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Road Warriors Come Home

Road Warriors Come Home

An ariel view of Lyco’s new field. (Photo courtesy of Deluxe Athletics.)

Mets manager Yogi Berra coined the phrase “it ain’t over till it’s over” when referencing the 1973 National League pennate race. Now that Lycoming College has finally had the opportunity to christen its new Brandon Park field, Warriors head coach Rick Oliveri couldn’t be faulted for shouting, “I wish the season wasn’t over!”

After years of planning and a series of delays, the Lycoming College baseball team was able to play its first game at the Brandon Park facility on April 19. With the college season winding down, local fans have a chance to see the Warriors in action this weekend as the team wraps up the season. Lycoming will host Elizabethtown Friday at 4:00 p.m. and Juniata in a Sunday doubleheader beginning at noon.

Oliveri was all smiles, like the proud papa he recently became, as we walked around the new synthetic-turfed field. A veteran of 15 years of Division I coaching experience — the last five at George Washington University — he beamed when asked why he came to Lycoming, a college with no baseball team or a place to play.

“They had plans for a place to play,” he explained. As an assistant coach, that was an attractive piece. Their plans for a field were exciting. A school that doesn’t have a baseball program or a field makes it exciting to think about what we can build and how we can grow. We get to make the culture and the program into what we want from the ground up. That’s what brought me here.

“Last year, our first year was a lot of fun. We have great kids who love the game, love each other, and love this college. We lost two out of every three games, and the league voted our staff ‘coach of the year.’ I think the coaches who voted for us saw what we were building. We have a core group of young men who are committed, who love to play and play hard and play the game the right way. Those factors are what made our first year at Lycoming so enjoyable.”

This year, with their new field not yet ready, Oliveri’s team truly became Road Warriors.

“This year has been unlike any other that I’ve ever been a part of, and it’s been hard. But at the same time, it has been fun. We had to find a way to do things right and have purposeful practices. Before April 16, when this field was ready to go, we only had two practices on a baseball field for the entire spring semester.

“We were supposed to have this field ready by March 1. Then, weather, and other things, were out of our control, and we had to make it known to the team that we may not be able to play on the field at all this season. We had t-shirts made up that said “Road Warriors.” The team took that to heart and was unflappable. They accepted that disappointment and took on the attitude of ‘OK, let’s go play anywhere.’

“Playing all those road games has been hard, and we haven’t had much success this year. But I’m not discouraged about where we are going and the direction of the program, and I don’t think our players are either. Every game was a bus trip, with long hours. We had no place to practice. I admire our young men for how well they’ve met this challenge, and I think it will make them stronger, better baseball players, and better men.”

The field wasn’t the only challenge facing the Warriors as the college switched from the MAC to the Landmark Conference.

“Playing in the Landmark Conference also presents a bigger adjustment because we play three-inning games on the weekends. Last year in the MAC, we played one nine-inning game and two seven-inning games, so you need to manage your pitching a different way. Both conferences are very good. In the MAC, there were a couple of teams that were in the Top 25 every year. The strength of the Landmark Conference is it is steady, which makes every weekend a battle. There are no ‘freebies’ in this conference, and we are learning that very early.”

It’s been a long wait, but the team is relishing its new home.

“It was fun to see the joy in the players’ eyes, faces, and body language. The most fun part was getting to practice on the field for the first time. We had an indoor practice plan in place when I was told we could practice on the field after a sign-off walk-through that day. I had the team report to the football field, a few blocks away. Once I got the green light to use the field, I called them on speakerphone and told them the good news. I live within earshot of the football field, and my wife told me she could hear the screaming and cheering when they received that phone call.

“They sprinted here to the field and were excited. Some of the players laid down on the logo in centerfield and soaked it all in. Our first game (April 20) was great, but the week leading up to it was just extra special for all of us because now the wait was over, and we had a field we could call home.

“The field is all synthetic turf, 325 feet down the line, 370 to the gaps, 390 to centerfield. There are things that still need to be completed in this first phase. We are fortunate to have a college that believes in baseball and we have proven that we can be a successful part of this college.”