Amherst, Williams Started It All in 1859-
College Baseball Enters 165th Season in NCAA Division I on Feb. 17
DALLAS – Obviously, there is no one living who saw the first intercollegiate baseball game in history. It just happened to be a July 1, 1859, contest, under Massachusetts Baseball Rules, mind you, between host Amherst and visiting Williams.
Thus started a three-century diamond tradition unequalled by any sport except for tennis and resulted in a 73-32 Amherst pitchers’ duel victory over the Ephs in 25 innings.
Interestingly, that historic contest has been re-enacted three times: in 1959 (100-year anniversary), 1976, and 2009 (150-year revival). Yes, 1976 is just 117 years later, a somewhat odd interval and not quite 125 years as some referred to it. For great photos and more information about the 2009 game, including game organizer/Amherst alumnus/former Boston Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette, visit http://archive.boston.com/sports/colleges/gallery/05_08_09_williams_amherst/.
By comparison, the first intercollegiate football contest was 10 years later Nov. 6, 1869, when Rutgers edged Princeton 6-4 in a less-offensive, mini-rugby match at New Brunswick, N.J., and the first intercollegiate basketball game (just a couple years after James Naismith nailed the peach basket to the post) was Feb. 7, 1893, when future college baseball power Vanderbilt edged the Nashville YMCA 9-7. That game had no dribbling and resembled a college football contest in no-foul physicality.
And, technically, the actual initial basketball game involving two college teams was Drexel downing Temple 26-1 in Philadelphia on Nov. 22, 1894.
But the grand game of baseball has continued to gain national momentum year-after-year – especially with the excitement and crowd support of Mississippi State in 2021 and Ole Miss in 2022 as the two schools gained historic, first-ever NCAA team crowns in any sport.
But don’t thank ESPN, the NCAA, the Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, Pac-12, Southwest, Big 6-7-8-12, Big West, West Coast, or Missouri Valley Conferences alone for their role in the added popularity of college baseball.
In the 1970s perennial powers such as Texas, Texas A&M, Florida State, Wichita State, and others started building home stadiums that would be the envy of the highest level of minor league baseball teams.
Their success both locally and in the NCAA tournaments made college baseball more than just a place to have a picnic lunch or cold beverages on the grassy areas on any warmer Friday-Sunday during the height of springtime.
Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, and others added to the list of mega-facilities in the 1980s, ESPN started its extensive college baseball schedule along with regional networks such as Home Sports Entertainment in the Southwest region and the Sunshine Network in Florida and neighboring states, and the collegiate game took even more leaps and bounds.
With a slight setback by the COVID-19 pandemic stoppage and cancellation of all postseason play in 2020, the diamond sport has regained its fan base and taken steps no one ever could have imagined in 1859.
One example was the highly-anticipated three-game series between Tennessee and Vanderbilt last April. Ticket scalpers were getting as much as $1,500 per game, even higher than some NCAA men’s and women’s basketball Final Four® contests that same weekend. Tennessee maintained its No. 1 ranking after sweeping the Commodores for the first time since 2009 and remained atop the national ratings until Notre Dame scored one of the upsets of the century over the Vols in the NCAA Knoxville Super Regional.
And the 2023 season promises even more competitive teams as LSU is a consensus No. 1 preseason choice, along with 7-8 SEC teams (depending on the surveys) among the Top 10, as well as powerful Stanford, Wake Forest, Louisville, Oklahoma State, and East Carolina rated as dark horses to make the big trek to the Great Eight in Omaha.
Notably, Ole Miss (one of the final schools chosen at-large among the 64-team NCAA field in 2022) and Oklahoma (national runner-up to the Rebels) both were hit hard by graduation and professional signings and are not among the first 20 in several polls. But, beware: veteran coaches Mike Bianco of the Rebels and Skip Johnson of the Sooners are worth at last 2-3 runs every game in bench savvy to their forces when the chips are on the line in conference and tourney tests.
And, fans should be on the watch for some early national matchups such as the Big 12-SEC Higginbotham Insurance Classic at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, with TCU, Texas and Oklahoma State dueling with perennial SEC powers Arkansas, Missouri and Vandy.
Then there is the Houston Shriners Hospital for Children Classic at Minute Maid Park with Rice, Houston, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, TCU, and Michigan, as well as the Frisco (Texas) College Classic at Dr. Pepper Ballpark, featuring Oklahoma, Mississippi State, California, and Ohio State.
Fans attending these jousts will get previews of several 2023 NCAA Regional and Super Regional tourneys and a great helping of close-knit contests just prior to the start of Division I conference play.
Fasten your seat belts, folks; it is going to be a literal roller-coaster side this spring.
Trivia Questions (answers below):
What college baseball team has the most victories among current NCAA Division I schools?
What was the first year of the NCAA Division I World Series?
The NCAA DI World Series has been in the same location for 73 years. What is the second-longest NCAA Championship location, and for how many years?
Bo Carter is the Executive Director of the National College Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and is a long-time professional in sports media and information. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and has plied his trade in the Southeastern Conference, the Southwest Conference, and the Big 12 Conference. In addition to his NCBWA duties, he also serves as a consultant and columnist for the National Football Foundation. Follow the NCBWA, which produces ranking polls for D1, D2, and D3 college baseball; as well as naming All America teams at both the D1 and D2 levels and the Dick Howser Trophy (presented each year in Omaha at the Men’s College World Series) at @NCBWA. And, if you’re a college baseball fan, you don’t have to be media to be a member, check them out at ncbwa.com and join today!
1. Fordham with 4,567 wins in 162 seasons. Next is Texas with 3,696 victories in 126 campaigns.
2. 1947 in Kalamazoo, Mich., moved to Omaha in 1950
3. Florence, Ala., for the NCAA DII football championship from 1986-2013 – total of 28 seasons.