On Saturday I watched Lou Gehrig’s old team rally for a dramatic victory over a rival.
Columbia defeated Princeton 8-7.
Columbia actually swept Princeton in the Ivy League doubleheader, although I was only there for the first victory. When it’s a spring weekend and the weather’s sunny and warm like it was on Saturday, I often make the three-minute walk to the Columbia fields in northern Manhattan.
To me, living this close to Division I sports facilities is one of the bonuses of life in Inwood, though there have been heated disagreements between many neighborhood residents and the university. Not everyone’s a fan of the Lions’ sports teams — or at least of the school they represent. I am, but it would be a stretch to call me a true friend of the program in the strictest Division I sense, considering my donations to the athletic programs — aside from buying tickets to hoops and football — remain at zero. When scandal inevitably engulfs Columbia athletics, it won’t have anything to do with me sending envelopes of cash to fencers or squash champions.
The baseball team wasn’t alone on Saturday. Before heading to the baseball diamond, I wandered into the football field and caught some of the women’s lacrosse team’s loss against Harvard – oh, how I hate you, Harvard lacrosse – and the softball team split with Princeton. But I was there for baseball.
Columbia’s baseball team has enjoyed some success, especially compared to the football team that once set a college record for most consecutive defeats. And the program has some pretty good history. Lou Gehrig did play a bit for the Lions. On the same day Yankee Stadium opened in 1923, college boy Gehrig was pitching for Columbia across the river and struck out 17 hitters. The Babe wasn’t the only legendary hitter who knew his way around a pitching mound. Gehrig didn’t play in northern Manhattan; the school then still played its games near the Columbia campus.
When Columbia finally did head north for baseball, the school became part of history. At Baker Field in 1939, NBC broadcast the first live sporting event and it was a baseball game between Columbia and…Princeton. The broadcast went well and several months later NBC did a game from Ebbets Field. It all started in northern Manhattan, so the next time you curse Tim McCarver and wonder why he’s still on TV, blame NBC for coming up with the original idea and Columbia for agreeing to it.
The game I saw Saturday probably won’t be remembered 73 years from now, although the first inning was one for the history books. Princeton scored three times in the top of the inning thanks to three Columbia errors. Columbia then scored four times in the bottom of the inning thanks to five doubles.
After that initial flurry of terrible fielding and great hitting, the game settled down. I spent several innings enthralled with the conversation between two women sitting behind me, who I believe were there as part of a group that brings young people up to the games. As the middle innings dragged on — and Columbia took a 5-3 lead before Princeton rallied to tie it – one of the ladies told the story of how she met and fell in love with her boyfriend, or was it a fiance now? The conversation was 99 percent less annoying than you’d imagine and was actually quite charming, from this eavesdropper’s perspective. It involved trains to Vienna and studies abroad and old emails newly discovered and “Hey, you probably don’t remember me” replies and long-distance relationships and a big move to Wisconsin and an even bigger one to New York City. The boyfriend remains back in the Midwest, though he will hopefully get a transfer soon. I hope it’s soon, because the final scene in their movie-like romance deserves to be shot in Central Park, preferably while a gentle snow falls on the city.
In the seventh inning — the first game of the doubleheader goes seven, the second nine — Princeton took a 7-6 lead. Columbia loaded the bases in the bottom half and a hit up the middle with one out brought in the tying run and the potential winning run rounded third and headed home.
He did not make it safely:
Since I started going to Columbia games, whether it’s football, basketball or baseball, the Lions have lost in ways that range from heartbreaking to bizarre. Late pass interference calls, inexplicable delay of game penalties, ugly errors, bad fouls, everything. It seemed like this game might follow a similar pattern, as Princeton would likely get out of the trouble and then win it in extra innings.
But then Columbia loaded the bases again, this time with two outs. And a few pitches after he threw a wild pitch, Princeton’s pitcher uncorked another high one that went to the backstop. By the time the catcher retrieved the ball and fired it back toward home, Nick Ferraresi slid in with the winning run.
The Columbia players sprinted out of their dugout while Princeton’s players walked back to theirs. Columbia completed the sweep later in the day with an 8-5 victory.
It was a good day of baseball in northern Manhattan. And it was a pretty good day for both of Columbia Lou’s old teams.