BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) – At Centennial Field, the sun was out, the infield grass freshly cut, the home team riding a six-game winning streak into a Tuesday afternoon doubleheader.

It was a perfect day for baseball. And for the Vermont Catamounts, it was a bittersweet one: It was the final home stand of the year – and the program, which is being eliminated after this season in a budget-cutting move.

“Just taking the (highway) exit to get here, it was very emotional,” said Dana Albert, 46, of Hull, Mass., watching from the stands as her son and his teammates warmed up. “My heart goes out to all the players, especially to (coach) Bill Currier and his family. We’re just proud of the legacy.”

As part of a $10.8 million cut that also eliminated 16 jobs, University of Vermont officials opted to eliminate baseball and women’s softball rather than impose across-the-board cuts that would’ve affected the school’s higher-profile sports – hockey, skiing, basketball, soccer.

To some, the decision was a logical one, if something had to be cut.

Vermont is a perennial national power in hockey, and some here say the only way to get season tickets to Catamount hockey games at Gutterson Fieldhouse is to be born into a family that already has them. Baseball, by contrast, isn’t a revenue-producing sport, or one that gets much publicity or attention outside the state’s borders.

“They represent, in our view, a sensible approach to inescapable financial realities,” President Daniel Fogel said of the cuts he announced them in February.

But the move broke hearts – of players, coaches, parents and those who say baseball belongs at UVM, where baseball dates to 1888.

“It’s hard,” said Currier, who’s run the program for 22 years. “They didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong. It’s a real unfortunate situation.”

Players were forced to decide whether to remain in Burlington and not play or to transfer to other colleges, a dicey prospect for juniors with only one year of eligibility remaining. And it’s made for some awkward situations through the season, with players missing practice or not returning home with the team from away games because they were to visit a college where they hoped to play next year.

So far, only three on the 28-man roster have landed commitments from other schools.

One is Matt Duffy, a 20-year-old sophomore shortstop from Milton, Mass., who will play at the University of Tennessee next year. He’s happy for that, but says he’d rather be playing at UVM.

“It’s no fun to leave a place you’ve been a part of, and UVM has been a part of me,” he said.

It’s been part of Vermont, too. Generations of Vermont scholastic baseball players have aspired to play at UVM, since it’s the state university and the only Division I baseball program in Vermont.

“It’s been kind of Vermont’s team,” said former assistant coach Jim Carter, 67, of Underhill, whose son is an assistant coach now. “I don’t think outsiders understand the tradition. High school state championships are played here. Kids dream of playing here, and then they really dream of playing for the University of Vermont.”

On Tuesday, as the Catamounts played the opening game of a doubleheader against Bryant University, he was selling $7 T-shirts that reflected the mixed emotions of the day.

On the front, it read: “I Was There For The End of an Era (Error), May 2009.” On the back: “Proud Supporter of UVM Baseball 1888-2009.

Vermont lost both games Tuesday, 10-3 and 4-3. The school’s baseball program concludes with two road games at Binghamton.

Still, some were hopeful that the end wouldn’t really be the end. After all, the baseball program was dormant for four years in the mid-70s, too, but it was resurrected in 1978.

“It’ll come back, I’m sure,” said Bob Stone, 76, a former UVM skiing coach who came out for the final games Tuesday. “It did the last time.”

AP-ES-05-12-09 2109EDT


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