The Manhattan College Jaspers in their very early days
By Rob Walsh
I went up to Fordham University’s beautiful Rose Hill campus on Easter Weekend to watch one of the longest standing college baseball rivalries between Fordham Rams and Manhattan College Jaspers.
It dates back to 1870 and games have been played all across the Bronx, including Yankee Stadium. This rivalry is known as the “Battle of the Bronx.”
While sitting in the stands, I heard a young boy ask his father “What is a Jasper?”
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I wanted to turn around and tell him all that knew about this unique college mascot nickname. The Jaspers comes from one of the college’s most memorable leaders, Brother Jasper of Mary, F.S.C.
A native of Ireland, Brother Jasper of Mary came to Manhattan College in 1861 and brought the then little-known sport of baseball to the college as the team’s first athletic director and baseball coach.
During a warm and humid game against the Metropolitans, a semi-pro baseball team, Brother Jasper noticed the students becoming restless.
As his team came to bat in the seventh inning, Brother Jasper called time and had the students stand up and stretch.
Pleased with the results, Brother Jasper continued this practice wherever they played.
The college went on to annually play exhibition games against the New York Giants in the late 1880s and into the 1890s at the old Polo Grounds.
And the practice of the “seventh inning stretch” became a time-honored custom in major league baseball.
The Manhattan Jaspers, one of the oldest baseball program in the country, is today led by Coach Mike Cole.
He has been very successful in other college coaching stints and is building Jasper Baseball back into a power in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
From 2002–14, Manhattan College played at nearby Van Cortlandt Park and amassed an incredible 167- 52 record. That is an astonishing .759 winning percentage on home turf.
Unfortunately, the conditions of the Van Cortlandt ball field deteriorated over the years and did not meet NCAA Division 1 standards.
It forced the Jaspers to seek out a new home far away from home. They found that home at the Dutchess County Stadium in Wappinger Falls where they have been playing for several years.
The stadium is also home of a minor league baseball team and it is a very nice ballpark. However, it is more than 60 miles north of Manhattan’s Riverdale campus.
It takes the team more than two hours to get to and from their “home” games. Given the distance, the team does not get much of a following from the Manhattan College student body.
Now Coach Cole and Manhattan’s outstanding Athletic Director, Marianne Reilly, are determined to bring Jasper Baseball back to the Bronx and Van Cortlandt Park where students, faculty, families, and local fans can enjoy games.
Reilly has initiated conversations with the leadership at the city’s Parks Department to significantly and creatively restore the tired old ball fields in the park.
Restoration of the rutted slopes, beat up scoreboard, aging fencing and other derelict structures at Van Cortlandt will take some time and money.
Reilly knows the powerful impact this new “field of dreams” can have in the community.
She has a vision to initiate a number of baseball clinics and camps for local youth.
For years, I have admired the nationwide work of my friend Bob Hellman’s organization “Build Our Ballpark” has done in bringing baseball fields and programs to the community.
Along the way, underprivileged kids have been provided an opportunity to learn and play baseball, which through teamwork strengthens character, builds pride, and teaches skills for life.
With Reilly at the leadership helm, combined with Manhattan’s steadfast commitment to community service, this new initiative can be very powerful in the Bronx.
If all goes well, Manhattan Jasper Baseball can be back home by the 2020 season.
And who knows, perhaps the New York Yankees will begin hosting “The Battle of the Bronx” and take a page out of the old New York Giants Baseball book by inviting the Jaspers and Fordham Rams to play their annual rivalry at “The House That Ruth Built.”
Meanwhile, next time you attend a baseball game, take a moment to tip your hat to Brother Jasper.