Since 1872, students attending the British Universities of Oxford and Cambridge have mentioned The Varsity Match meaning a rugby game played at the iconic London’s Twickenham stadium. Some of the students lately may indeed refer to a baseball game.
The Oxford Rangers defeated the CUBS (Cambridge University Baseball Society) 8-1 in the first Varsity Match played at Oxford University. Cambridge got on the scoreboard first in the first against starting pitcher AJ Callis, the son of MLB.com writer Jim Callis. Who tweeted about the event with pride.
Pretty cool that my son A.J. not only is pursuing graduate degrees at @UniofOxford, not only is lighting it up with the Oxford baseball team but also previewed their big game against Cambridge for the school paper. I can identify with one of those things! pic.twitter.com/BSHW9tJk40
— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) 1 marzo 2019
Cambridge’s defence proved too weak: they committed eight errors and Oxford could reverse the lead scoring two in the bottom of the second and four in the bottom of the third. The Rangers didn’t need to look back and Callis cruised to the win, striking out 13.
Thomas Carroll is the Captain of the Oxford Rangers. An American PhD student in Clinical Medicine, Carroll was instrumental in stopping a potential CUBS’ rally with a fine play in the outfield in the first.
Via e-mail, he confirmed that the Rangers is “quite an international” group of players.
“Two out of five of our players are Americans, although that varies from year to year”, added Thomas Carroll. “We also have a number of players from the UK and other European Countries, as well as players from Japan, Korea, China and Singapore”.
Roman Rzycki scored the only run for the Cambridge Cubs.
A third-year undergraduate studying Geography, he grew up in Poland but fell in love with baseball visiting his grandfather in the United States during the Summer: “We used to watch and play baseball together,” remembered Roman Rzycki via e-mail.
Rzycki helped revive the Cambridge baseball programme as the Vice President in 2017. He is now the President of the CUBS. He likes to remember that Cambridge won the 2018 Varsity Match, 14-10.
“This year we showed up with a way less experienced team. However, we had our biggest turnout of the season and we were excited to take on the challenge. Our starting pitcher threw 8 solid innings, but unfortunately, our defence was a weakness,” confirmed Rzycki.
Roman Rzycki believes that there is a future for Varsity baseball in the UK: “Yes, as proven by the fact that the Varsity Match has been played for two straight years. We look forward to hosting Varsity next year. The CUBS are hopefully only growing in the future and I believe that I have set up the team well to continue on in the future.”
The Oxford Rangers and the Cambridge Cubs have been active for three years now. They both compete in the British University Baseball League, but Oxford happens to be in the South West Division, while Cambridge is in the South East Division.
Oxford and Cambridge are also active in the leagues sanctioned by the British Baseball Federation, the Governing Body of baseball in the United Kingdom. The top level is the six-team National League. The Oxford Kings play in the five-team Triple A League. The Cambridge Monarchs play in the three-division and 18-team Double A league. The Single A league has also three divisions and 18 teams.
The two teams originated in the late 1990s.
Rick Accastello, an Italian expat, was coaching in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.
“I was working as a designer at Olivetti,” recalled Rick Accastello via e-mail “I accepted a job offer from RankXerox and moved to High Wycombe, England. There I married a co-worker and became an Englishman.”
Accastello, who refers to himself as “The uncle of Varsity Baseball in England”, had founded a baseball club in his native Piemonte Region in Italy: the Jacks Torino.
“Once in England, I got involved in cricket and rugby”, wrote Accastello. “There was not much baseball, but when a club was founded in my neighbourhood, I couldn’t resist and I joined them.”
The team was named the Blue Jays. One of the players, Canadian Santo Bains, went on to found a baseball team at Oxford University.
Bains invited Accastello and the Blue Jays to Oxford.
“At first, we had quite a rivalry,” recalled Accastello “Then I joined Santo’s team, the Kings. I served as their third base coach, but I also umpired some games.”
The Oxford Kings played two Varsity Matches in Cambridge, against a team that went to the records as the Cavaliers. In 1999 the Kings won 11-8 and in 2000 they won 6-4.
Both teams went on to play in the British Baseball Federation leagues and Varsity Baseball was put on hold.