IOWA CITY, Iowa – By defeating Michigan State 5-1 on Sunday, the Iowa baseball team did more than just stay alive in its desperate quest to make the Big Ten Tournament.
The Hawkeyes also gave their long-time scorekeeper and team historian Ray Gilmore a memorable farewell at Banks Field.
Iowa scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning and then never let go of the momentum, improving to 24-24 overall and 10-11 in conference play, while the Spartans fell to 33-15 and 12-9 in the Big Ten.
“We’re at five-hundred right now, but still, we’re playing for a chance to move on,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore plans to move on after the season, ending a 38-year association with the Iowa baseball program. He wants more time to pursue his other passion, which is working as a baseball umpire.
The Iowa baseball program always will be close to his heart, though.
And the feeling is mutual.
“You always think you’re not appreciated, but today it’s pretty obvious I am appreciated and it means the world to me,” said Gilmore, who grew up in West Branch and now lives on the outskirts of Iowa City.
Iowa showed its appreciation by arranging for Gilmore to be the official scorekeeper for one day at the College World Series, which will be held next month in Omaha, Neb.
“Wow. That means a lot to me that they would do that for me,” Gilmore said.
The mood was understandably upbeat after Sunday’s series-clinching victory.
Iowa entered Sunday’s game in ninth place in the Big Ten and with little margin for error with regard to making the conference tournament, which features the top eight teams.
In addition to starting quickly, Iowa also took advantage of three Michigan State errors and held the Spartans to just five hits.
The Hawkeyes will close the regular season with a three-game series at Penn State beginning next Friday.
Iowa and Penn State were among seven teams in the Big Ten that began play on Sunday within three games of each other in the conference standings.
“We know our backs are against the wall and it’s been up and down all year,” said junior second baseman Mason McCoy, who drove in two runs on Sunday and made a spectacular diving catch in the eighth inning on a ball that deflected off the torso of relief pitcher Ryan Erickson. “But I think we’ve had a lot of unlucky things happen thus far that we’ve grown as a team. We’ve gotten a lot stronger and we know we need to win these games.
“It’s crazy, yeah, we may be in ninth, but the race is still so tight. We could sweep Penn State and move up there. It’s really a closer race than people think it is.”
Iowa’s situation looked bleak after Michigan State won the opening game of the three-game series on Friday.
But the Hawkeyes responded with back-to-back victories, much to Gilmore’s delight.
“The team played so well the last two days,” Gilmore said.
Sunday would’ve been emotional under any circumstance, with Gilmore being honored and with 13 seniors making their final appearance for Iowa at Banks Field.
Winning just provided an extra spark for a program that has had its share of peaks and valleys during Gilmore’s time.
Rick Heller is the fourth head coach to lead the Hawkeyes since Gilmore started as a bat boy in the late 1970s. Heller led Iowa to the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 1990, but this season has been more of a struggle.
Gilmore also worked under former Iowa head coaches Duane Banks, Scott Broghamer and Jack Dahm. Gilmore respects and admires all four head coaches, but his relationship with Banks goes far beyond baseball.
Banks was the head coach when Gilmore started as a batboy, and now Iowa’s home field is named in Banks’ honor. Gilmore had just recently lost his father when Banks reached out to him.
“It goes all the way back to coach Banks giving me a chance to be the batboy,” Gilmore said. “My father passed away at an early age, so coach Banks was kind of like a father figure to me.
“And I learned a lot of things at an early age, including probably some language you wouldn’t want to use.”
Broghamer helped Gilmore expand his role by promoting him to head scorekeeper after replacing Banks as head coach.
Dahm, who is now the head baseball coach at Mount Mercy in Cedar Rapids, helped Gilmore on a daily basis just by making him feel special, as he did again on Sunday.
“Coach Jack Dahm actually messaged me right before the game wishing me well,” Gilmore said. “And I think coach Heller has things going right. It’s just been a lot of fun and a lot of memories and a lot of not-so-good memories.”
Gilmore was referring to all the losses he has witnessed over the years. He was sad when Banks retired and felt the same when Broghamer and Dahm were fired.
The Iowa baseball team is family to Gilmore, and always will be.
He won’t be around as much as before. But he won’t be far away, either.
You don’t do something for nearly 40 years and then just walk away. Gilmore’s bond with the Iowa baseball program will last forever.