The right to host the America East Baseball Championship has always been hotly contested and coveted.
The team that earns the privilege gets to play on its home field, sleep in its own beds and play in front of hometown fans.
This spring, Binghamton University in Vestal, N.Y., will enjoy those luxuries after wrapping up its fourth consecutive America East regular-season title. The Bearcats will entertain No. 2 Maine, No. 3 Stony Brook and fourth-seeded Albany at Varsity Field for the four-team, double-elimination tournament that begins Wednesday.
However, things will be slightly different this time around.
For the first time in the history of the conference tournament, there will be no night games.
In stark contrast, last year’s championship hosted by Binghamton — at Union-Endicott High School in nearby Endicott, N.Y. — finished at 3:06 a.m. on a Sunday. The title game lasted five hours, 21 minutes.
America East coaches voted last July to eliminate the prerequisite of having a lighted facility in order to host the tournament. That change in policy served to open the door for any of the remaining six teams to potentially host the tournament.
UMaine coach Steve Trimper, whose team plays at one of only two America East on-campus facilities with lights (the University of Maryland Baltimore County is the other), voted against the measure. Still, he doesn’t blame his coaching peers for wanting the opportunity to host.
“I have absolutely no problem with that, as long as you have a suitable facility,” said Trimper, whose program is blessed with lights and turf at Mahaney Diamond in Orono. “I really still firmly believe you need lights or lights and turf to combat [inclement] weather.”
The Black Bears have not hosted the tournament since 2004. Since then, Vermont (2005, ’06), Stony Brook (2007, ’08) and Binghamton (2009,’10) have held the event.
Earlier this year, Binghamton announced a multimillion-dollar project to build a lighted baseball field, complete with artificial turf. However, it isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2012.
This spring will mark the first time since 2006 a team has hosted the tournament on its home field.
America East baseball coaches had to make a couple of important concessions in order to play without the benefit of a lighted field.
“The only way around that was to move the tournament up to Wednesday, which gives you an extra day to play in case you have rain,” Trimper said.
Last year, Binghamton was able to host the tournament because it could procure the use of the lighted high school field.
Trimper said the other dynamic caused by the scheduling change is the potential for physically taxing teams’ Game 1 starters. With Binghamton and Stony Brook battling for first place last Friday, Bearcats ace James Giulietti and Seahawks top starter Nick Tropeano both pitched at least six innings.
“They not only went on short rest last week, because they pitched Saturday and they came back to pitch Friday, they’re going to pitch on four days’ rest into the opening round and they haven’t done that all year,” Trimper explained.
He would not put his top pitcher in that position. This season, it turns out he doesn’t have to.
“Forcing your No. 1 to come back on four days’ rest, our guys can’t do that.”
Having wrapped up its postseason berth prior to its May 15 game against Albany, and closing out the regular season Friday and Saturday at struggling UMBC, UMaine was able to rest some of its starting pitchers and get needed work for others.
At UMBC, the Bears utilized 11 different pitchers over the 32 innings. Only closer Justin Latta (five innings) pitched in more than one game and only three worked more than three innings.
Freshman righthander Jeff Gibbs is the Bears’ No. 1 starter. Neither he nor freshman Steve Perakslis pitched in Baltimore, which means they will have had 11 days between appearances.
“I think the advantage is, guys that we sat last weekend, they’re going to be on a little more extended rest,” Trimper said.
UMaine hopes it can take advantage of a fresh staff during the tournament.