If one of the signs of a solid NCAA Division I baseball program is the strength of its alumni support (and it is), then Abilene Christian University’s baseball program rounded third and headed home Saturday with a successful new spin on an old format that scored big with its alums.
Nearly 60 Wildcats returned to play in a pair of softball games, cheered by an enthusiastic crowd while the smoker-grill in the right field corner prepared hot dogs and jalapeno sausage. It was a day with the feel of a family holiday: picnic, cookout and spirited ball games on a sunny, crisp afternoon.
At many other Division I universities where baseball is played, an annual game(s) is staged on campus to draw back former student-athletes and fans who enjoy celebrating the program’s history. It has been a decade since ACU hosted alumni games for its baseball program, a gap created by a similar one in history. The sport was not played at Abilene Christian from 1979 to 1991, causing alumni games – played previously at Homecoming in October – to feel the absence of what would have been half a generation of players during the program’s 13-year hiatus.
Head coach Britt Bonneau, who is starting his 20th season at ACU, has his team playing competitively with some of the best in college baseball each year, preparing for post-season eligibility in 2018. He revived the Alumni Game tradition this spring, changing the format from baseball to slow-pitch softball, and the early response from four generations of former players appears to be a roaring success.
One game featured alums who played from 2000 to 2015, while another included those who played from the 1950s to 1999. The most senior players competing Saturday were 82-year-old Jim Armstrong (’59), 76-year-old Dr. Nedom Muns (’61) and 73-year-old Sam Carpenter (’64).
The roster also included a number of Wildcats who starred on or propelled teams from the early 1990s through 2010 to conference titles, regular appearances in the Division II regional tournament and one College World Series: Jerod Hyde (’96), Ronnie Haring (’97), Cody Salyers (’98), Mike Elkerson (’08), Milwaukee Brewers’ 2008 seventh-round draft choice Trey Watten (’09) and Ryan Barker (’06), to name just a few.
Also competing Saturday was Seth Spivey (’14), a slugging catcher-turned-second baseman drafted in the 10th round by the Texas Rangers. Spivey was named first team All-Southland Conference as a senior and been impressive in two minor league seasons thus far.
Both alumni games were played concurrently on each end of Scott Field, which this season features an all-AstroTurf surface for the first time.
ACU opens its home season Feb. 19 against the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. Last year the Wildcats dropped four one-run decisions to Top 20 teams. This season their schedule includes five 2015 national tournament qualifiers: Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech, Dallas Baptist and Houston Baptist universities.