I need to hear from fans of Indiana University, and I need to hear from alums of Indiana University.
Do you have a clue on what your baseball team just accomplished? Do you realize how great the program coach Tracy Smith has built? On Sunday it became the first Big Ten team in nearly 30 years to advance to the College World Series.
Or did most fans of Hoosiers athletics check out when Tom Crean, Cody Zeller, and Victor Oladipo were eliminated from the NCAA men’s basketball tournament?
Maybe I need to be a long-time resident of Indiana to get the true sporting demographic culture of the region. Indiana is a state that lives and breathes basketball like none other. And is perhaps even more fanatical on the high school level than college, as famously depicted in Hollywood.
In all honesty, baseball has historically been more of an afterthought in the Big Ten than at schools in conferences further south and on the West Coast. In recent years the most successful Big Ten program has been the University of Nebraska, which earned a few College World Series berths as a member of the Big XII conference.
Indiana, in particular, had been a tough sell to potential recruits as it were playing in an outdated facility before the state-of-the-art Bart Kaufman Stadium opened on campus this season. It was filled to capacity (2,500) on most nights.
Indiana’s baseball team has gone on to have its best season in school history. The Hoosiers were ranked nationally in the top-15 all season, won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. That earned the Hoosiers the right to be one of the 16 NCAA tourney regional hosts. They swept through the four-team bracket in that round thanks to a dramatic ninth-inning walk-off over a gutty Valparaiso squad.
Now Indiana has won the Super Regional by winning in front of one of NCAA’s most hostile environments at Florida State University. In a pair of dramatic seesaw affairs, the Hooisers swept the best-of-three series over a program that had advanced to the CWS on 21 occasions and had lost at home only three times all season.
As part of a wild weekend in college baseball, Indiana will be making its first ever trip to Omaha and could be joined by Kansas State – which has likewise never made the CWS – and North Carolina State, which made its last CWS appearance in 1968.
Indiana’s high-powered, SEC-like offense is led by slugging catcher Kyle Schwarber (already projected as a top-10 overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft). Schwarber launched another tape-measure shot this weekend, which landed far beyond the 30-foot high right field fence and into the parking lot of Dick Howser Stadium. For the season Schwarber’s 18 home runs exceeded the entire team totals of six Big Ten squads. He also hit a shot against Nebraska out of Lincoln’s Haymarket Park that no one actually saw land.
Three Hoosiers heard their names called during the 2013 MLB Draft. Six-foot, 10-inch pitcher Aaron Slegers rebounded from two years of arm problems to post a 9-1 record while third baseman Dustin DeMuth flirted with a .400 batting average. The two were selected in the fifth and eighth rounds respectively by the Minnesota Twins, who also added IU closer Ryan Halstead in the 26th round. Minnesota’s scouting department was definitely taking note during the Big Ten tournament at Target Field.
Coach Tracy Smith’s squad is not a one-year wonder, he has developed the Hoosiers into a solid program over the past several seasons. In the past five years 19 players have been selected in the MLB draft – in 2009 three Hoosiers (pitchers Eric Arnett and Matt Bashore, catcher Josh Phegley) were all among the top 46 picks overall.
What does Smith have to do to get true notice in Bloomington? Fire a folding chair out of the dugout?
How many proclaimed fans of Indiana athletics have been following? And I am indeed calling out my own bosses and colleagues here at Midwest Sports Fans which would include past and present lead editors and others involved with the site and others I interact with on social media.
Am I wrong? Am I out of line? Please dispute in the comments section.
I follow the University of Wisconsin myself, which has been blessed with tremendous leadership in the athletic department for a generation. Even in the dark days of UW sports (1970s, 1980s) the school boasted a powerhouse men’s hockey program and did well in other non-revenue sports.
More recently, Wisconsin won a national championship in women’s hockey and just concluded it’s most successful women’s softball season ever, winning the Big Ten tournament title against a field that included Women’s College World Series participants Nebraska and Michigan.
Do I personally follow the hockey programs or the softball team? To be honest, not on a regular basis. But I watch the tournament games and note and praise the accomplishments when merited.
Basketball remains legendary and iconic at Indiana University. I acknowledge it will always remain that way, and all other sports in Bloomington (even football) exist under that enormous shadow.
But if you are an IU fan, a college baseball fan, or even just a casual sports fan, tune in for the remainder of the other Super Regionals being contested, and the College World Series.
There is still plenty of room on the Indiana bandwagon.