Omaha, Neb. – Erik Bakich faces the same challenges every Big Ten baseball coach does when making his pitch to recruits.
It’s too cold.
Not enough pro players come from the conference.
The Big Ten hasn’t had much success on the national stage.
Bakich can’t do anything to change Michigan’s weather. But he’s working toward changing perspectives on those second two challenges. The Wolverines had five players selected in last week’s MLB Draft, including three in the first three rounds.
And Michigan’s appearance at the College World Series, which begins Saturday at 2 p.m. against Texas Tech, represents an opportunity to further prove the Big Ten can compete with the nation’s elite.
“The Big Ten hasn’t produced the same results and draft picks at the same level as the SEC and the ACC have,” Bakich said Friday at the CWS. “Individual programs have, but that’s part of our recruiting pitch. We want to tell kids you don’t have to go to the South to get the same experience. We’re going to develop them into professional players and we’re going to allow them to experience the postseason.
“We needed this (CWS appearance) to happen to move the needle enough and hopefully get our program over the hump. This team is going to inspire future generations of baseball players to consistently make these types of runs.”
It’s hard to blame recruits for being skeptical. In 72 years, Big Ten teams have combined for 28 College World Series appearances, far outpaced by the Pac-12 (101), SEC (99), ACC (94), and Big 12 (78).
Big Ten squads have combined for 54 wins in Omaha. The Pac-12 has 267.
But the sands are shifting a bit. The Big Ten sent a conference-record five teams to the NCAA Tournament last year and saw 53 of its players selected in the MLB Draft. Michigan, fresh off knocking off national power UCLA in the Super Regionals last weekend, can further strengthen the league’s reputation with a strong showing in Omaha.
“I think we’ve shown we can play with the best of them when we’re playing our best baseball,” first baseman Jimmy Kerr said. “We like to think of ourselves as a representation of northern baseball as a whole, that the North can play baseball and the Big Ten can play baseball.”
“Northern teams are looked down on,” outfielder Jordan Brewer said. “We’re not given many opportunities like this to play on big stages.”
This isn’t to say that Michigan is more concerned with improving the Big Ten’s reputation than bringing home the school’s first national title since 1962, and its first College World Series victory since 1983. Starting pitcher Karl Kauffmann made it clear that the team’s main focus is representing its university – anyone doing otherwise is doing it “for the wrong reasons.”
But the two-fold benefits are undeniable. If the Wolverines keep up their standout play in Omaha, they’ll both add to the school’s accolades and continue to open the nation’s eyes to the Big Ten’s ability.
And they’ll make their coach’s recruiting pitch that much easier.
“We want to be in the same conversation with the Vanderbilts and the Stanfords and the Virginias and the North Carolinas and so on,” Bakich said. “They’ve been better longer, and we just feel like as much as those programs have earned it, we want to put ourselves in that same category. When kids are looking at, ‘Where can I get the best combination of both (elite academics and baseball)?’, they’re thinking of Michigan as well.”
Dan Hoppen is a freelance writer.
College World Series schedule
At Omaha, Nebraska; Double Elimination; x-if necessary
Game 1 — Michigan (45-20) vs. Texas Tech (44-18), 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 2 —Florida State (41-21) vs. Arkansas (46-18), 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3 — Louisville (49-16) vs. Vanderbilt (54-11), 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 4 — Mississippi State (51-13) vs. Auburn (38-26), 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 5 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 6 —Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 7 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 2 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
Game 8 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
Game 9 — Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 10 — Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 loser, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
Game 11 — Game 6 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 2 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
Game 12 — Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Saturday, June 22
x-Game 13 — Game 6 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 2 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
x-Game 14 — Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
Monday, June 24: Pairings TBD, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Tuesday, June 25: Pairings TBD, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
x-Wednesday, June 26: Pairings TBD, 7 p.m. (ESPN)