112 years ago, the Boston Red Sox faced off against Pomona College. Today they are working together to change the perception of DIII baseball

A Pomona College pitcher attempts a pick off on a Boston baserunner during the Red Sox 7-0 victory over the “Blue and White” at Alumni Field on March 20, 1911. Courtesy: Pomona’s 1912 edition yearbook, The Metate

Driving through the blooming springtime groves of the Inland Empire in the year 1911, the Boston Red Sox baseball team departed Claremont, celebrating a victory over none other than Pomona College. 

Save for a singular photo of it from the 1912 edition of Pomona’s yearbook on Wikipedia, this game has remained relatively unknown to the Pomona-Pitzer (P-P) athletic community. 

However, in a series of articles uncovered from news publications including TSL, the Claremont Courier and the Boston Globe, as well as the book, “The Great Red Sox Spring Training Tour of 1911” by Bill Nowlin, the events of the game have been confirmed.

Incredibly, this is not where the story of these teams ends. While reporters from the Globe and the Boston Journal lambasted the collegiate shenanigans taking place during the game and Pomona’s distance from the Pacific Ocean, they did so while fully unaware that the two organizations would cross paths once again.

Now, over a century after Boston came to Claremont, the Red Sox have brought P-P – the schools came together athletically in 1970 – to Beantown, turning the Sagehen’s program into a major player in professional baseball. Three of Boston’s draft picks in the past 15 years have been Sagehen alumni and even more have made it to the team’s front office. Together, the teams have constructed a Sagehen network on and off of the field, working to shift the image of P-P and Division III athletes in the game.

The Red Sox head to the West Coast

In that fateful spring of 1911, the Red Sox embarked on their first ever venture to the West Coast, traveling to California to escape the Boston winter and train for the upcoming season. Although Major League Baseball (MLB) would not put a team in California for another 46 years, the Red Sox were not the first team to travel to the Golden State; in fact, they were not even the first Sox to do so.

From 1908-1910, the Chicago White Sox made three preseason trips to California, but when they announced they would be playing their 1911 spring training in Texas, Red Sox owner John I. Taylor, who according to Nowlin, was “infatuated” with California, decided that Boston was headed west.

While the White Sox stayed planted in one city for the entirety of their trips (Los Angeles in 1908 and San Francisco in 1909 and 1910), the Red Sox split their team in half to take the state north to south, deciding to play a massive 63-game schedule in just 76 days. For comparison, Boston is set to play 34 spring training games in 2023.

The Red Sox would face off against Califonia’s best, including a mix of teams from the Pacific Coast League, the state’s premiere professional league known for producing players like Red Sox legend Ted Williams, and a number of college teams. One of these collegiate squads was Pomona, the only Claremont College established at the time.

Pomona faces off against the Red Sox

Roughly a month into their trip on March 20, just hours after being received as “honored guests” in the City of Pomona, Boston was escorted in a legion of automobiles into Claremont. They would defeat Pomona College’s baseball team 7-0 at Alumni Field. 

TSL, having been founded in 1889, was already over 20 years in production. They covered the game and, despite the lopsided score, reported that the team now known as the Sagehens, but at the time known as the “Blue and White,” put up quite a fight.

“The [Red Sox] came out expecting to see a most terrible slaughter, likewise all were agreeably surprised,” TSL wrote. “The team had to play faster, better, harder ball in order to hold the big-leaders down to that number of tallies. It was an exhibition game but a practice game as well and the members of the squad certainly assimilated considerable experience.”

With Pomona’s having just 386 undergraduate students at the time, the game nearly doubled the on-campus population, bringing out a crowd of 760 fans. There was no doubt a jovial atmosphere present as, according to the Boston Globe, several students hurled oranges at players during play.

This was not taken as an offense, however, as future inner-circle Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, Tris Speaker proceeded to eat “several [of the oranges] as well as a bag of peanuts, while playing the outfield,” wrote Tim Murnane of the Globe. 

Nevertheless, the amiability of this competition came under fire by the Boston media, namely Herman Nickerson of the Boston Journal.

“[It was] the most farcical of games,” Nickerson said. “We simply went into the backwoods of California to play a game of ball for the express benefit of a few students.”

Murnane was further displeased by the behavior of the students in attendance.

“[They were] about the windiest lot of kids ever discovered,” Murnane wrote. “However, the Red Sox soon took the conceit out of the youths.”

Pomona was not expected to win this game, but in writing them off completely, Nickerson diminished the ability of the team’s star two-way player, Harry Kingman PO 1913. Kingman, who was inducted into the Pomona-Pitzer (P-P) Hall of Fame in 1968, not only smoked a double, but struck out Speaker, something the Boston center fielder only did 34 times in the 1911 regular season.

In 1914, Kingman would go on to reach the Major Leagues as a member of the New York Yankees, the legendary rivals of the Sox. Regardless of his short career in the Show, Kingman is the only Sagehen alum to make the bigs and was the only one in any level of MLB pro ball for decades.

As Speaker and the boys from Beantown packed up their gift baskets of oranges, which according to the Boston Globe contained love letters from local residents, they left the “backwoods” of California, marking their history in Claremont as nothing more than an obscure trivia question.

The Sox and Sagehens reunite

However, 96 years later, the Red Sox returned to the City of Trees and PhDs looking to take home more than just oranges.

In 2009, Drew Hedman PO ’09 was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the fiftieth round of the MLB draft. The fifth Sagehen ever drafted, and the first Sagehen to ever join the Red Sox franchise system, Hedman was ecstatic to receive the call to Fenway.

“It was a no-brainer,” Hedman said. “I [had] accepted a consulting job and happily called them the day after I was drafted and told them I was gonna go play… [I’m] fortunate that that was a reality for me.”

Boston’s choice of Hedman was driven by Jim Woodward, a scout for the Sox living in Claremont. A year later, Woodward had his eye on another Sagehen, James Kang PZ ’10. According to Kang, a California native, Woodward influenced his decision to attend Pitzer.

“I’ve known Jim Woodward … for over 20 years now,” Kang said. “He always mentioned to me to always prioritize going to a good school and a good academic fit.”

Kang saw his selection as influenced by P-P’s growing reputation as a program with an emphasis on academics and character.

Natural roommates in the minors, Hedman and Kang progressed significantly, reaching the Double-A and Triple-A levels respectively. Regardless of not making the majors, as their playing careers came to a close, their time in baseball was just beginning.

After retirement, Hedman began coaching, working his way up the minor league system and is now the assistant hitting coach and head of minor league hitting for the Arizona Diamondbacks. In his position, Hedman is poised to recognize the talent of fellow former DIII players such as former D-Back and Ithaca College alum, Tim Locastro.

“[Locastro] performed and he’s been getting some opportunities in the big leagues,” Hedman said. “If you go out there and really do everything that you can and an organization wants you, [it] doesn’t matter where you’re from … If you can help them win, you’re gonna get opportunities.”

Meanwhile, Kang returned to the Red Sox as an international scout and is now the international crosschecker for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kang believes that his second career in the game was planned from the start.

“In the long run, [Woodward] saw that I would be a good fit in terms of working in baseball after my playing career,” Kang said.

While still working for Boston, Kang played a pivotal role in continuing to build ties between the two programs. 

During the 2017 draft, the Red Sox needed a sleeper pick with high upside. Recognizing their previous success with Sagehens, they tasked Kang with securing Tanner Nishioka PZ ’17, who was named First Team All-DIII that year. Acting as a middleman, Head Coach Frank Pericolosi gave play by play of the event.

“James Kang … calls me up and says, ‘hey, would Tanner sign with the Red Sox,’ and then a couple minutes later, they announced that Tanner was drafted in the ninth round,” Pericolosi said.

More recently, the P-P to Red Sox pipeline has extended beyond the draft, thanks to the support of players already in the organization. Jake Bruml PO ’15, who joined the Red Sox in 2019 as an intern and now amateur scout, explained how Kang has become a mentor for former Sagehens.

“[Kang] came across my resume as I submitted it and helped push me through the hiring process for our interns,” Bruml said. “I spent a lot of time with Kang my intern year just trying to pick his brain,” Bruml said. “[We] probably get together once a month or every six weeks to just chat and catch up.”

Hedman and Kang’s dedication to building a support system for DIII and P-P athletes has already played a role in giving new opportunities to players who may have otherwise been looked over by major league teams. With seven players drafted since 2003 and alumni like Bruml working behind the scenes, Kang described the Sagehen network currently operating within Major League Baseball.

“It’s gotten to the point where [Pericolosi is] able to recruit kids and say, ‘When you come to P-P, it’s not just any other [DIII] school. If you’re good enough you’ll be able to continue your career in professional baseball,’” Kang said. “[P-P] is almost like a miniature pipeline … whether you work in the front office or as a player.”

Ultimately, this golden age of P-P in professional baseball has been driven by the willingness of the Red Sox in taking a chance on California’s backwoods. Together, their symbiotic relationship has come to bring a wave of formerly underrecognized talent into the game.

In addition to creating business mentorships, the pipeline has also led to lifelong friendships with Kang even officiating Hedman’s wedding. Much of this is due to the work of Pericolosi, who saw the network in full effect during this year’s alumni weekend.

“We had our biggest weekend ever,” Pericolosi said. “They’re really invested in the program. It’s a good way for the older guys to get to know the younger guys … [and] connect everyone together.”

Although Pericolosi does not see a major league team returning to Alumni Field anytime soon, as a school now known for producing professional talent, perhaps they could put up a challenge in the modern day and no doubt TSL of 1911 would be in full support.

“We have the team worth backing up, and our loyalty to it ought only to be measured by the love we bear for Pomona,” TSL wrote.

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