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Anger, disappointment on soon-to-be-eliminated Owls baseball team

A month after deal to play some home games at Campbell's Field, Temple's baseball team learns it will be scrapped after season.

ONE MONTH AGO, there was nothing but excitement for Temple baseball coach Ryan Wheeler and his players as the team announced it would play all but one of its 2014 home conference games at Campbell's Field in Camden, home of the Camden Riversharks.

That excitement turned into anger yesterday after Temple's Board of Trustees approved a recommendation from athletic director Kevin Clark to eliminate seven intercollegiate sports, including the school's history-rich baseball program.

"It was just unbelievable," said Matt Hockenberry, a senior pitcher and team captain. "It's one of those things where it hits you hard, but you don't realize it until later on. In my entire tenure here, I would have never thought that a program like this, with the history it has had, would ever have something like this happen to it."

The news came as a surprise to everybody, causing turmoil among both students and alumni of the program. While the players were told there was a slight chance the program's elimination could be reversed if the alumni were outraged enough, Hockenberry said the team also was told not to expect such a result.

"We were told that there's probably no hope," he said. "Effective July 1, 2014, there will not be any more baseball at Temple. I mean, miracles can happen, but it's one of those things where you have to fend for yourself."

Since the baseball program began in 1907 and became a varsity sport in 1927, Temple has sent 15 players to major league baseball, with Ben Rochefort becoming the first to play professionally in 1914, playing for the Philadelphia Athletics.

Other well-known professional players to come out of Temple include the late catcher John Marzano, infielder Jeff Manto, pitcher and onetime Phillies pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, and outfielder Bobby Higginson, who once hit 30 homers in a season for the Owls before hitting 187 homers in 11 seasons with the Detroit Tigers.

In addition to the many players to go through the program, James "Skip" Wilson coached the Owls to a pair of College World Series appearances and compiled 1,034 wins in 46 seasons with Temple. Wilson also guided the Owls to 14 NCAA Tournaments and 10 conference championships during his tenure, which ended with his retirement in 2005.

After hearing of the news yesterday afternoon, former outfielder and 2013 graduate Allen Stiles said he initially was speechless.

"It's crazy, because during my time at Temple, we had all of these memories, and now the players won't be able to experience those same memories," Stiles said. "It's really upsetting for those guys, and it's just really sad."

The cuts will impact 150 student-athletes overall, 24 of which are baseball players. While the university said it will allow students to transfer, Hockenberry thinks elimination of the baseball program will affect not only the underclassmen, but also the team's nine seniors.

"The biggest thing I'm afraid of personally is that we won't be able to field a team, because guys will go play for other schools," Hockenberry said. "I have been lucky enough to play for this team for 3 years now, but I told guys that they have to do what is best for them and their baseball careers, myself included.

"I think the most frustrating part of the whole thing is that the entire team was so ready for the move to the American Athletic Conference and to play over at Campbell's Field in 2014, and then this happens. Nobody saw it coming, and we are still waiting for answers."

While Stiles said he understands the cuts will greatly impact so many athletes and coaches, including Wheeler, the former outfielder thinks it also will have an effect on the alumni who once played baseball at Temple.

"It's hard to believe, as an alumnus of this university, because when you're handing people your resumé and saying you played for the baseball team at Temple, they might think you're lying now," Stiles said. "That's hard to believe."

Coming off a 2013 season in which the team finished 18-28, the program hoped to build off a few impressive wins last season, including a 7-3 victory on Feb. 23 over No. 24 Virginia Tech.

"I think this is a tough time for Temple, because they are trying to build their identity," Stiles said. "They are a basketball school, and now they are trying to identify themselves as a football school and forget about some of the things the baseball program has done over the years."

Since arriving at Temple in 2011, Wheeler has preached to recruits and players that Temple baseball had a very bright future and tat wins such as the one last season against Virginia Tech could build the program. Now, Wheeler and the underclassmen must go elsewhere if they hope to continue their baseball careers.

"One of the main things I've said to the guys was not to lose sight, keep your head up and keep your conduct," Hockenberry said. "The whole situation is just unfortunate, but right now, it is what it is."