SUU bids adieu to Thunderbird baseball in final home game

By Carter Williams

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, May 13 2012 12:36 a.m. MDT

SUU shortstop Bo Cuthbertson high-fives teammates during Senior Day introductions Saturday afternoon.

Carter Williams

CEDAR CITY — Tom Hanks' character Jimmy Dugan famously said "there's no crying in baseball" in the 1992 classic "A League of Their Own," and that was the case Saturday afternoon at Thunderbird Park.

There were no tears shed on a cloudless 80-degree day when the Southern Utah baseball team took to the field at Thunderbird Park one last time — just a sign reading "Aloha Southern Utah University Baseball" attached to the backstop next to the SUU dugout.

Though the final home game of the season is typically reserved as a celebration for the team's seniors, this Senior Day was a little different in an 11-9 loss to South Dakota State.

"It was kind of bittersweet," junior pitcher Chase Rezac said. "I mean it was the last game on this field, Senior Day — we wanted to come out with a win, but we had some good intensity, so it was pretty bittersweet."

Before the game, the team's eight seniors, along with their families, were honored. After the game ended, the players and their families hugged, joked and took pictures one last time at Thunderbird Park.

It was the final home game in Thunderbird baseball history.

"It was kind of sad but kind of exciting," SUU shortstop Bo Cuthbertson, a four-year starter, said. "There were a lot of feelings ... a lot of memories that we had here. I guess those were the feelings that it was."

Though the final home series has been one of farewell, the team qualified for the Summit League tournament Friday, which was a goal for the team before the season began.

"I think the goals everyone set up for the season were focused on the conference tournament," interim head coach Clayton Carson said. "We're not getting too caught up on our final home game, although it was sad to see. We're looking forward."

The T-Bird baseball program dates back before SUU's switch to a four-year Division I university. Once, in 1990, the program was canceled, but it returned in 1991.

The school has been in the Summit League since it joined the conference in 1997. However, on Jan. 13, it was announced the program would be disbanded because the SUU's new conference, the Big Sky Conference, does not sponsor baseball, and no conference could be found for the T-Birds.

Instead, men's tennis — which is required by Big Sky standards — will fill the void left by the absence of baseball.

The decision upset some students and alumni.

Morgan Bridge, a senior communications major from Sandy, was in attendance for the final game Saturday. She said she has been a regular attendee at the baseball games since coming to SUU in 2009 and was disappointed when the decision was made to cut the baseball program.

"I was really sad," she said, recalling the day the announcement was made. "I just thought, 'I hope my friends don't leave,' but I knew they were going to leave."

The season has been rough on the players, too, as head coach Dave Eldredge and assistant Chase Hudson were released in April after a violation in spending policy.

Eldredge was in attendence Saturday and spent time with his former players after the game.

Cuthbertson, who is graduating from the university, said he would miss the guys around him with the team's disbanding, a feeling mutual with most of the team's players.

"The teammates are going to be what I miss the most," he said. "I've had a lot of good teammates here and have had a lot of fun. I mean, it's a real family atmosphere here, more than other teams I've played for in my life."

With the program disbanding, its remaining NCAA-eligible players will be free to pursue other options without having to sit out a year. Scholarship players deciding to remain at SUU will retain their athletic scholarship throughout next year.

However, the T-Birds will have one last week in the regular season at Oakland in Rochester, Mich., before heading to the Summit League tournament in Tulsa, Okla., in two weeks.

Carson said the team is optimistic about its opportunity to possibly win the conference for the first time in its last chance.

"So far we've beaten everyone in conference at least once, so we know we can beat everyone out there," Carson said. "We're going to Oakland with that same expectation."

But for the fans like Bridge, it's going to be hard to let go.

"I love baseball," she said. "I love eating a hot dog at a baseball game, being at a baseball game — it's just relaxing, and these guys work really hard at what they do ... it's really sad, I'm going to miss (the baseball team) a lot. It means a lot to me."

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