The history of baseball at Rose Hill is almost as old as the national pastime itself.
Fordham played its first game on Nov. 3, 1859 against St. Francis Xavier College, a full 21 years before the Polo Grounds opened in Manhattan. The contest was said to be the first collegiate ballgame to use nine players.
Since then, the University has notched more than 4,000 wins. Its tradition teems with Hall of Famers, legendary broadcasters and championship seasons.
On Feb. 5, more than 100 baseball alumni joined players, coaches and friends of the program to celebrate the 150th anniversary of baseball at Fordham.
“Our program is a great program, rich in history, tradition and awards,” said Head Coach Nick Restaino (CBA ’93). “But there are other reasons to be proud.”
The team has received two consecutive citations from the NCAA for its academic progress, Restaino said, and the Jesuit tradition of cura personalis helps prepare the players for life after Fordham.
“As I look around the room tonight, I see a lot of great baseball players,” he said. “If I look closer, I see a lot of great men.”
Memorabilia that told the story of the team’s history adorned the Lowenstein Center’s 12th-Floor Lounge. Vintage jerseys were displayed alongside 80-year-old ticket stubs, baseballs signed by Fordham greats and replicas of Hall of Fame plaques. A digital slide show featured historic photographs and video clips from the program’s past.
Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay (FCRH ’82) emceed the evening, which unfolded over cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and fond reminiscences. A highlight was a tape-recorded message from Vin Scully (FCRH ’49), legendary voice of the Dodgers.
“We had a football player who was a runner at first and I was coaching third base,” Scully said. “There was a fly ball to the outfield and I looked up and here comes the runner. So I holler to him, ‘Go back! Go back!’ and to shorten his trip, he ran right across the mound.”
Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, regaled the crowd with a Fordham baseball history lesson. He told the story of Esteban Bellán, the first major league baseball Player from the Caribbean.
Bellán learned how to play the game while he was a student at Fordham from 1863 to 1868. After playing in the United States, with the team that would grow into the New York Giants, he became one of Cuba’s first great baseball player-managers.
“Fordham taught the Caribbean how to play baseball through the connection from Jesuit high schools in Cuba to St. John’s College,” Father McShane said.
He mentioned other Fordham greats, including Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch, renowned manager Jack Coffey and major league pitcher Pete Harnish.
Finally, Father McShane told the current players that they were the beneficiaries of Fordham’s sterling baseball tradition, and that through their play, they give much to the University community.
“Baseball is the best of all games, filled with heroics that ennoble all of us,” he said. “You carry the burden of that history. Tonight, we celebrate the heroic hope that you bring into all of our lives.”