Posted Feb. 27, 2008

Port St. Lucie, Fla. – Baseball games aren’t supposed to end in ties.

But for a college team playing a projected World Series contender, there is nothing wrong with a draw.

The Michigan baseball team played to a 4-4 tie against the New York Mets during an exhibition game Tuesday.

The Wolverines played errorless baseball and out hit the Mets 11-7 despite being less accustomed to using wooden bats than their Major League counterparts.

“They played with a lot of competitiveness,” New York manager Willie Randolph said. “They were very aggressive and smart. They seemed like they were very well schooled fundamentally. I think they have a chance to do something special this year.”

After finishing a series sweep against Villanova Sunday, Michigan took a day off to enjoy the Florida weather and go fishing.

“We got to be together as a team and we had a great time out in the ocean,” junior co-captain Adam Abraham said. “A lot of this is just being together as a team and getting used to each other.”

But on Tuesday the Wolverines went back to Tradition Field in the Mets Spring Training Complex.

Not since a 4-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox in 1977 has the Michigan baseball team had an opportunity to play a Major League club.

And while it counted for neither team, both took it seriously.

“We took it like it was the first game of Spring Training,” Mets outfielder Endy Chavez said. “It’s a game. Every time we step on the field we do what we have to do.”

The Wolverines took advantage of playing the Mets, ending their own fielding practice early so they could watch New York warm up and maybe learn a little something.

Junior Mike Wilson even walked over to the Mets dugout to get shortstop Jose Reyes to sign a baseball.

The Mets’ David Wright drew first blood with his two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning.

Abraham fired back in the second inning. He ripped a shot to center field that looked like it bounced off the wall. But Michigan coach Rich Maloney and others argued the ball had hit the blue screen hanging above the wall, which would’ve meant a home run for Abraham. The umpires disagreed with the Michigan bench and Abraham settled for a triple.

But Wright and Mets outfielder Ryan Church admitted they believed the ball was a homer.

“After I hit that ball over the fence there,” Abraham said, “Wright grabbed my shoulder and said ‘That was over the fence.’ Do you know how many kids get to say David Wright was standing next to them telling you that you just hit a ball off the New York Mets over the fence?”

Michigan’s second run came off an RBI single by senior co-captain Leif Mahler in the top of third, which brought in sophomore Mike Dufek, who had doubled off a pitch from Mets set-up man Aaron Heilman.

Senior Derek VanBuskirk arguably had the best game for the Wolverines. He hit a double against the Mets’ ace closer Billy Wagner in the fourth inning and hit the go ahead two-run home run in the top of the eighth to put Michigan in front, 4-2.

“I’ll probably be rubbing that in to my teammates and friends for a little while.” VanBuskirk said.

Michigan was just one away out from beating New York. Holding on to that two-run lead, Maloney called on Abraham, who was had been playing third for eight straight innings. But the junior co-captain let a curve ball hang just a little too high. Mets first baseman Michel Abreu, with one man already on, hit one out of the park to tie the game.

Abraham immediately recovered to register the last out and the game finished in a 4-4 tie.

“He played third base all game and came in to put the fire out,” Randolph said of Abraham. “I just loved that when he came in he was very confident.”

Mets’ owner and Michigan alum, Fred Wilpon, can be credited for creating this opportunity.

“The Wilpon family has done a great job giving back,” Randolph said. “Wilpon would’ve been happy win or lose.”

For both teams the game was a lot a fun.

“When you look at those guys, and you see them yelling and screaming, you kind of look back and say, ‘I was like that in college’,” Mets pitcher Mike Pelfry said.

For the Mets it was about warming up for games in the Grapefruit League, but for Michigan it was the chance of a lifetime.

“I wish when I was in college I got a chance to come up here and play guys I watched on TV,” Pelfry said. “That would’ve been pretty cool.”

The Wolverines’ got more than just a lifetime memory. The team also learned a lesson they will no doubt carry with them for the rest of the season.

“That’s the beauty of what happened at the end of the game,” Maloney said. “You can get humbled in a moment. What we want to learn from that is ‘It ain’t over ’til it’s over’.”

Despite almost getting beaten in the spring training opener to a college team, Randolph says he thinks the match-up will happen again next year.

“This was fun for us,” Randolph said. “I think the kids got a kick out of it, and I think our players enjoyed looking at these kids compete.”

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