Reflections on a big baseball weekend
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:
The things baseball fans yell are much more positive and encouraging than the things football fans yell.
— TechSideline.com (@TechSideline) June 1, 2013
And former Hokie and current Kansas City Chief Brandon Flowers pointed out the same thing later that day:
At the uconn vs Oklahoma game at vt and I love the moral support in baseball….lets go Ralph, 1 more Ralph, niiiiiice Ralph
— Brandon Flowers (@BFlowers24) June 2, 2013
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.
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
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.