by Mike Potter
DURHAM ATHLETIC PARK/DURHAM There's baseball back at the old yard again.
For the first time since the Durham Americans of the Coastal Plain League played here in 2003 the game is being played above the high school level on the spot where the Durham Bulls played from 1926-1994.
N.C. Central is taking on Iona in the first game of the inaugural Eagle Baseball Classic, a three-day event which also includes Navy and Delaware State. The refurbished facility is the new home of the Eagles, who played most of their home games at Durham Bulls Athletic Park for the previous three seasons.
It's still cold out here in mid-February, but the sun is smiling on baseball in the Triangle. According to DAP manager Jill Rusinko there are over 100 games scheduled at the park this season, as the Durham Bulls will be here on May 10, and it's the home field of both Durham School of the Arts and American Legion Post 7.
It should be an even kind of game. NCCU, in the third of its five seasons of transition from NCAA Division II to Division I, was 6-35 last year while Iona was 6-40-1. And it does turn out to be a pretty even affair, with the Gaels winning 4-2.
After a trio of ceremonial "first pitches" big junior right-hander Drew Robinson makes the start for the Eagles, and the Gaels get to him for a pair of runs in the second. Andrew Passerelle leads off with a single to left and takes third on Chris Griffin's double. Passerelle scores on a passed ball, and Griffin scores on Dean Dignelli's one-out grounder to short.
The Eagles come back for a run off Justin Wiley in the fourth, as Blake Murray singles and later scores on a throwing error.
Iona stretches the lead back to two in the sixth off lefty Brandon Oatis, as Nick Rossetti leads off with a single to left and scores on Chris Burke's single to left.
NCCU rallies in the eighth, as Akeem Hood (pictured) singles and scores on a balk.
But Passerelle leads off the ninth for the Gaels by blasting the first pitch of the inning over the 16-foot fence in right for an opposite-field homer.
Wiley gets the win for Iona, going seven innings and allowing one unearned run, allowing four hits with nine strikeouts against one walk. Passerelle leads the Gaels' seven-hit attack with his homer and the single with two runs scored, while Dignelli adds a pair of hits with an RBI and a steal.
Hood paces NCCU with a triple and a single.
They said it ...
NCCU coach Henry White: "Playing here is a great stepping stone for our program. I think we can bring in more top-quality ball players. We played well, but we just didn't hit in situations. That's the difference in the game. I was real happy with the way both Drew and Brandon pitched. Our goal was to try to get off to a quick start. Bringing Northern schools in I was hoping we'd be ahead of them. But with the way the weather has been, we weren't."
Iona coach Pat Carey: "We didn't know what park we were playing at at first, but when we found out about it I talked about it non-stop. Everybody's a baseball fan that's on our team. And to watch that movie and be able to play in a park like this is extraordinary. It was a clean game. The outfielders for us aren't going to catch too many fly balls, but at the end they did when they needed to. And the kid that pitched for us (Wiley) hadn't pitched in two years because of back surgery."
Hood: "I was real excited to have the home field. It's real humbling. This is like our second time being on the field this year (because of the weather), and so we haven't been on the field that much and we're getting used to it like everybody else. We played good defensively. We're still getting used to seeing live pitching, but we'll be fine the next couple of games."
Robinson: "I felt good. I was pretty excited, but felt good overall. I was excited for the first game in the new stadium. This is probably the nicest park I've played in. We played good defense and pitched good. The hitting could probably be better, but I'm sure it'll come around."
What does it all mean?
That the park is ready to go, and that the errorless game got the Eagles off on a good foot.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Iona leads 1-0.
NCCU: Lost 2.
Iona: Won 1.
Iona vs. Navy, Saturday, noon.
NCCU vs. Delaware State, Saturday, 4 p.m.