Fairfield Now - Summer 2009
Baseball is big at Fairfield, on the diamond and in the classroom
Fairfield's Mark Skrapits '12 rounds second in varsity play.
By John Torsiello
You might not think of Fairfield University as a baseball hotbed. Well, think again!
From popular courses that employ baseball as an educational centerpiece, to student and faculty fantasy leagues, student trips to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and faculty attending the World Baseball Classic, the campus buzzes with baseball chatter from spring through fall.
"There's a genuine passion for baseball here among the faculty and students," said Jim Fitzpatrick '70, M.A.'72, assistant vice president of Student Affairs, as he sat in Jazzman's café on a spring morning. "We have a lot of students from New York and New Jersey as well as Connecticut and Massachusetts, so there are a lot of fans of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets."
Fitzpatrick is a dyed-in-the-wool Red Sox fan and some of his fondest moments are twice meeting the late Boston legend Ted Williams. He also recalls being at a dinner where Hall of Famer Larry Doby was presented an honorary degree by Fairfield University several years ago. Doby was the second African-American player to play in the major leagues, and the second African-American to lead a major league club, when he became manager of the Chicago White Sox in 1978.
"It was quite appropriate," he says of the honorary degree, "because one of our main themes at Fairfield is diversity and Mr. Doby championed the cause of baseball's integration in the American League."
There was a quite natural genesis for Fairfield's honoring Doby, as former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent was a Fairfield University trustee for two terms and a fervent guardian of the game's history and social significance. Additionally, Vincent was a guest speaker in a cluster course at Fairfield, focused on baseball, in the fall of 2008.
Michael Pagliuco '12, Kevin Grondin '12, and Michelle Cote '12 talk baseball with Dr. Sapp.
One of the significant ways baseball brings Fairfield together is through courses that use the game as a teaching tool for a variety of disciplines. The courses are so popular that there are generally five times more registrants than space allows.
In 2006, Dr. Matthew Coleman, professor of mathematics, taught a baseball cluster course with Dr. David Sapp, associate professor of English.
Cluster courses are complementary courses with a shared theme but taught from the perspective of different disciplines. So in this case, baseball was used to teach statistics, and to reflect upon the broader culture through baseball related stories and other narratives.
"I love baseball and it was a natural for a statistics course," Dr. Coleman explained. "Teaching statistics from a specific point of view, like baseball, is similar to what happens in middle school math, where students may have trouble with certain types of problems, yet can do the same problem if you use dollar amounts instead of just numbers," he went on. "Here, most of the students, without knowing it, already have an intuitive idea of how statistics work in this setting."
Dr. Sapp said that baseball is so popular at Fairfield, that it is a natural way to get students to begin thinking about broader areas of the culture.
Dr. David Sapp of the English department, Dr. Ed Deak of the Economics department and assistant vice president of Student Affairs, Jim Fitzpatrick.
"It just seemed to make sense," he said. "You see students wearing ball caps to class and there are always baseball games on in the dorms during the season. For many incoming students, they see a course with baseball being used as a teaching tool and their eyes light up. We had 200 students try to sign up for one course where only one-tenth of them could be enrolled."
The name of this year's course was "Baseball: The American Pastime."
Dr. Sapp said that baseball provides fine examples of poetry, prose, and filmmaking, some of which he used as tools in his classes.
"We have shown the musical Take Me out to the Ball Game, starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. We had some students who had never seen a musical, and this particular film helps students begin conversations about American culture following the Second World War."
Dr. Sapp loves the game himself. He's in several fantasy leagues and organizes softball pick-up games on campus with other members of the faculty during the spring and summer.
"As for the pick-up games and the fantasy leagues, they are a way to bring faculty together to get to know one another," he said.
Dr. Angela Biselli uses the dynamics of a baseball in flight to make a point to her physics class, including Andrew Carlquist '10 and Elise Steiner '10.
Dr. Angela Biselli, professor of physics, grew up in Italy and had barely heard of the game before arriving in the United States in 1999. She quickly became a determined New York Yankees fan.
Jumping feet first into the baseball culture at Fairfield, Dr. Biselli joined the faculty fantasy leagues and taught her "Physics of Sports" class for core credit and for the honor's program.
"The physics involved in a pitcher throwing a baseball are enormous," she said. "It's the stitches that allow the pitcher to control the movement of the ball. The students may attend a typical lecture on physics and might not understand the principles. But you show them a curve ball and they get it. I plan to use the cluster course on baseball to get my students excited about physics."
Another big believer in the effectiveness of baseball cluster courses is Dr. Edward Deak, an economics professor and diehard Yankees fan.
Fairfield's Ryan Furbeck '12 at the plate.
"We used some financial aspects of the game, some of the competitive aspects and how to allocate resources in a business such as baseball in the class. It was very popular with a majority of the students," he said. "I never had any doubt about it being successful."
There are hopes baseball mania on the academic side will spill over to the school's baseball program. Fitzpatrick says he enjoys fairly regular chats with Stags' Head Coach John Slosar on the intricacies of the game. Slosar, a former standout at the University of Connecticut and College World Series participant who played in the Mets farm system for a year, is in his 25th season at the helm of the Stags.
Fairfield has been in the middle of the pack in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for the past several years, and its last winning record was in 2000. However, Slosar's teams have posted 10, 20-win seasons in all. The program has produced 23 players who went on to the professional ranks, 14 members of the Fairfield Hall of Fame, 50 members of the MAAC All-Academic team, and 40 players for the All-MAAC team. The club plays its home games at the Alumni Diamond.
- The Fairfield University women's lacrosse team earned its first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament with a 16-10 win over Sacred Heart University on May 2. The Stags went on to be narrowly defeated by #4 University of Pennsylvania, finishing the season with a 17-3 season, equaling the program record for victories in a season.
- Seniors Megan Caskin '09 (Ronkonkoma, N.Y.), Lauren Groom '09 (Westbury, N.Y.) and Shireyll Moore '09 (Mount Vernon, N.Y.) were named to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Women's Basketball All-Academic Team. To be eligible for the MAAC All-Academic Team a student-athlete must have a 3.2 or greater grade-point average and must have been at their school for at least one season.
- Pitcher Dan Gallagher '09 (Allendale, N.J.) came on in relief during a baseball game against Niagara in April to notch his 57th career appearance for the Stags, breaking the program record. He broke the career appearance record of 56 set by Dan Breen in 2006.
- The men's tennis team set the program record for wins in a season after going 18-2 in 2009. The Stags earned numerous postseason awards from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). Head Coach Ed Paige was named the MAAC Men's and Women's Tennis Coach of the Year for the second-straight season while freshman Joe Michalisin '12 (Melville, N.Y.) was named the Men's Rookie and Player of the Year.
- The women's tennis team (16-5) captured its eighth MAAC Championship title by defeating Niagara on April 19. The Stags headed to Los Angeles, Calif. for their second-ever NCAA appearance to take on seventh-seeded USC and fell 4-0 in that contest.
- The men's and women's swimming and diving teams had a successful 2008-09 campaign. On the women's side, freshman Michelle Yoshida '12 (Kaneohe, Hawaii) became Fairfield's first triple champion at the 2009 MAAC Championships. Yoshida captured the 50, 100, and 200 freestyles, setting MAAC records in all three events.