NYU President John Sexton’s relationship with baseball is deeply rooted in his childhood in Brooklyn. It is appropriate, then, that things came full circle when he threw out the first pitch for NYU baseball at MCU Park. Decked out in purple and white, he stared down NYU head coach Doug Kimbler as Sexton prepared to throw out the first pitch of their home opener against Brandeis University. He wound up and tossed what, with the help of a frame job from Kimbler, could be called a strike by some generous umpires.
Sexton grew up playing and watching baseball with his father. By chance, his father became friends with legendary Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, who made history when he signed Jackie Robinson, the first black major leaguer in 1947. Sexton said it was this that sparked his lifelong love of baseball, culminating in his most recent book and NYU course, “Baseball As A Road to God.”
“You can imagine what it’s like to be eight, nine, 10 or 11 years old and have Jackie Robinson at your dinner table,” Sexton said. “He’s my hero.”
Being close to this pivotal moment in sports history piqued Sexton’s interest, but it was the impact it had on his relationship with his father that kept him coming back to America’s pastime.
“Every morning before I went to serve 6:30 mass, my dad would wake me up at 5:30 and he would have the newspapers from the night before, and we would go through the box scores,” Sexton said. “It’s a father-son thing.”
In 1969, when Sexton’s son was born, he had the chance to pass down what he had grown to love. He then converted from a Dodgers fan to a hometown Yankees fan.
“I knew, more important than the religion I gave him, would be the teams in which he rooted for,” Sexton said. “He was baptized and later bar mitzvahed, but he’s still a Yankees fan.”
Sexton’s interest in baseball played some role in bringing the program back to the school, but the real driving force behind the reemergence of Violet baseball was the opportunity to officially merge with NYU Poly and get engineering back at the school. Since coming back, the baseball team has struggled, as would be expected for an inaugural season, getting off to a 7-14 start.
Coach Kimbler, who was the coach at Poly last year, took the reins this year for the Violets’ many new players. The team is stocked with 22 freshman whom Kimbler recruited to be part of this year’s team of pioneers.
“It was an honor for me, truly an honor,” Kimbler said. “He told me he was so thankful to have me as the NYU coach and that he was proud of me.”
But it wasn’t just Kimbler who was thrilled to have Sexton throw out the first pitch. After Sexton left the mound, he turned around to see the NYU players lined up to get one of his trademark hugs.
“I think they were very excited,” Kimbler said. “I think after opening day they are now probably thinking about what really goes into starting a varsity baseball program at NYU.”
With baseball back at the university and a team full of young guns looking to bring fireworks to Coney Island, the Violets have the chance to build a one-of-a-kind program that can have an impact both on and off the field. Sexton, though, is just glad to be back around the game he loves.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 6 print edition. Email Bobby Wagner at [email protected]