April 30, 2008

Baseball’s Seniors Reflect On 2005 Championship Season

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In 2005, the Cornell baseball team accomplished something it had never done before by winning the Ivy League’s Gehrig Division title. Four years have passed and the freshmen from that championship squad have played the final game of their collegiate career, closing the door on Cornell’s sole first-place finish during head coach Tom Ford’s 18-year tenure.
“I think the highlight for a lot of the seniors was our freshman year and playing in the Ivy League championship,” said senior center fielder Ry Kagan. “That was a lot of fun and the highlight of my career.”
Kagan, along with teammates Brian Kaufman, Jimmy Heinz, Walker Toma, Bryce Klinesteker and Adam Jacobs are the remaining remnants from that championship season. After the highs and lows of four seasons together, this core group has come to respect each other on and off the diamond.
“The guys that I’m going to graduate with are the only guys who have gone through a similar experience that I have,” said Kaufman, who patrolled right field for the Red. “Waking up on Saturday mornings and going to practice. Our freshman year we had 7 a.m. lifts on Friday mornings. There’s something really special about being a part of the team. We went through a four-year commitment together that not a lot people get to experience in college. It’s a commitment that not everyone can handle, and because of that I will always appreciate my teammates.”
Klinesteker, a left-handed relief pitcher for the Red, echoed Kaufman’s sentiments.
“The guys I have been playing with will probably be what I miss the most,” Klinesteker said. “The four years I have been here our team has been really close on and off the field. Obviously, we spend a lot of time together between practice and games even when we’re away from baseball, we always hang out and have a great time together.
As the co-captain and second baseman, Heinz participated in 22 twin killings for the Red this season, and the majority of them seemed to occur at crucial moments in the ballgame. Heinz’s strong glove up the middle and on-field leadership will be a missing component for the Red next season.
“I’m probably just going to miss all my teammates the most,” Heinz said. “Obviously, I’m closer with the guys that I came in with in my recruiting class, but I have built some relationships with a lot of guys. All of us are different in our own ways, and I think that the most important thing I learned meeting all different types of people is by playing baseball we shared one thing, and we respected each other.”
Always eager to take the ball when called upon, Walker Toma supplied experience and leadership for the pitching staff. Toma provided innings both as a starter and a reliever this season with a 6.09 ERA and a win as well as a save.
Unlike the rest of the senior corps, Jacobs will return next season after receiving a medical red shirt in his sophomore year as a result of a broken wrist.
“My freshman year was the year we won the division, so that’s something we all can look back on down the road and talk about how exciting that was,” Jacobs said. “I’m really close with all the guys that I came in with and we built friendships that are going to last forever. We had some tough times and tough seasons, but we also had a couple winning streaks and won the division. I feel honored to be friends with those guys. It will be weird next year for me being here without them, but I know if they had a choice, they would come back and play another year, too.”
Kaufman belted 20 home runs over the course of his collegiate career, which is one dinger shy of the all time record held by Gary Kaczor ’80 and Bill Walkenbach ’98. He also led the Red with six longballs in 2008. However, just as important as his accomplishments on the field, Kaufman appreciates all of the support he received from family and friends in the stands.
“Other memories and things that I appreciated throughout my career is all the support from my fraternity brothers, friends in the Hotel School and my parents, who have flown out for countless games. [My parents have supported me] not just in the last four years, but over the course of my baseball career from tee-ball to summer baseball to high school baseball and now through college. I will always cherish the baseball memories I have with my parents.”
Although Cornell suffered two last-place seasons to conclude the careers of this year’s senior class, perhaps Jacobs summarized their sentiments best.
“This batch of players will always be linked to the 2005 championship season, and no one can take that away from us.”