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Photographs by
Richard Kelly

Good Sport

Meghan Holohan

 Pitcher Jeff Barnyak, a junior
majoring in communication.

The Panthers’ Field of Dreams


Think for a moment how difficult it is for a University of Pittsburgh student to be a fan of the Pitt baseball team. First, there’s the schedule. A lot of games in Florida while you’re in Pennsylvania. A lot of games in the early afternoon, when you’re in class. A lot of games delayed or canceled because of miserable Pittsburgh weather in March and April. Three-and-one-half weeks of games after the spring semester is over and you’ve gone home for the summer.

And then there’s the Panthers’ baseball home, Trees Field. It’s a great venue for baseball, and it is located on the Oakland campus, both pluses. But to get to it, students have to climb to the top of “Cardiac Hill,” go through a garage behind the Cost Center, and then take an elevator down several flights to field level. It’s easy to spend four years on campus and not even know Trees Field exists. In fact, that’s more likely than seeing an actual game in person as an undergraduate.

“We don’t get much of a walk-up crowd,” admits Joe Jordano, who completed his sixth season as Panthers’ baseball coach this spring.

But, if it’s difficult being a Pitt baseball fan, it is much harder being a Pitt baseball player. Fortunately for Jordano, he has a roster full of players who seemingly have the ability to take adversity in stride. Fan support? A schedule that fits comfortably within the academic calendar? Weather fit for the game itself? Who needs it? Certainly not these Panthers.

Playing baseball at Pitt is a year-round endeavor, including an exhibition season in the fall, weight training in the winter, spring training in Florida during semester break, and home games in Pittsburgh a full month before the city’s big leaguers think it’s warm enough to go outside and play. This season, the Panthers played the first 14 games on their schedule without once having the chance to practice on an outdoor field.

“There are challenges academically, challenges athletically, and challenges mentally. It takes a special kid to do it the right way,” says Jordano.

Jordano has found them. Ballplayers good enough to win 36 games in 2002 in the Big East, which historically has been the premier college baseball league in the Northeast. Ballplayers mentally tough enough to play well and graduate despite all the games, all the rainouts, and all the lack of attention from the media and their classmates.

“The big thing is time management,” says Scott Folmar, a senior second baseman from Chambersburg, Pa., who is set to graduate this summer with a major in administration of justice in the College of General Studies. “Education ultimately comes first. It’s tough to move on in baseball.”

Tough, but not impossible. In fact, with the growth of independent professional leagues, the dream of becoming a major leaguer does not automatically die when a player’s collegiate career ends. And it is that dream, as unrealistic as it may be, that drives a lot of Pitt players.

“As a college baseball player, you always have that dream in the back of your mind,” says Folmar.

But, Folmar is a realist. He knows as the No. 9 hitter for the Panthers, his opportunities beyond Oakland are limited. He knows, because he chose to play baseball for four years, his collegiate experience has been unlike most of his classmates. And he knows he wouldn’t trade any of it, no matter what his baseball future holds.

“Playing baseball in college is the best thing that ever could have happened to me,” Folmar says. “I’ve made 25 good friends. I’ve learned responsibility. I’ve had good coaches. These things help a person in life and in any job you would have. It’s a lot of work and it’s definitely difficult, but I don’t feel I’ve missed out on anything being a baseball player.”

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