximize financial resources and ensure sustained athletic success." When the next athletic year starts, there will be 16 varsity sports, down from 20.
Baseball, men's swimming, men's golf and wrestling were the casualties, caught in a vortex where amateur athletics couldn't overcome financial reality.
The other three sports already ended their season, but the baseball team will not shut down until after a three-game series Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Fordham.
The Dukes (15-38, 9-15), mired near the bottom of the 14-team conference, will not earn one of the six invitations to the conference tournament.
Before the game Sunday in a show of how Duquesne, not unlike many northern schools, kept the program together more on a shoestring than counterparts in warm, Southern states, Wilson rode a small tractor, zooming around the infield in a last-minute manicuring session.
Some pregame duty for a guy in his 17th season with the Dukes and who is tied for the most career wins in school history (344). Rich Spear reached that same number managing the Dukes from 1970-93, even though the Dukes regularly played fewer games each season back then.
As for Wilson, what will he do now?
"I'm seeing myself back in the college game," Wilson said. "I would take an assistant job and definitely a head-coaching job. But not the way I had to do it here, not where I had to wear every hat. There would have to be a bigger commitment made."
That's the coach. As for the players ... ?
Sophomore catcher Rick Devereaux will play at Pitt next year, freshman pitcher Robert Corsi will play at Rutgers and sophomore pitcher Jim Devine will continue his career at Temple.
Other players are still pursuing options, and some will remain as students at Duquesne, which will honor the length of the scholarship commitment it extended to each player.
"I feel like the younger guys got cheated," Devereaux said. "We came here to play four years of baseball and that wasn't allowed to happen. Is that fair? No. But, I guess that's just a part of life right now."
As the game Sunday went on and Duquesne's quick, 1-0 lead on Andrew Heck's home run in the first inning dissolved, one man, Leo Wilson, stood behind home plate with a unique historical vantage point.
Leo Wilson is Mike's brother and one of seven Wilson siblings. He can make a distinctive claim as it pertains to Duquesne baseball: He is one of a three-generation string to play for the Dukes.
Leo and Mike's father, George M. Wilson, Jr. played for the Dukes and graduated in 1918, Leo played on the Bluff and graduated in 1961 and Leo's son, Sean, was a standout hitter for Duquesne, graduating in 2003.
"Just can't believe this is over, and it is ending like this," Leo Wilson said, his focus jumping between an interview and the game's second inning.
"I sent a letter to [Duquesne president] Charles Dougherty a few weeks ago and explained that I understand you are running a business, but this is a community, this is a college community. Dropping sports is another way of turning it more into a business and less into a community, which is what college should be, a community."
Devereaux, standing on the field after the game, fumbled for the right words before he strung them together: "We were going to put something good together here, I know we were," he said. "It is just a shame we didn't get that chance in these Duquesne uniforms."
First Published May 17, 2010 12:00 am