Two years ago, coming off his latest NCAA Tournament appearance, Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich emerged as a leading candidate for the top South Carolina job — in the more baseball-rich Southeastern Conference, at least when comparing it to the Big Ten.
Bakich, though, surprised many and stayed at Michigan, sharing a hand-written note on Twitter that closed with Bo Schembechler’s famous rallying cry, “Those who stay will be champions.”
Well, boy, look at Bakich now.
In his seventh year at Michigan, he has the Wolverines in the College World Series for the first time since 1984. They open against Texas Tech — sound familiar, basketball fans? — in Omaha, Nebraska.
Led by a rotation that features two of the top 80 picks in last week’s MLB Draft and a potential first-rounder next year, plus the Big Ten player of the year, Bakich, 41, watched his team knock off the top team in the nation, UCLA, on Sunday to advance to the Elite Eight of baseball.
The story will go that Michigan (46-20), being it was one of the final four at-large teams in the field before it took the regional by storm, then the Super Regional, is a Cinderella team. That’s a debatable narrative, given the talent and resume, including an earlier win over UCLA this season, plus near-misses for the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles.
But when you’re Big Ten in baseball, you’re always the underdog — UM opened Super Regional play as the longest shot, 50-1, to win the national championship — no matter that the conference’s talent, reputation among the game’s legitimate insiders and facilities get better by the year.
Perhaps that’s what Bakich realized when he stayed at Michigan, signing a new five-year contract that included a $200,000 signing bonus and a $400,000 salary.
Bakich also has earned $70,000 more this year because of bonuses for making the NCAA Tournament and the College World Series. There’s one more bonus left to achieve: $30,000 for winning it all.