End of UNI baseball program means last Corridor Classic


CEDAR RAPIDS — With 20 or so people and media members eagerly watching and listening, Iowa and Northern Iowa baseball coaches Jack Dahm and Rick Heller spoke about the upcoming Corridor Classic between their teams at a press conference Monday afternoon.

The April 28 contest will be the sixth meeting of the Corridor Classic, the annual series between the Hawkeyes and the Panthers played at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids, home of the Single-A Cedar Rapids Kernels.

However, this game will be played in a different context from that of the previous five — it is the final meeting in the series. Heller learned Feb. 18, two days before the Panthers’ first game of the season that baseball will be dropped from the athletics program at the conclusion of this season for economic reasons.

“Think about what the Northern Iowa players are going through right now,” Dahm said. “They had the rug pulled out from underneath them. That’s pressure. We need to realize we’re pretty fortunate to be able to be playing baseball.”

The majority of Monday’s press conference focused on this theme, as both coaches fielded questions asking about their thoughts and feelings on the situation.

“We try to have fun and try to make the best of the situation we were dealt,” Heller said. “The bottom line is our name is on this season, whether we want it to be or not. We didn’t do anything to deserve this. We didn’t ask for this. But the bottom line is all of our names are on it. This is the last go-around.”

The Panthers (14-18, 3-9) have a chance to win the Classic, and they do hold a 3-2 advantage in the series. Northern Iowa won the first three games, but the Hawkeyes (11-20, 2-7) have won two in a row including a 10-6 victory in last year’s contest. Heller acknowledged the difficulty in motivating his team this spring, and Iowa is struggling a bit as well, currently stuck in a seven-game losing streak. But excitement still exists for both sides despite all of the circumstances.

“I expect this to be a very, very special game,” Dahm said. “Make the call out to the people of eastern Iowa to come out and support the [American Diabetes Association]. We would like to make it a special event and have an outstanding game.”

The teams will also clash on April 22 at Banks Field in Iowa City. The Corridor Classic was designed as a way to raise money for the diabetes group, and it has amassed more than $450,000 in the event’s five years.

“That makes me feel proud that we’ve been able to raise almost a half million dollars for the [diabetes association],” Heller said. “Sadly, this will be the last one for me. This has been a great event and done for all the right reasons and especially for baseball in our state.”

Not that the emotion surrounding this game stopped the skippers from being competitive. Dahm said he was hurting for Heller and the Panthers, then said:

“Although I still want to beat you, Rick.”

Heller made a joke or two but stuck to the more emotional material in his time at the podium.

“We’re playing for a lot of alumni, and we’re playing for 103 years,” he said. “We’re playing for a lot of things and a lot of people, and that puts added pressure on kids. Bottom line is, it is what it is and we can’t change that, so we have to make the most of it.”

Plenty of tickets still remain, ranging in price from $7 to $10. Heller hopes his players can have one last good memory of the Corridor Classic.

“It’s a chance for them to play in a great atmosphere on a nice field against a good opponent in a rivalry,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. I know our guys will enjoy that for sure.”

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