There is an old saying that history only remembers the winners. And that’s a shame.
Penn baseball didn’t win the Ivy League Championship this year. The Quakers also fell just short of the Gehrig Division, losing in a one-game playoff against the eventual champion Columbia Lions.
But neither of those facts make the season that the Red and Blue had in John Yurkow’s first year as head coach any less remarkable and worth remembering.
Despite the fact that a plaque in Meiklejohn Stadium still says that John Cole is the current coach of Penn baseball, Yurkow has taken the bull by the horns and remade the Quakers back into a strong program able to challenge for the Ivy title.
In fact, Yurkow, formerly the recruiting coordinator for Penn, had brought in many of the players already on the roster and got to reap the rewards this season.
There were many players who took the next step forward this year, and there were contributors from the freshmen all the way to a strong senior class.
Look at the lineup for example: senior outfielder Rick Brebner had a solid 2013 but became arguably the most feared power hitter in the conference in 2014, smacking eight home runs to help pace the Quakers to an 11-1 Ivy start.
And junior Jeff McGarry went from starting pitcher to full-time first baseman, leading the team in batting average and providing the right-handed power to team with Brebner in the middle of the lineup.
On top of that, sophomores Ryan Mincher and Michael Vilardo (who were first and second-team All-Ivy respectively) were steady up the middle for the Red and Blue. And all of this is before you factor in junior captain Austin Bossart at catcher or his capable backup, freshman Tim Graul.
All of this to say, Penn baseball had a lot of depth this year. The pitching staff was just as potent and the bullpen helped close important games.
But what was most impressive of this team was the camaraderie it displayed on a weekly basis while taking the field in the hidden gem of campus at Meiklejohn.
There was excitement at the stadium. There was ridiculous dancing whenever Brebner’s at-bat music was on. There was a true team on the field instead of a group of individuals, with that team fighting for a singular goal that it ultimately came just short from achieving.
So while the plaque in Meiklejohn will likely change and rightly display Yurkow as Penn’s top man (especially now that I’m pointing it out), there won’t be much more than that to immortalize Yurkow’s first year as coach.
Yet that doesn’t seem right. Just because the Red and Blue finished a game behind Columbia (which now goes to Miami for the NCAA Tournament) and didn’t get the chance to play for the Ivy crown doesn’t mean this season didn’t make a big impact on the program.
Penn baseball went from cellar dwelling in the Gehrig Division to top contenders all thanks to a change in philosophy and demeanor, as well as a few remarkable strides forward.
While players like Brebner, Brandon Engelhardt and Pat Bet won’t be a part of next year’s squad, it isn’t hard to see Yurkow continuing to guide his team to contention.
And the 2014 season was the unforgettable first step in that process.
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