Stepping up to the plate to preserve UMBC history

Published: Jun 20, 2024

an older man in a black polo shirt stands on a baseball field holding a bat
Rock Soracoe ’71 pops over to campus on a regular basis to watch UMBC’s athletic teams compete.

When the Fort McHenry Tunnel opened, drivers could thank Richard “Rock” Soracoe ’71, economics, for helping them see as they drove under the harbor. Soracoe spent 50-plus years in the lighting industry and helped source the original 8,870 8-ft light fixtures that lined the road. In retirement, he’s helping shed a different type of light. Soracoe and other members of the founding four classes at UMBC are putting their collective memories to work to assist in identifying people and events in UMBC’s archival material to help complete our UMBC history. One event—UMBC’s first intercollegiate athletics win—is a story Soracoe loves to tell.

I have the game ball in my hand. The red stitches feel familiar, and the leather sits in my palm like it was made to fit. I’m not on the mound winding up to pitch, however; I’m standing in the basement of the Albin O. Kuhn Library. It’s been 57 years since I last touched this baseball when UMBC won its first intercollegiate victory.

In UMBC's Special Collections, Soracoe holds up the first game-winning baseball with the box score drawn on, a relic of UMBC history
In UMBC’s Special Collections, Soracoe holds up the first game-winning baseball with the box score drawn on.

In 1967, UMBC’s inaugural fall sports season, the teams didn’t win a single game (as a member of the UMBC soccer team at the time, I was well aware of this), so it fell to baseball or lacrosse, the spring sports, to come through with the first win. While the details of that ballgame (a 3-2 win) are fuzzy now—all that remains officially is a 28-word write up in the Baltimore Sun archives—the game deserves its place of honor in the relatively short history of our institution. The budding campus newspaper, The Retriever Weekly, didn’t cover the game (although they did cover our loss to the same team the following week) and the box score is immortalized only as pen scratched onto the game ball’s leather.

Despite the lack of thorough archival material, in its own way, the game has certainly gone on to define aspects of my own life. Ken Diehl—the pitcher of the losing team, Catonsville Community College—would go on to transfer to UMBC the next year. We bonded over our shared Retriever spirit and also from our shared memories as roommates on UMBC’s first mini-mester trip to Europe in 1968. But it’s my Founding Four membership that drives me to keep memories like the first intercollegiate win alive.

As graduates of the first four classes at UMBC, we feel excited but also responsible for helping archive and catalog memories that might be unique to us. It’s one of the reasons we wrote This Belongs to Us, and it’s the reason we meet at the library to help the university archivists put appropriate names and metadata on early university yearbooks called Skipjack and other historical materials.

Left, the 1969 baseball team pictured in the 1969 university yearbook, Skipjack. Right, Soracoe in the black jersey also played on UMBC’s men’s soccer team.

When we were students here—walking around on plywood sidewalks on top of muddy construction sites—we weren’t thinking about creating the history of UMBC. We referred to the college as “high school plus one.” So our yearbooks rarely include captions or names and it’s up to us now to identify those people so that they’re not lost to history.

Some things have been lost to history. Louie Sowers [’70, American studies], a fellow classmate and student-athlete, stood up for Retriever women to have equal representation in university sports well before Title IX made it mandatory. She, along with Athletic Director Dick Watts, formed the women’s field hockey, basketball, and volleyball teams for the 1967 – 1968 academic year. Unfortunately, those records have been lost to time, so on paper, officially, women’s varsity sports only started in 1973.

an older man in a black athletic shirt holds a copy of the book This Belongs to Us
Soracoe holds a copy of This Belongs to Us—the Founding Four’s book about UMBC’s early days.

I reached out to some teammates to see if they could help me fill in the missing blanks of that game in April 1967. We played at Banneker Field in Catonsville (referred to as the “loser’s field” in the Sun write up) because UMBC did not have its own field yet. It was a low-scoring game; CCC got the first two runs in the game in the bottom of the 7th inning. The top of the 8th would be our key to victory. After one runner already came in, my teammate Bill Rust [’71, history] remembers players on second and third. He was at bat, and lined our then-opponent Ken’s pitch into left center field for what would become the game-winning RBIs.

What I remember is pitching the whole game (90 pitches according to Bill’s memory), and being so grateful when Ken [’70, psychology] joined our team the next year as an additional pitcher. And over the years, I’ve grown comfortable with the idea that the individual details don’t matter as much as the whole picture. Stepping back to see the shape of my career, my marriage, and my friends, I can see how they’ve all been defined by my UMBC experience. 

UMBC was as welcoming as you wanted it to be, and still is today. My professors taught me the power of critical thinking and my coaches taught me the power of mental and physical discipline—which helped me in my job and my 36-year career as a high school and college soccer referee. I am very proud to say that I am a UMBC graduate and happy to see the tremendous achievement the university has attained from humble beginnings to worldwide status.

Richard “Rock” Soracoe ’71, economics

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