Over the last 130 years at Davidson College, baseball has progressed from a Saturday morning gathering in a sandlot to a competitive NCAA Division I athletic program. Due to the initiatives of the players and coaches, the program has improved its facilities and sent many players to the next level while gaining widespread recognition for its ability to compete at a progressively higher level.
Baseball is the second oldest sport at Davidson, taking a back seat only to football (Journal 44). The sport was first mentioned in September of 1870 when members of the Literary Societies were excused from Saturday morning meetings to play ball. Oddly enough, they were denied permission to play other schools; their games consisted of splitting the students into two groups and battling it out amongst themselves (Shaw 244).
This method of play continued until the first intercollegiate game was played in 1902. In the following ten years, six future major leaguers would play for the Wildcats (Journal 44). The 1892 Davidson baseball team is pictured. The team had yet to play another school and would not for 10 more years. Davidson remained independent until joining the Southern Conference in 1947 after not fielding a team in two of the previous three years because of World War II. They remained members until once again becoming independent in 1988. The Wildcats joined the Big South Conference two years later, only to rejoin to Southern Conference again in 1992 (Journal 44).
Success has been plentiful for the Wildcats over the last hundred years. Through the 1930’s the “Big Five” teams of North Carolina were UNC, NC State, Duke, Wake Forest, and Davidson; the teams battled each year to win the prize of state champion. Davidson tied with UNC in 1933 for the state championship, despite sweeping them in the regular season. The Wildcats have also had many triumphs over top ranked teams over the years. In 1975, the Wildcats beat USC, then ranked #2 in the nation. Davidson then downed #1 Georgia Tech in 1994 (Journal 44). These two wins are indicative of the presence the team can bring to the field on any given day.
Many well known and lesser known people have graced the Davidson ball fields with their presence over the years. Tom Stevens, the Davidson coach with the longest tenure, coached for 17 years from 1957 until 1974. Probably the most famous member of the Wildcat baseball team has been Dick Snyder, who was also and All-American in basketball. In 1966, he was a star for the team earning a .279 batting average and smashing five home runs (Journal 44). Soon after Snyder left, another Wildcat quickly took is spot as a star on the field. Gordon Slade became a three time member of the All-Conference Team while quarterbacking the Wildcat football team to its only bowl game ever, the Tangerine Bowl (Journal 44).
Dick Cooke, one of the most successful coaches in Davidson history, took over at the helm before the 1991 season and continues to coach the team today. He is the all-time leader in games coached and games won. His landmark 200th win came against Furman on February 24th, 2001 (Helfrich 6B). In addition to coaching Davidson, Cooke has served as a coach for the U.S. National Team on three different occasions. He was an auxiliary coach for the 1999 Pan Am Team and the 2000 gold medal-winning Olympic Team. He returned to USA baseball to be the pitching coach for the 2003 Pan Am Team (Lake Norman Times).
The facilities of the baseball team have been improved many times since playing in a sandlot on the west side of campus. The team moved to its present home at Wildcat Park for the 1967 season. A major upgrade occurred in 2001 when a field house was built to house the team members. In this new clubhouse was a larger locker room, training room, two coaches offices, bathrooms, many storage areas, and most importantly, and lounge complete with a 62” television equipped with satellite reception (Howard, 10).
Another notable improvement occurred in late 2002 when lights were installed. The lights are top quality, allowing more fans to come to night games, drawing the interest of valuable recruits, and lessening interruptions of academics during the day (Saik). With these recent improvements and the quaint atmosphere of the park, the facilities can be placed among the best in the Southern Conference. As the Davidson baseball program celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2002, the team recognized its past and all that has occurred to place the program in the position it is in today. The team has progressed from playing intersquad games in a sandlot to playing night games in front of thousands of fans against top teams from around the country. Sitting in the stands on a cool spring evening during a night game is one of the most relaxing ways to spend your time. At Wildcat Park, a fan can sense why the sport is called America’s pastime; the players play their hardest, hoping their efforts will result in a win, continuing the tradition that is Davidson baseball.
Beaty, Mary. History of Davidson College. Davidson, NC: Briarpatch Press, 1988.
Cavanaugh, Christine B. “A Davidson Woman Needs No Introduction” Davidson Journal, Fall 1993.
Lloyd-Steel, Robert. “Celebrating Women’s Sports. Davidsonian. 1 March 1993.
Quips and Cranks, 1909
Author: Rob Wilson
Date: October 2003
Cite as: Wilson, Rob. “Baseball”
Davidson Encyclopedia October 2003. https://digitalprojects.davidson.edu/omeka/s/encyclopedia/page/baseball