In a few weeks, the college baseball world will focus on Omaha, Neb.
But first, it comes home to Pittsfield, where the college game - and maybe the game itself - began.
The Williams College baseball team will renew its rivalry with Amherst at 1 p.m. Sunday, May 3, at Wahconah Park, not far from the site where the two colleges played the first recorded college game on July 1, 1859.
The game could have implications on Amherst's bid for a New England Small College Athletic Conference playoff slot (Williams already has clinched a post-season berth), but the weekend will be about much more than that.
Cable sports giant ESPN will be on hand to televise the game live on its ESPNU channel. Alumni from each college will re-enact the 1859 game under the period's "Massachusetts Rules" at 11 a.m. Sunday. The College Hall of Fame and Hinsdale's Dan Duquette Sports Academy will conduct a clinic for local youngsters at the historic ballpark Saturday at 3 p.m. And even the colleges' chess teams will get into the act, battling on Sunday at 11 a.m. just as they did 150 years ago on the day of the ballgame.
And at 4 p.m., about the time the nine-inning varsity game should be ending, the nationally syndicated weekly radio show "Talkin' Baseball" will broadcast live for two hours from Wahconah Park.
The show, which can be heard locally over the Web at radioamerica.org, will feature a little Williams, a little Amherst and a lot of talk about Pittsfield and its place in the history of the game.
"There always is great debate and controversy about who invented baseball and where it was first played," "Talkin' Baseball" host Tim Donner said this week in a telephone interview from Virginia. "It wasn't Cooperstown (N.Y.), but everyone gives Cooperstown a pass because we love it so much. There's no debate about where the first college game was played. There's some certainty about that.
"We're going to get right into the debate. We're going to dedicate the whole show not only to the 150th anniversary of the first college game and the vintage game played under the Massachusetts Rules but also to the current state of the debate about the roots of the game.
"It's constantly being debated and updated."
For many in Pittsfield, the debate was settled in 2004 with the discovery of the "Broken Window Bylaw," a 1791 town ordinance prohibiting "(the) game called Wicket, Cricket, Baseball, Football, Cat, Fives or any other game or games with balls" within 80 yards of Pittsfield's new Meeting House.
The first documented evidence of baseball predated Cooperstown's claim of the game's 1839 birth by nearly 50 years and allowed Pittsfield to declare itself "Baseball's Garden of Eden."
This weekend's festivities are the latest in a series of events celebrating the city's place in baseball history.
It also marks the second time Donner and his partner Phil Wood have taken "Talkin' Baseball" on the road. The first was a live remote from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. But other than live reports by either Donner or Wood from spring training sites, "Talkin' Baseball" is primarily a studio-based show.
Donner said they were intrigued by the opportunity to come to Pittsfield and do something a little different. The show will feature an interview with Duquette, the former Boston Red Sox general manager and current part owner of the American Defenders of Pittsfield, who will play their inaugural season this summer at Wahconah Park in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
Donner said the show also will include interviews with members of the Williams and Amherst camps and a discussion of the college game in general - a topic that usually gets mentioned most around the time of the College World Series in Omaha.
"We talk about the college game in terms of the whole 'Moneyball' theory in terms of the viability of drafting high school as opposed to college players," Donner said, referring to the seminal 2003 Michael Lewis book that made Billy Beane a household name and on-base percentage the Holy Grail of baseball statisticians. "My sense is there's more interest in (the college game), but there are pockets of interest. It's not necessarily generalized national interest, but there are pockets in places like Wichita (Kansas) or around Rice University or in California, Florida, Nebraska, places like that where the game is strong.
"But the college game is much stronger than it was 20 or 30 years ago."
And the college game owes its beginning to Williams and Amherst, two schools who began their athletic rivalry not on the football field (where they clash most famously each fall) or even the boathouse (crew is generally thought to be the oldest American collegiate sport) but on a field near the current site of Wahconah Park.
The Ephs and Jeffs met earlier this year for a double-header at Williams' Bobby Coombs Field, where Amherst prevailed by scores of 12-1 and 4-1.
Williams followed the sweep by winning its next nine, including five against NESCAC opponents to secure one of four berths in the league playoffs, to be contested May 8-10.
Williams coach Bill Barrale said it is nice to have the pressure off his team as far as the playoffs are concerned. But in some respects, Williams-Amherst is bigger than the NESCAC. It certainly is bigger than the hoopla of having Sunday's game carried live on the national cable outlet.
"I don't think we'll be distracted," Barrale said. "We play Amherst three games a year. It's really part of our schedule. We have to prepare for it like that."
Barrale went through a similar potential distraction as an assistant coach on the Williams football team, whose 2007 home finale against Amherst was the setting for ESPN's "College Gameday" show. He said the hype did not affect the Ephs that day, and he does not suspect it will this time around, either.
But it is an honor for the Division III squad.
"It's going to take a while before it sinks in and people realize the significance of this game as the 150th anniversary of college baseball," Barrale said. "It's a blessing for me to be the coach of Williams at this time."
The 150th anniversary celebration of the first college baseball game will be played at 1 p.m. Sunday, May 3, at Wahconah Park in Pittsfield. Tickets are $5. Info: 603-883-2255.