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Rutgers renews rivalry against Seton Hall

Photo by Michelle Klejmont

Before practice on Thursday at Bainton Field, the Rutgers baseball team was debating who the better team was this season — the New York Mets or the New York Yankees.

The hotbed of the discussion stemmed from the Mets winning 10th game in a row while the Yankees were coming off of a 13-4 win over the Tigers on Wednesday.

Junior left-hander Howie Brey, a devout Mets fan, argued with senior first baseman Joe D’Annunzio, a die-hard Yankees fan, for 20 minutes before practice until head coach Joe Litterio had enough.

“Go out to left field to talk about that kind of stuff,” Litterio said, annoyed while preparing practice plans in the dugout on the first base side. 

That demand from the skipper only relocated the conversation, but it did not end it.

While few rivalries incite debate and argument as much as the Mets and Yankees, who will play the first of a three-game subway series Friday night, the Scarlet Knights have a rivalry of their own to maintain this weekend.

With a three-game tilt on the horizon against Seton Hall, more people in the Knights' dugout Thursday were concerned about the Mets and Yankees.

Litterio, who wanted no part of the other conversation, spoke about the unique series this weekend that Rutgers will play in a different location for each game.

“I’ve seen this type of home and home then at a minor league parks done at other schools,” Litterio said. “I thought it was something that was good for us and Seton Hall to do, especially since we aren’t in the same conference together anymore. We want to keep together the rivalry, and it was the perfect situation for us to do that.”

The Knights (13-26-1, 5-10) play the Pirates (19-15) away Friday, follow it up with a home game on Saturday and then on Sunday they play at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, home of an American professional baseball organization in the Somerset Patriots.

The series played this weekend will continue one of the longest rivalries between two New Jersey schools and is the tightest margin in an all-time series for Rutgers.

The Knights head into the weekend with a slight edge in the series. Rutgers has a 44-42-1 record against Seton Hall, but the one thing clear to senior left fielder Vinny Zarrillo is that when the Knights and Pirates play, the games are usually good.

“We always battle when we play Seton Hall,” Zarrillo said. “They are always pretty good games, and they always have pretty good pitching. We need to make sure we get the runners in during big spots in the game and make sure we play well.”

The last series played against Seton Hall took place in early April of 2013. The Pirates outscored the Knights, 25-11, in three games.

That was the last time Brey remembers playing Seton Hall. From his memory, he thinks he pitched well in that series. 

Although he was a reliever at the time, he wants to continue his solid performance in a starting this role this weekend.

“Freshman year I played them, and they were a good hitting team back then,” Brey said. “I’m not sure how they’ve built their program since then. I know I was able to get a save in a good three innings pitched. I want to continue that this weekend.”

While the rest of the team debates how Mets’ starter Matt Harvey will do against the Yankees, Litterio thinks back to multiple series when his teams, as both a former player and assistant coach to retired Fred Hill, played Seton Hall.

Litterio, who also happens to be a Mets fan — having custom plates on the back of his Sedan — is more into the series at hand. 

It’s a tradition that deserves to be upheld, he argues.

“This dates back to when I played,” Litterio said of the rivalry with Seton Hall. “We weren’t in the same conference back then either, but when we played Seton Hall it meant something. Just being another local school in the state, for all sports — it’s a good rivalry to keep going. It’s not just another weekend, it’s a special weekend.”

For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.