Furman Baseball was beloved by the students and members of the greater Greenville community. After the University canceled the program in 2020, campus life has not been the same. There have been several movements to convince the university to bring the program back, one of which I started. Here is what I learned through that process.
The University canceled the baseball program in May 2020, citing budget cuts. According to a number of people I met by starting the most recent “Bring Back Furman Baseball'' campaign, including alumnus and former baseball player Ron Wagner '93, the University did not indicate that Furman baseball would be canceled before announcing the decision; it was a surprise to many, including players, coaches, and fans.
Wagner said, “I was working at Furman at the time, and I’d been hearing rumors for several months that Furman was looking to cut some sports, even before COVID...once the reality set in, shock isn’t a strong enough word. I was devastated, and so were all the guys I played with.”
This decision has been extremely consequential, perhaps more so than the university expected.
I started the “Bring Back Furman Baseball” campaign and petition after talking about baseball with some friends on campus; they talked about how much they wished Furman still had baseball and how students still wished they could cheer for the Paladins on the baseball diamond. I decided we should fight to bring this great program back. I started a Twitter page with thousands of impressions, as well as an Instagram page, and I was amazed to see how many people were immediately engaged with this issue.
Many alumni I talked to miss being able to watch baseball games on campus, and those of us who were not here before the program was canceled wish we had the opportunity to cheer on our school in another all-American sport. Baseball would be a perfect solution; we would be able to rally around a team in the spring semester, a particularly helpful break as classes ramp up toward March and April.
I asked alumnus and Major League Baseball player Jay Jackson what he thought about the program’s cancellation.
He said that Furman baseball “gave [him] the opportunity to become a young man,” and that he still holds the friendships he made while on the baseball team close to his heart.
He included the impact the community had on his experience as well: “I got to feel the support of not only the school, but [the] community.”
I also spoke with other baseball alumni who shared similar stories and held similar sentiments about the program’s cancellation.
Forest Stulting ‘16 said,“The day baseball was cut felt like losing a best friend and a mentor.”
Ron Wagner ‘93 said, “Seeing that stadium sit there unused is still so hard to believe. It’s truly one of the most beautiful college baseball stadiums in the country, and baseball was the second-oldest sport in Furman history. It’s just surreal.”
Furman’s baseball program had a profound impact on these men when they were in college, and the memories they made have stuck with them throughout their lives. Naturally, they want to see the program that was so dear to them come back to Furman.
Wagner is optimistic, saying, “The Furman Baseball Facebook page has nearly a thousand members, and people there are still engaged and still hopeful baseball will be back on campus soon.”
Meanwhile, Stulting is determined to bring the program back: “I know myself and countless others will work tirelessly until the ping of the bat and pop of leather returns to Latham Stadium.”
Furman University had a competitive baseball program that was on the up-swing with head coach Brett Harker. The university was heading to another possible Southern Conference title, with 18 championship wins, so lack of competitive vigor was not a factor in the program's cancellation. It is unfortunate that the program was canceled, when it appeared to be getting even more competitive.
By starting this petition and the "Bring Back Furman Baseball'' campaign, I learned that Furman baseball had a greater impact on the campus and local communities than I expected. The number of people still interested in bringing the program back pleasantly surprised me. Seeing how passionate people are about the Furman baseball program showed me that there is still a large fan base interested in watching Furman baseball and inspired me to keep pushing for its reinstatement. There are so many great things about Furman; why shouldn’t baseball be another one?
Sign the petition here to show your support for this cause.