In the shadow of the U.S. Lacrosse National Museum and Hall of Fame, a new chapter in the sport's history is being written. On June 7, the university's Homewood Field was the setting for the inaugural Major League Lacrosse game, pitting the Baltimore Bayhawks against the Long Island Lizards. (The Bayhawks won, 16 to 13, before a crowd of 5,953.)
Homewood Field will be the official home site for the Bayhawks, whose roster and coaching staff include five former Blue Jays.
The fledgling six-team outdoor professional league was formed in 1999 to capitalize on the growing popularity of lacrosse, considered one of the fastest-growing sports worldwide. The league's founder is Jake Steinfeld, chairman of Body By Jake Enterprises and a former lacrosse player at Cortland State University in New York.
In addition to Baltimore's and Long Island's teams, the other MLL franchises are the Boston Cannons, Bridgeport Barrage, New Jersey Pride and Rochester Rattlers. Almost all have former Blue Jays on their rosters.
Gordon Boone, co-owner and general manager of the Bayhawks, says that using Homewood as the team's game and practice site was a natural fit.
"For lacrosse, what more historic place in the world is there than Homewood Field at Johns Hopkins?" Boone says. "There is just an incredible tradition and history here. There really is no other place we would rather be."
The Bayhawks, like each MLL team, will play a 14-game schedule, seven at home and seven away. The regular season concludes at the end of August, to be followed by a championship weekend in which the league's top four teams vie for the title. An All-Star game will be held mid-season in Bridgeport.
No major alterations to Homewood Field are planned, but during the season the stadium will be dressed up in Bayhawks banners and field signs.
"We plan to brand the stadium a little to let people know who we are," Boone says, "but we would never put anything on top of the most famous H in lacrosse history."
For each home game, the Bayhawks will set up a fan zone. Intended for both children and adults, it features interactive games, a moon bounce, a "cool zone" that sprays a water mist, food vendors and a lacrosse shooting booth equipped with a radar gun and accuracy meter.
Those familiar with traditional lacrosse rules will notice a few changes in the MLL game. The most profound alterations include the addition of a 45-second shot clock and a two-point goal line 15 yards from each goal. Other notable changes are a limit of three long-stick defensemen, the elimination of the restraining box and the release of all players on the face-off.
Boone says the rule changes are intended to speed up play and add a more offense-orientated dynamic to the game.
"The games will be very up and down, like a basketball pace," Boone says. "Some purists may not initially like the new rules, but we hope to win them over. When you get right down to it, apart from a couple of rule changes here and there, it's the same game as the one our grandfathers played."
The head coach of the Bayhawks is Brian Voelker, a 1991 graduate of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and a former Blue Jays player and assistant coach. Voelker says it was a difficult decision to part ways with his alma mater, but the opportunity presented to him was one he couldn't pass up.
"My goal from day one was to be a head coach somewhere. I just assumed it would be on the college level," Voelker says. "This was such a great opportunity for me, being able to stay in Baltimore and be the head coach of a professional team." Playing in familiar surroundings, Voelker says, was an added bonus. "I have a lot of memories here as both player and coach," Voelker says, referring to Johns Hopkins. "It's good to continue my coaching career right here at Homewood." The Bayhawks opening day roster includes four former Blue Jay standouts, Dan Denihan, Rob Doerr, Dixon Dudley and Shawn Nadelen. Of his team, Boone says, "It's the fastest ever assembled." Overall, Boone says, the league is stocked with the "best lacrosse players in the world."
"People will be amazed by the caliber of play. Every team is incredible," Boone says. "At Hopkins you are spoiled with great lacrosse games. But imagine having a team made up of the best players from all the top collegiate programs, a whole team full of superstars and All-Americans--that is Major League Lacrosse."
The Bayhawks' next home game is June 24 vs. Rochester. The remaining home schedule is July 6 vs. New Jersey, July 27 vs. Bridgeport, Aug. 4 vs. New Jersey, Aug. 11 vs. Boston and Aug. 18 vs. Rochester.
Tickets for individual games can be obtained at Ticketmaster outlets or at the box office on game day. For group packages and season tickets, call 866-99HAWKS.