It was the final play in the third game of the season for the New York University baseball team. Coach Doug Kimbler saw the pitch, the pop-up, the ball landing in his shortstop’s mitt. Then, with the game won, Kimbler watched the shortstop roll the ball over the mound before leaving the field, as he would for any other game.
Except this wasn’t just any other game. Kimbler knew that ball marked history.
Now, it’s at home in the NYU athletics department, a memento from the first win for the program since it beat St. John’s University (New York), 11-1, in 1973. A financially struggling NYU dropped the entire Violets athletics department shortly after that victory. The school returned as a member of Division III in the 1980s, but NYU baseball – once a Division I program that twice went to the College World Series and yielded several Major League Baseball players – was not restored. The obstacle of NYU’s urban location and lack of fields seemed too big to overcome.
But in 2014, when the university completed its merger with the former Polytechnic Institute – now the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering – administrators spotted a void. “NYU offered baseball and softball as club sports, but we knew as an athletic department, not having them as varsity sports really left a hole in our intercollegiate offerings,” said Christopher Bledsoe, NYU’s athletics director.
First, Bledsoe and his administrators went in search of fields. That led to a partnership with the Brooklyn Cyclones, a minor league baseball team, and with Fordham University, which opened its Bahoshy Softball Complex to the NYU women.
Starting a new athletics program is never easy. “It’s a startup,” Bledsoe said. “We didn’t baby our way into it. We went right in with the expectation that we were going to play excellent competition.” The school hired coaches – Kimbler for baseball and Now-Allah James for softball – and hit the recruiting trail. Then, with logistics handled and rosters built, athletes in NYU uniforms once again took the field.
And while others can appreciate the historical significance of the baseball season, which ended with a 21-23 record, the players focus on the future. They’re aiming for a return to the postseason tournament, Kimbler said. “Our expectations are getting higher and higher.”