Thomas Zinzarella ’21
27 minutes is not nearly enough time to recount the entire history of the Providence College baseball program. Figuring out how to tell the story was even more difficult. For a film class this year, I was tasked with creating a sports documentary. There was only one story I knew I wanted to tell. The story of the baseball program.
It has been 21 years now since Title IX, among other decisions, forced Providence College to cut the men’s baseball program along with the men’s tennis and golf teams. To this day, there are no signs of resurrecting them. If you walk around the campus today, remnants of the Friar program can be found in Alumni Hall. There, you can catch a glimpse of some of the trophies, or some of the players’ likenesses on the wall of the athletic hall of fame.
Baseball was once a sport for some of the most talented players in the Northeast, especially right here in Rhode Island. The first varsity sport founded on PC’s campus in 1921, the baseball team faced off with schools that many are familiar with today, such as the College of the Holy Cross, Villanova University, and more. As the character Terrence Mann said in the baseball hit movie Field of Dreams, “The one constant through the years has been baseball.” The program made it through turbulent times in the country such as the Great Depression and World War II.
One obstacle that it could not beat, however, was Title IX. Many universities and colleges in the ’90s were starting to face a problem that Providence College had just begun facing; The costs of programs were starting to escalate, and some schools’ athletics programs were not in compliance with Title IX. Many schools had met the criteria for female students, but not for female student-athletes.
In my film, ’99: The Final At-Bat, I examine more of this issue, in addition to the history behind the program and the final season that saw the Friars capture success. It features interviews from former head coach Charlie Hickey, former players such as Marc Desroches ’99, and more.
The death of the baseball program here at PC mirrors a Greek tragedy. The 1990s brought some of the team’s greatest success, with multiple Big East titles and NCAA tournament appearances, before being gutted in the fall of 1998. Competing in one last season, the Friars not only set the school record for wins, but also captured the Big East title and a spot in the NCAA tournament. There, they would fall to the No. 2 overall seed and national runner-up that year, Florida State University.
The Friars showed that blue collar work ethic that many Rhode Islanders and New Englanders pride themselves on after dropping their first game to Jacksonville University. They then roared back to win the next two games, knocking off JU, and moving on to face FSU. With a lack of PC pitching depth in the short term, Florida State defeated the Friars, but it was something that all college baseball fans could admire. At the end of the year, PC was not only the best team in New England, but Baseball America also ranked the Friars in the final top 25 at the conclusion of the NCAA Tournament.
The only thing left from the team are the stories from fans, players, and students alike who not only saw the team, but lived it. If you look around the college baseball landscape today, Boston College and the University of Connecticut have sustained success as top programs in the Northeast. But there’s a team missing from that bunch, and it just makes you wonder where PC would be in that mix.