Sunday, March 06, 2005

Welcome to Sons of Bart Brush.


Welcome to Sons of Bart Brush, a blog dedicated to Harvard Baseball.

The primary authors of this blog, for the time being at least, will be:

  • Martin Bell and Brian Fallon, former Crimson baseball beat writers
  • Faiz Shakir, former second baseman for the Crimson, who authored two of the most memorable hits in Harvard baseball history. As someone who always wished he had more of an insider's perspective when I covered this team, I'm thrilled that Faiz is aboard.

This will be a place to talk about the full range of storylines and issues this season as the race to the Rolfe Divison championship and beyond gets going. One ground rule for those joining in via the Comments section:

1) We'd ask that all comments in the "comments" field remain at a level of class commensurate with that of the team itself. The alternatives, disabling of comments or limitations slightly short of that, aren't cool.

That's it. If you have an RSS or Atom (XML) reader, you can subscribe to SOBB using the Feedburner link on the right.

Finally, a word on the site's name. For this, we throw it to Danny Habib '00:

Remember Bart Brush? I didn't think so.

Brush was the most colorful figure on the 1997 Harvard baseball team, a squad with more hues than a jumbo box of Crayolas. He wore thick glasses and robust muttonchop sideburns and strolled around the right-field bullpen with his uniform shirt untucked and his pitching hand down his pants.

Brush was a senior relief pitcher, a holdover from the days of part-time Coach Leigh Hogan, when the Crimson practiced when it felt like it and went three years without a winning record, going as low as 10-25 in 1995.

Of course, things changed under the renaissance of present Coach Joe Walsh, who has led the Crimson to four Red Rolfe Division titles, three Ivy League championships and four NCAA Tournament wins in five seasons. But in 1997, when it had been 13 years since Harvard had tasted postseason play, Brush was a bridge to the past and quaintly anachronistic. It looked like he could have wandered up North Harvard Street to O'Donnell Field from the Sports Depot in Allston and, stumbling upon a baseball game, decided he wouldn't mind tossing the horsehide around a little.

Even a wild card like Bart Brush had his role on Walsh's Crimson.

When I interviewed Walsh for the first time, on the eve of Opening Day of the 1998 season, I asked how he could replace the team's two graduates--cleanup-hitting Pete Albers and Ivy Pitcher of the Year Frank Hogan. Walsh interrupted to correct me, told me there had been three seniors on the 1997 team, and made his apologia for Brush: "He might have looked like who-knows-what, but he came to play every day."

At the time, I bracketed Walsh's enthusiasm, writing it off as another in the litany of stock responses that reporters get by the dozen: "We played our game today," "We were able to execute," "We had a lot of positive team energy," or the chestnut so moldy it was banned from the Crimson sports page--"It was a real hard-fought win." As Red Sox manager Jimy Williams is fond of saying about his favorites, "Trot Nixon, he's a real baseball player." And so on ad nauseam.

But with the patience and diligence of a deconstructive critic, I came to read more into Walsh's words. As I watched his Crimson blitz through a 34-16 season in 1998, one which ended at the NCAA Tournament in Baton Rouge, La., with Harvard ranked No. 24 in the nation and just three wins away from the College World Series, I realized that Walsh was anachronistic in his own right.

Bucking the prevailing trend of what's derisively called "gorilla baseball" in the college game and "the NL Central" in the pros--relying on juiced-up batters drilling juiced-up balls for double-digit run totals--Walsh's Crimson played baseball so throwback that watching it, you felt like it should have been in black-and-white.

The ideal Harvard rally featured two bunt singles, a double steal, a Texas-Leaguer and a suicide squeeze. The Crimson is still the only team I've ever seen that lines up outside its dugout to congratulate somebody who moved a runner from second to third with a 4-3 groundout. Sophomore catcher and All-Ivy First-Teamer Brian Lentz went 9-for-16 on the first weekend of league play this year, and Walsh told me he was happiest that Lentz slid hard into second to break up a double play when down nine runs in the ninth.

It worked, and brilliantly. Walsh and a cast of versatile, professional ballplayers like Dave Forst '98 and Brian Ralph '98, four-year starters Hal Carey '99 and Peter Woodfork '99 and tri-captains Erik Binkowski, Jeff Bridich and Jason Larocque resuscitated a bush-league program and made it the unabashed terror of New England baseball.

But true to Walsh's attention to detail, there were role players who were often equally significant. The most improbable hit in O'Donnell Field's history came when rookie infielder Faiz Shakir slapped a two-out, two-run single in the top of the ninth in the deciding third game of the 1999 Ivy League Championship Series to give Harvard a 3-2 lead and the title. Shakir had 11 career hits, 10 of them singles, at that point in the year.

Throwing what some Yale starters laughed off as a "BP fastball," sidearmer Mike Marcucci '98 went 7-0 in relief and could never have cracked 80 on the radar gun. Being on such a single-minded and intelligent team made everybody better and produced some of the most thrilling moments in the last four years of Harvard athletics. I salute the 1997-2000 Crimson. Real baseball players, all of them.

This blog is something of a salute to the teams before and since, who play largely in anonymity but reward those fans who venture out past the stadium. Here's to the characters, from the coach on down, and to the dream of enough success so that one day, everyone will have to take notice.

1 comment:

Bink said...

Dan, many thanks for your well written words. Also, I am truly grateful for the those who have put this together. This is an awesome idea.

With the upcoming MLB season, the best wishes of success go to Forst (nice press in SI this week; currently not included on our list), Woody (and Rock) and Bridich.

Turning to Harvard Baseball, nothing like getting pumped up for the season opening road trip to Minneapolis in early March. I heard it is great there this time of year. Isn't it getting near the time of the Frozen Four. In closing, I wonder if anyone will lie down in the dugout on this roadtrip and yell "I cannot believe I struck out against St. Johns, while in Minnesota, in the middle of winter. They suck." That comment really only applies to those who remember B. Ralph in 1998 and our road trip to Brown (for those who may not understand, it can be explained).

We need to add Madden to this distribution list.