Baseball at Wisconsin?

It has been 27 years since the University of Wisconsin dropped baseball as an NCAA Division I sport.

Despite being the only Big Ten school without a team, there are two thriving club teams on the Madison campus.

The Division I squad, coached by Jeff Block, participates in the Great Lakes West club baseball conference and went a perfect 12-0 in the league and 18-2 overall this year.

Other schools competing in the Great Lakes West include Marquette, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Eau Claire, UW-Whitewater and Northwestern.

A couple weeks ago, the Badgers qualified and went 1-2 in the National Club Baseball Association Division I World Series in Holly Springs, N.C.

In their first game, the fifth-seeded Badgers were routed by #4 Grand Canyon University, 14-4. The next day UW bounced back to knock off #8 Texas A&M, 6-1, before falling to #1 Oregon, 3-0, last Monday in the double-elimination tournament.

In the victory over Texas A&M, catcher Tyler Safgren had a double and three-run homer, and outfielder Jared Eichorst contributed three RBI. Joe Fahning pitched a complete game, scattering seven hits.

“It was a disappointing ending to a great season, but hopes are high for next year,” Block said. “We should return all but one or two players. The World Series is quite an accomplishment. Even some of our best teams fall short.”

The UW club baseball team was established in 1999 and with plenty of interest a second squad was added in 2002.

Both club teams play between 15 and 25 games in the fall and around 50 in the spring. The teams also travel to Tampa, Fla., for spring training during their break. There were 18 players on the Division I club roster this season; 25 on the Division II roster.

The school and the Dugout Club, the old varsity booster club, provide some financial support for the teams but not enough to cover the $15,000 budget the team has each year. The players also pay $40 a semester in dues and have fundraisers to help cover travel costs.

Hopefully in the near future baseball can be brought back as an NCAA Division 1 sport in Madison after the success that the two Club teams have had.

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