JENSEN: The Fighting Peacocks

Saint Peter's player Joey Vitiello throws to first base during an NCAA baseball game against Georgia Tech on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Every year an unknown school becomes America’s darling during March Madness. This year it has been the Peacocks of Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City who did it with their surprise run to the Elite 8, scoring upsets of Kentucky, Murray State and Purdue along the way before losing to the Tar Heels. 

The Peacocks are good at basketball. They are not good at baseball. In fact, they are the worst college baseball team in the country. But in a way the Losing Peacocks on the diamond are more inspirational than the Winning Peacocks on the hardwood. 

By the standards of the Peacocks, they had an incredible season a decade ago. They went 20-34. They followed that up with another solid season in 2013, 17-34. Then things started getting kind of rough. 2014, 11-41; 2015, 10-38; 2016, 10-42. 

Then in 2017, things literally hit the bottom of the hill. 0-38. They got outscored 427-111, meaning their average game was an 11-3 loss. And they lost their first 39 games in 2018 before finally breaking their 77- game losing streak on May 13th. Amazingly, they won another game the same week to finish up the season at 2-42. But they still got outscored 485-98 for the year, making their average game an 11-2 loss. 

Things have improved only marginally since then. 2019 was 5-46; 2020 was 1-15; and 2021 was 4-24. So far this year, they’re 3-17 and on a 16-game losing streak after starting the season 3-1. 

And yet for all that, in a time when more and more small northern schools ― it’s very hard for them to compete in a sport that starts its season in mid-February when the ground is still covered in snow ― just eliminate their tragic baseball programs, the Peacocks keep on going. 

Earlier this month, I went to see the Peacocks take on the Citadel in Charleston, wondering if they could actually be the worst team in the country.  

They were. They issued 15 walks. They threw four wild pitches. On multiple instances, their players collided into each other due to a lack of communication when they were playing defense, allowing Citadel batters to reach base. They threw a ball so far down the right field line on a bunt attempt with runners on 1st and 2nd that both runners came around to score. When they tried to prevent a Citadel runner from scoring on a wild pitch, the throw pelted the baserunner instead of the pitcher catching it to make the tag. 

I’ve been to well over a thousand college baseball games in my life and have never even remotely seen such a bad team. 

They may not be good at baseball, but I have an incredible amount of respect for the Saint Peter’s players and coaches. They know they’re not going to go to the College World Series. Realistically they know they’re probably not even going to win 10 games. They know their schedule will be riddled with scores like 24-1 and 22-0 and 19-6, all outcomes just from the last month. But knowing that there will be lots of pain and very little glory, they keep going for the love of the game. 

The Peacocks baseball players may not end up with a lot of trophies, but they’ll sure come out of their college experience with a lot of life lessons. When they inevitably encounter failure and adversity in their work and personal lives, they’ll be better equipped to handle that than most of their peers. Learning to keep on going and doing the best you can even when the task seems impossible is a lesson that will take you far in life, and the Peacocks are learning that in spades. 

So even though few of us may have heard of the college a month ago, here’s to Saint Peter’s. To the basketball team, yes, who dazzled us with their run in the NCAA tournament. But even more so to the baseball team, who remind us of the importance of keeping on going even when life deals us its inevitable punches. Their ability to get up and keep fighting is the true inspiration. 

Tom Jensen is Director of PPP Polling in Raleigh and an avid UNC Tar Heel baseball fan