Reflections on a big baseball weekend

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Reflections on a big baseball weekend

CF Kyle Wernicki

For several years, Chris Coleman and I have said we need to start covering baseball.

Baseball is a tweener sport, schedule-wise. The schedule starts in mid-February, when men’s basketball is in the midst of the ACC schedule. Spring football kicks up in March, and is in full swing in April, when the weather is finally warm enough to think about going to some of those baseball games that are being played.

Meanwhile, our fans want to hear about spring football and recruiting. Even men’s basketball, in the midst of a 4-14 last-place finish in the ACC, is a more hotly-debated topic that receives much more attention than baseball.

But still, is there any good excuse for the fact that I haven’t been to a single game at English Field until Saturday’s game against Coastal Carolina? No.

During Saturday’s win over Coastal Carolina, and again during Sunday night’s season-ending loss to Oklahoma, I was struck by how different the atmosphere is for a baseball game than it is for a football or basketball game. I’m not talking about the pace of play; I’m talking about the mood among the fans.

There’s so much anger in the stands during football and basketball games. Everybody’s irate, at the coaches, the players, the referees, the PA announcer, the ushers, other fans … we’ve all sat near that guy at a football game, the guy who is angry for the entire three-plus hours, and for whom nothing is ever good enough. That guy spews vitriol the whole game long, to the point where you wonder why he spends all that money to be so pissed off.

Not only have we sat near that guy, but a part of that guy, sometimes a big part, lives inside almost all of us.

But at a baseball game, it’s different. Only the umps take abuse. The feedback towards the players is uniformly positive. I tweeted about it during the Coastal Carolina game Saturday:

 

And former Hokie and current Kansas City Chief Brandon Flowers pointed out the same thing later that day:

 

I can’t speak for the environment at a Major League game, because I haven’t been to one of those since 1990. But I attended some Pulaski Mariners games last summer and two games at English Field this past weekend, and it’s a much more pleasant experience.

P Eddie Campbell

Even as the Hokies were completely falling apart in the top of the ninth inning last night, coughing up six runs to put the game out of reach and capping the end of their season, the fans were dismayed, but they didn’t take it out on the players. Logan Thomas — who was there watching the game, by the way — would get absolutely smoked for committing the kinds of errors and taking the kind of beating the baseball team took last night in the ninth, but in the stands, the mood turned to one of disappointment and resignation, not anger. Not in the reserved seats behind home plate, anyway.

It’s a better environment, admission is free (it has been up till now, anyway), and it’s a good way to pass the time and watch Hokie sports. I’ll be going back next season. Next year’s team probably won’t be as good as this year’s edition, but it will still be worth it.

Building a program in Blacksburg

With the deck stacked high against him — there was snow on the ground in Blacksburg in April this year, for crying out loud — Pete Hughes has managed to build a competitive program in arguably the toughest baseball conference in the country. Hughes was a good hire by Jim Weaver. He specializes in putting together good teams in cold-weather environments, though “cold weather” in Blacksburg still isn’t as bad as “cold weather” in Boston, Hughes’ last coaching stop.

Hughes has been here since the start of the 2007 baseball season, and things are gradually trending up.

[table “88” not found /]

I’m reminded of the endless discussions about Virginia Tech men’s basketball, and how difficult it is to build a contender in Blacksburg. Baseball faces similar challenges, and Pete Hughes is equipped better than most to meet those challenges. He finds unheralded players and molds them into a good team, which is what you have to do in a place that’s trying to build.

Clearly, he has the program going in the right direction, though I’m not too optimistic about next season. As Aaron McFarling detailed in a column today, the Hokies are losing some of the stars from this year’s team, and the pitching staff is going to take a big hit.

  • OF Andrew Rash — exhausted eligibility
  • P Joe Mantiply — exhausted eligibility
  • P Clark Labitan — exhausted eligibility
  • P Jake Joyce — exhausted eligibility
  • P Devin Burke — exhausted eligibility
  • IF Chad Pinder — Jr., but likely a 2nd round pick
  • OF Tyler Horan — r-Jr., but will probably be drafted high enough to leave
OF Andrew Rash

Rash tied for the team lead in home runs (11) and was the top RBI man (62) for the Hokies; Mantiply was Tech’s #1 pitcher, though Burke was close behind and led the Hokies with 11 wins; Labitan was Tech’s top reliever; Jake Joyce tied Labitan for most appearances (30) and sported a 7-1 record; and Chad Pinder was arguably Tech’s best player overall, but don’t say that to Mark Zagunis in a dark alley. Horan was Tech’s top hitter for average (.342), home runs (11), and slugging percentage (.603).

That’s a lot of guys to lose. The top two starters, top two relievers, and three of the top four hitters will be gone, so it will be a regrouping year for Pete Hughes. If you look at the table above, that’s indicative of something like 30-33 wins overall, and somewhere between 10-20 and 12-18 in the ACC. That’s not NCAA material.

But that’s the future. For this year’s edition, it was a fun run and a nice close at the end of the season. The Hokies went 18-5 over their last 23 games, nearly won the ACC Championship, and hosted a regional. The players were crushed after last night’s game, and it’s not hard to see why. It was the end of something good.

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23 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I have commented below, but I am going to try and make another analogy. In all sports it is very much about wanting something good to happen…now! I have often on this board mentioned the cartoon about the two buzzards sitting on a dead tree limb. The one says to the other “to hell with this waiting around for something to die. I want to go out and kill something!”

    It is the same in the real world. I am presently tapping this message on a handheld Samsung Galaxy S with all the freaking bells and whistles technology can bear, including something called 4G which for the life of me I will never understand. It is so hyped as the most powerful and greatest cell phone futuristic feature since the invention of sliced bread. Yet despite all the commercialization it is a joke to me. I have never, no matter where “can you hear me now?” is, seen the 4G icon (it is presently 3G) or all the bars lit up. And it is infuriating to hit the send button and nothing happens for 30 seconds, a minute, whatever even though I wave the damn thing around trying to find a freaking signal out in cyberspace somewhere. I want to go out and kill something now!

    Whether it be football, basketball, baseball, or cell phones, we fans want instant gratification. And that’s why we get upset with whatever the focus du jour is and things don’t go our way. It is fascinating how human we can be, even how hard it is to control.

    As Larry the cable guy says, “forgive me, Lord, for that one there.”

  2. Congrats & many thanks to the unheralded Hokie baseball TEAM……. you helped make the
    early summer an exciting time…… For those that are leaving….THANK YOU FOR COMING TO VT AND DOING THE HARD WORK virtually in the shadows. There is already talk & discussion of inadequate or inequality of VT facilities compared to other teams in ACC and the top conferences in general.

    Hopefully, there will be a push by fans to help improve thos needs to make sure neither VT, its fans, NOR THE BASEBALL TEAM ITSELF have to feel they are getting anything less than the best. ANY POSITIVE IMPROVEMENTS AND FACILITIES WILL (& SHOULD BE) CREDITED BACK TO COACH HUGHES, HIS ASSTS, AND M O R E IM PORTANTLY T H I S TEAM.
    ANY SUCCESS that follows will be the result of YOUR MIRACLE MAY..

    We look forward to seeing many of you in the pros and crowds like you had for the opening NCAA regional……..YOU BUILT IT…..&….THEY DID COME!. Thanks for creating & giving us a a special spring to remember! .

  3. Baseball is America’s “pass-time”…..that should explain a little of the difference! Nothing like spending a few hours relaxing and watching a game while enjoying a good hot dog and some cracker jacks!

  4. Thanks for the column Will. I’ll will just ditto others in saying that more baseball coverage would be great and it would at more variety to TSL.

    I was very disappointed with attendance this weekend. The opening game of course was great but Sunday in particular was pathetic. Looking at the UConn crowd, I suspected that a lot of fans were just waiting to watch the Hokies play at 5:30, but boy was I wrong.

    We need to do better as Hokies in promoting baseball. And that includes TSL. When you look at the facilities and crowds at other sites, we fail in comparison. Some people griped that we do not have a Jumbotron…for what?

  5. To paraphrase an old quote I heard, all MLB teams win 50 games, and they all lose 50 games. It’s what they do with the other 62 that count.

    In other words, unlike football and basketball where a dominant team can win 90% of their games, baseball teams aren’t going to win all the time and their fans know that. Plus, good hitters are going to fail to reach base 65% of the time, so there is a resignation to “them’s the breaks” that football and baseball don’t have. We all loudly howl when a QB overthrows an open receiver or a guard misses an open 3 pointer, but we can’t expect a hitter to always reach base safely.

    1. This makes me think the reason people think baseball is boring is because there isn’t action on the field but every 4, 5, or 6 pitches, whereas there is action every play in football and every possession in basketball, and mistakes in those two games thus get the fans more emotionally involved. You have to be a true baseball fan to be patient enough to understand pitching strategy between actual plays made on the field. In order to recognize the tension and excitement in a baseball game you have to be patient and you have to really enjoy all the things that can happen with the crack of the bat (or whatever that metallic noise is in college baseball), whether it is good offensive hitting or good defensive playmaking.

      1. Well, yeah. I mean, during the ultimate scoring play in baseball – the HR – only two of the 10 players on the field do anything. I’ve always viewed baseball as a sport you like when you are older, because you have the patience to sit through it. The pitching strategy you talk about? Drives me nuts, waiting for a lefty to come in and warm up, then sometimes there is another change to a closer and it’s delay, delay, delay. Can you imagine if football stopped the game to let the new QB warm up on the field? There is strategy behind all of this, but the way that it is executed is maddening.

  6. Will – I’d like to see more coverage of Baseball on TSL. I’d like to more coverage of olympic sports in general, when interesting. Didn’t we play for a national title in Rugby?

    I tire of the “difficulty of building a program in Blacksburg” excuse. How is Blackburgh so much different than Knoxville, Starkville, Bloomington? We need facilities. Build it and they will come.

  7. Two reasons fans are angrier at football games. Fans just aren’t as “invested” in baseball with their time and support and secondly the angry guy is probably mad because of the financial commitment he’s made and wants a return. Not so much of a financial investment for baseball.

    Plus baseball is a gentlemens game. The pace is slower and doesn’t lend itself the to the energy at a football game. How many people have lost their voice at a baseball game?

    1. you need to come see some of our little league games I have seen plenty of people loose their voice

  8. Nice column. Like another poster commented, I’ve wondered why TSL had almost zero coverage on baseball (or softball). In fact, I’ve gotten into the habit of going straight to “hokiesports.com” and bypassing TSL in this part of the sports cycle. Ended up watching thre of the VT games on ESPN3, all but Coastal Carolina. Lots of ups and down. OU just was better, both in the field and at bat, but it was good to see the Hokies start to make a difference in baseball, my favorite sport in the summer.

  9. There may be a correlation between the lack of baseball coverage by the media (inculding TSL) and the fan intensity at games. What I mean is that the VT football fans are very knowledgable about the team and the sport, and expectations are high. We follow recruiting, coaching changes, player turnover, offensive/defensive philosophy of coaches, who is 2nd string and 3rd string (and 4th string…) and not just winning, but winning a certain way. We crave blowouts, domination by our defense, and at least a competent offense. How much do most of us on TSL know about Tech’s 2nd string catcher or the philosphy of the 3rd base coach on how aggressive the baserunners should be or who Tech is recruiting to be our next SS? What would happen if everyone in the stands knew this when they watched the Oklahoma game, the stands were filled with 6,000 people (an overflowing crowded at English Field), and all of them expected us to win? Nevermind that Lane can easlily accomodate 10x the number of fans. Maybe add in that 1/2 the people had to drive 3 hours or longer to get to the game.

    I’ll try flipping this around. Imagine going to a NYY or Bosox or Phillies game when their team is in the doldrums (and by that, I mean not winning the World Series). There is a large base of fans for most MLB teams who know the nitty gritty details about their team they way many TSL fans follow the VT football team. Do you think there is more anger directed towards their “underperforming” players and coaches than you saw at English Field this weekend?

    Finally, go back to what it was like at a VT football game in the 90s. Expectations were not as high, media coverage was certainly less than today, and the team was overperforming. I don’t remember fan anger being anything like what it has been over the past 10 years. Never booing your own players used to be the rule, not the exception.

    I appreciate your column and what you observed. But I’m not sure that it’s a product of the sport. I think it’s comparing apples to footballs.

  10. If you need help understanding the difference in fan behavior between football ,basketball ,or other sports watch the comedy routine of George Carlan.To take a few of his comparsions out of context,(1) football is played on a gridiron,baseball on a diamond,(2)football has —“sudden death”,baseball extra innings,(3)Football score is a touchdown!!!,baseball—“safe at home”.In football you can have 10 seconds remaining,baseball can go on forever.

  11. Unlike college football or basketball (for the most part), College baseball doesn’t attract the best players in the country (although good hitters may end up in college). If you are good in high school, pro scouts will do their best to keep you from playing in college. Especially, if you are a pitcher. The aluminium bat gives players a false sense of power and will burn a pitcher up. Fans realized this and don’t get all up tight about the mistakes made. Also, you aren’t having to pay $40-70 a ticket see them play, give thousands of dollars just for the right buy a season ticket, and parking is not a problem. To top in off, it’s spring/ summer, more relaxing mood and great scenery.

  12. Hey Will,
    When do we get commitments to Hokie baseball? Is there a recruiting season, and a signing period? We would love for that to be covered. Can there be an article when the new class is announced, whenever that is? Thanks, and we’re proud of those Hammerin’ Hokies!!!

    1. There is an early signing period for baseball (early November) and most D1 programs, especially ACC-level programs have their classes just about filled at this point. While there are dead periods throughout the rest of the year, most programs still have a little bit of money left to recruit guys that come out of nowhere during their senior years, may have been injured before/didn’t have a good enough idea about, etc. However, the majority of recruits that are brought in once the college season has started will be recruited walk-ons.

  13. As a Hokie living in Charlottesville, I have been to many UVa home baseball games. I concur with Will’s assessment. The only “bad guy” in the building is the umpire. The atmosphere is extremely positive. It is one of the best events to take kids to you can find.

  14. Thanks for covering baseball finally. I almost didnt renew because you put so much of your focus on football.I was hoping it would change and i have been pleasantly suprised. Give us some insight on their recruiting and keep up with their scheduling a little bit.GO HOKIES!

  15. “we’ve all sat near that guy…”, I love that! I will be going to the LSU super-regional this week (heck, I live in Baton Rouge so why not?) BUT, I will be wearing my Tech gear. My son told me I would look like “that guy”… you know, the one who books his flights to the games before its been decided who will be playing in them. Well if thats the case then so be it. I will be wearing my Tech gear not to look like “that guy” but because I am proud of what the team achieved this year and to be quite honest, I am really tired of purple!

    And for what its worth, after seeing Alex Box stadium (LSU’s baseball stadium), Tech needs to invest in nicer facilities to attract more players to Blacksburg. Believe me, its like night and the differences between the 2 stadiums. Tech doesn’t need need a 10,000 stadium like LSU’s, but they need something that tells recruits that Tech is indeed committed to the baseball program.

    Geaux Hokies, hopefully next year will be another one to remember.

  16. Thanks, Will. The articles on baseball have been a pleasant change of pace. Let’s hope that the insight that you have provided will encourage more Hokies to get out to the games and support NCAA baseball. It has been a teriffic season.

  17. It’s all about expectations. VT fans expect the football team to not only win, but dominate their opponents. When this doesn’t happen they go ballistic.

    Vt fans expect VT to be competitive in basketball, winning the games they are supposed to win along with an occasional upset. When this doesn’t happen they go ballistic.

    VT fans have no expectations regarding baseball. And in general, with such long seasons and so many games, most fans don’t let one game bother them.

  18. Interesting observation regarding the mood of the crowd. I’ve been to MLB games and I’d say that the crown tends to be more civil than at professional football. Maybe that’s due to the contract in violence at the two. Minor league baseball, IMO, tends to be the best and most family friendly environment. That said, I am a die hard college football/Hokie fan! Just wish we could combine the enthusiasm of the football fans w/ the civility of the baseball fans, kinda like they’ve done at Nebraska.

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