“There was no way we were going to let this happen to our boys,” said Janine Fratantuono, Dominic’s mother.
The parents started meeting once a week. They formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, met with a lawyer regarding a possible lawsuit, wrote letters to lawmakers, bought radio advertising, commissioned reports that questioned the university’s accounting. (That was on top of the $1,500 they spent last fall for an airplane to fly over M&T Bank Stadium during a Baltimore Ravens game trailing a banner that said, “Save Towson Baseball.”)
“We fought and fought and fought,” said Fratantuono, who estimates she spent nearly 200 hours on the cause.
Eventually — and with the help of some well-connected Towson alumni — the parents’ efforts to save the baseball program reached the highest levels of Maryland’s state government. In late March, state comptroller Peter Franchot blasted Loeschke’s handling of the situation, telling reporters it left a “severe black mark on the record of an otherwise exceptional university,” and threatening to withhold funds for the school’s planned satellite campus until she came to Annapolis to answer for her actions.
Two weeks later, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) announced he would include an additional $300,000 in both his 2014 and 2015 budgets to fund the baseball team. Although the state’s General Assembly later tweaked the budget proposal to make it appear less like a bailout — requiring matching funds from the school, for one thing — the effect was the same: Less than four weeks after losing their future, the Towson Tigers had one again.
“It almost feels like a movie,” Dominic Fratantuono said. “The good guy always wins in the end.”
But in this case, the good guys were not doing much winning on the field. On the day their reprieve came down from the governor, the Tigers were riding a five-game losing streak, and the stay-of-execution did little to change their fortunes. They went 12-15 over the remainder of the regular season, arriving at the CAA tournament with a 25-28 overall record.
All the while, Gottlieb believed his team was tantalizingly close to a breakthrough, and fortunately it came during the conference tournament, where the Tigers took narrow victories over Northeastern and UNC Wilmington to advance to the weekend. They then pummeled William & Mary by a combined 25-15 in a pair of wins to clinch the title. In the championship game, senior right-hander Mike Volpe, pitching on two days’ rest, threw a 139-pitch complete game.
“This is a dangerous team because we believe we can win, and we literally have nothing to lose,” Fratantuono said Wednesday. “We’re not even supposed to be in existence.”
The damage inflicted this spring is still being undone. Just this week, one of the players who had decided to transfer came to Gottlieb and said he thinks he wants to stay after all. Officially, the budgetary reprieve was only for two more years, but Gottlieb thinks the program is on solid footing now.
For now, at least, there is still a Towson University baseball team. For now, that baseball team is still playing, deep into the spring. And for now, the players are leaving the duct tape back home.