When asked what their favorite time of year is, most college sports fans will most certainly say it’s college football season, with college basketball/March Madness coming in a close second. I would venture to say only about 5% of them would say, or even mention, the NCAA College Baseball tournament, or even the College World Series.
I am in that 5%. To understand why, you probably have to take a brief trip back with me.
It was the summer of 1999, during one of my annual trips down to San Antonio to visit my grandparents with my cousins, that I actually began following the tournament played at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska, which to an 11 year old, seemed like it was on a different planet. We largely followed the tournament because we were bored, and we were a baseball centric group, who spent summers playing baseball around my grandparent’s farm with a dozen half-broken whiffle balls and a broomstick for a bat.
(Disclaimer: I did not grow up in the 1920’s, we used a broomstick because it made hitting harder and my oldest cousin was 3 years older than me and was immensely more talented than me)
It was an event in that tiny 3-bedroom house, that brought everyone around the TV in one room. It might have been the only time that house was as quiet, to be honest. I still vividly remember watching games while sipping IBC cream soda and going outside to get a few at-bats in during the commercial breaks. Young and impressionable Tyler thought Omaha was heaven and the players playing on the field were larger than life idols.
Fast forward a bit to the winter of 2008, when I enrolled at Texas Tech and went to my first game at Rip Griffin Park. I was fortunate enough to see the last season under Larry Hays and experience the renewed energy Dan Spencer brought when he was hired from Oregon State. But the team never saw the success, I, and I’m willing to bet a large part of Lubbock, expected or deserved. The whole time I was in school, the team never finished above 5th in the conference, and was so far removed from making the NCAA tournament, you would think we didn’t even play the same sport as those teams that did.
I graduated in August 2011, firmly in the middle of the “Year of Suck,” where our Basketball, Baseball and Football teams finished last or near the bottom of the conference, and saw no major sport make the postseason. It was a terrible year for athletics. I was for certain that, no matter what, it was going to take a long time before Texas Tech was competitive in any sport, much less in college baseball. In my mind, it was nearly impossible for a program like Texas Tech to even dream of going to Omaha to compete.
I tell you all of this as sort of a reflection, but more of a cautionary tale of appreciation. On June 15, your Texas Tech Red Raiders will not only play in the College World Series for the second consecutive year and for the fourth time in six years, but they will be going in with a really good chance of playing in the championship series. This team has everything you need to compete; pitching depth, offensive production throughout the lineup, speed on defense and on the base paths, and most of all, and the best coach in all of America calling the shots.
This is an elite program in college baseball now, but even the type of success they have seen is difficult for the elite program in college baseball to obtain (wave “Hi” to the University of Texas and TCU, everyone).
So, regardless of what happens in this tournament, regardless of whatever your expectations of 35 young men, who serve as amazing representatives of our school and Lubbock, Texas, as a whole, regardless of what outcomes you think players who worked their tails off all season should be, and regardless of how little you think of, or know, how great of an achievement it is just to get to Omaha, to be on that field, to see that heaven… I caution you to take it all in, whether you enjoy the sport or not. I caution you not to let this opportunity pass by without fully appreciating the hard work and sacrifice it took for this team to get here and be in the position they are in.
Be loud. Be proud. Support this special group of young men, because there is only one 2019 Texas Tech Red Raider baseball team.
And there is only one Omaha.