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25 March 2013

Sugarcanes sweeten baseball experience

Sophomore Suzanne Ghannam emerges from the Hurricanes dugout and darts to home plate to retrieve the baseball player’s bat after he reaches first base.

Ghannam is a Sugarcane – a bat girl at Miami Hurricanes baseball games. Sugarcanes are responsible for retrieving the bats and foul balls for both the Hurricanes and the visiting team. Six girls work every home game.

“Being in the dugout is a completely different feeling than being in the stands, since you actually hear what the coaches say,” Ghannam said. “It just brings baseball to life.”

Although Sugarcanes are only required to work one game per week, Ghannam has worked every game this season.  

“It’s all about loving the sport,” Ghannam said.

The student organization was founded in 1968 by former Hurricanes baseball coach Ron Fraser as the first group of collegiate batgirls. Since that time, Florida State University and several other colleges have adopted the tradition of using batgirls.

“It feels good to be part of something so unique that you can tell people about it, and they’ve never heard of it before,” sophomore Virginia Boies said, a Sugarcane who played softball in high school.

Many of the girls are ex-softball players, but all must have a love for the game of baseball. As a legacy student, Ghannam grew up going to Hurricanes baseball games.

“My first baseball game was when I was about 4 or 5 years old, and I still remember coming to the Light and experiencing such great memories when I was younger that I had to be a part of such a great tradition when I was older,” said Ghannam, who is vice president of the Sugarcanes.

The girl in charge of home foul balls holds the most important position, according to Ghannam.

“You’re really working with the umpire and making sure you’re keeping him supplied with the right amount of balls,” she said. “If balls go foul or he’s losing balls, we have to make sure he’s supplied with the right amount. And we also have to bring the umpire water every three innings and make sure we’re satisfying his needs.”

In the away dugout, players on the visiting team will interact with the Sugarcanes working that game and ask them questions about the position, according to Ghannam. But the atmosphere in the home dugout is very different.

“We want to make sure we’re being professional … and making sure our team is focused,” she said. “Usually we’re quiet in the dugout and just getting the bats after every at-bat.”

The annual Alumni Game, held each February shortly before the start of baseball season, is a favorite time for many of the Sugarcanes because successful athletes return to play.

Last year, senior Betty Carricaburu sat in the dugout with St. Louis Cardinals outfielder John Jay, who had won a world championship just a few months earlier. Other Major League Baseball players have also participated in the past.

“A couple years ago I got to pick up Gaby Sanchez’s bat,” said Carricaburu, who is now in her third year as a Sugarcane. “That to me was really cool because I’m a Marlins fan.”

New Sugarcanes are selected each fall semester through an application process that involves an interview to assess applicants’ baseball knowledge and personalities. Girls meet with a panel comprised of Head Coach Jim Morris; Director of Baseball Operations Robert McDaniels, who is better known as G.M.; Tom Ponietowicz, supervisor of the Sugarcanes; and the president of the student organization.

About 25 to 30 girls are selected for each season. The group does not discriminate against boys, but generally only girls try out for the role.

Male students have other opportunities to be involved in Hurricanes baseball games, such as working as student managers, according to Boies, who is the Sugarcanes’ secretary.

“We had a guy that was interested last semester, and he was asking me about it when I was putting up fliers for it, but it’s just a tradition and a legacy that we have with the girls,” Ghannam said.

Being a Sugarcane is ultimately about dedication to the Hurricanes baseball organization and the coaches, according to Ghannam. In fact, the girls cannot associate with the baseball players themselves.

“Ninety-nine percent of the girls don’t really interact with any of the players,” she said. “We’re allowed to be friends with them and everything, but we do have a no fraternization contract that we sign that we’re not allowed to have any types of relationships with them.”