Intramural vet of 28 years moves on

As the sliver of the moon was overcome by the dusk-lit clouds to the west, Stuart Schwartz positioned himself for the last time at second base.
Twenty-eight memory-filled years have passed since the professor of history first took the field to play University intramural softball. If Schwartz’ team would win this night, the goodbyes would wait another day.
“We’re in the playoffs, so we don’t want this one to be our last game,” Schwartz said.
Yet seasons and eras must come to an end, and on this night, both did for Schwartz, a celebrated history professor who has been hired away to teach at Yale next fall.
“I’ve looked forward to playing softball every spring and summer,” said Schwartz, a native of Massachusetts. “I’ve played sports all my life. When I leave the University, softball is the one thing I’ll miss the most.”
Since 1967, Schwartz has been a University history department chairman, and director of both Latin American Studies and Early American History. He has authored five books.
And since then Schwartz has played every year for the department’s team, Cleo’s Bombers.
Cleo’s Bombers are a bevy of faculty and past and present grad students of the department — including a lawyer, a contractor and a chain smoker — who have gotten together each season to continue their spring ritual. Cleo, the Greek muse of history from which the team’s name is derived, is perhaps the only thing associated with the team that has been around longer than Schwartz.
“`All we need is a single,’ that’s what (Schwartz) tells us every game,” said Nick Stockey, a former history student now practicing law in the Twin Cities. He has played alongside the professor for 13 years.
“He’s the stereotypical wily veteran,” Stockey said. “As long as I’ve known him, he’s been the captain of the team and makes the lineups. He’s the foundation of this team.”
Schwartz has been through it all with the Bombers. He’s seen players come and go, including Walter Mondale’s son, Ted, in 1984. He’s seen the intramural leagues moved to four different locations, and he was there through the abolition of steel cleats.
The sport has provided innocent enjoyment and lots of stories, like the time the Bombers were blessed with a ringer.
“I had a new student and asked him to come out and play with us,” Schwartz said. “He was out in center field and the base-runner tagged up from second. When he threw the ball it was just a straight line. You could hear the ball just sizzle through the air. He wound up getting the ball to third about four steps ahead of the runner.”
The player turned out to be Ron Hyde, a former major league baseball prospect with the California Angels.
Schwartz remembered the time when his troops pulled an upset over a testosterone-induced horde of off-season Gophers football players.
“It was about 10 years ago,” Schwartz recalled. “Here we were, a bunch of faculty with beards. It was the seventh inning, and we were down by eight runs or so. But we came back and beat those guys. That was particularly satisfying.”
It is sad to see Schwartz move on in many respects. Concerned over the imminent reform of tenure for University professors, Schwartz has decided to leave. He fears he won’t be the last.
“The University is in big trouble,” Schwartz said. “Our product here is knowledge, but we’ve turned all of our decisions over to money managers. I like it here. But when a guy like me decides to go, that should be message to administrators and regents.”
Intramural softball won’t be the same either. Schwartz is its No. 1 advocate.
“The softball program has been run very well,” Schwartz said. “It has provided entertainment and fun for many faculty members. These players don’t get the recognition they deserve.”
As for Cleo’s Bombers, it may be awhile before the team breeds another 28-year vet.
“It will definitely be, well, weird,” said team member Matt Mulcahay, searching for the perfect words.
In his final game, an 11-6 loss, Schwartz was 1-for-3 with no errors at second. “Usually when guys play their last game, they go 0-for-5 with four errors,” he said. “So, not bad.”
While his leaving is partly because of politics and partly because of the new challenges afoot, Schwartz joked about the incentive that sealed the deal: “Yale has promised me a good spot in their batting order,” he said.