This week's National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association's Division I poll revealed something us at Land-Grant Holy Land already know: Ohio State has a pretty solid baseball team on its hands for the 2014 season.
Though the Buckeyes did not crack the top 30, the men of Scarlet and Gray are among those on the outside receiving votes. Following their sweeping of the field in the Central Florida Tournament, to at least one scribe, Greg Beals has a club that is among the 30 best in the country.
Duh, we know this.
But before the rest of the country takes note and wants to be a part of Buckeye Nation, here are the storylines you need to know on why this team will claim the program's 16th Big Ten championship, return to the NCAA Tournament, and dare I suggest return to Omaha, reviving memories of Steve Arlin and the Marty Karow-led Buckeyes?
This is the fourth season Greg Beals is at the helm of the Buckeye ship. There has been time for Beals to shape the program to his desire, impart his vision to the Buckeyes, and recruit the players he wants. Of the 35 members in the program, all but three, seniors Greg Greve and Tim Wetzel, and redshirt-junior Josh Dezse, decided to join an Ohio State program led by Beals. The players have been recruited, developed, and instructed by Beals and his staff. With the book completely closed on the Bob Todd era, this is his program and this is the team that will reflect why the Ohio State administration selected him to be the program's 11th head coach on June 17, 2010.
This is the 131st season of Ohio State baseball. Doing the math, there have been something like a thousand players to suit up for the Buckeyes, give or take a few. Of those thousand, no player has done what Dan DeLucia has: serve as a captain for three seasons. From 2006-2008 the left-handed pitcher did just that. Having his 2007 season prematurely end with Tommy John surgery, DeLucia completed his career in Columbus with 317.1 innings pitched, the fifth-most all time. DeLucia returned to the OSU dugout this season as a volunteer assistant. Between toeing the rubber more often than all but a handful of pitchers and being the only three-time captain, there cannot possibly be a person in the world of baseball that bleeds scarlet and gray more than DeLucia. It goes without saying, DeLucia provides unrivaled leadership (um hello, three-time captain here) and is the perfect addition to the staff.
Sabermetrics Say What
If you read our position-by-position season preview, you would know that outfielder Tim Wetzel was due for a rebound year, because math. Wetzel, a captain in his own right, is batting .333 with three doubles to slug .476 while posting a .417 on-base percentage. We're not sure if sabermetrics are cool or not in college baseball. Without a collegiate version of Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera, there is uncertainty in knowing if there is a war on WAR and who's table to sit at during lunch. But we know that if you're hip to the advance stats, know the difference between BABIP and Babe the pig, you can tell your friends you knew Wetzel would rebound and be a key cog in a rejuvenated offense.
Game. Inning. Away.
On May 17, 2013, Ohio State sat one inning away from a Big Ten championship. Leading Indiana 2-0, going into the bottom of the ninth, closing the game out would have given Ohio State a 16-7 Big Ten record, good enough for at least a share of the Big Ten title. The Hoosiers went on to score two in the ninth and five in the tenth, beating Ohio State before closing the weekend series with a 8-1 romp, and finishing two games in front of the second place Buckeyes. The Buckeyes watched Indiana dogpile on their turf, celebrating their conference title. If I can be real for a second, Nick Swisher did not drop $500k for Indiana to dogpile on the turf that bestows his name. The scene undoubtedly was remembered by the Buckeyes. Like that one time where you didn't read the expiration date of seven-week old milk, sucking in lumpy milk before the first bacterial-gelled-together piece of 2% hits the back of your throat forcing you to vomit and endure a moment you will never ever forget, that's basically what Ohio State experienced watching Indiana dance on their field. I mean, yeah, Indiana did go on to the College World Series, but this is the Hoosiers, not Michigan or Minnesota. It was Indiana's first Big Ten title since Harry Truman was in office. Embarrassing. Never again. It hurts. Revenge tour 2014.
The last time an Urban Meyer-led football lost in its conference championship game was 2009, when the Florida Gators fell to Alabama 32-12 in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. That same academic year, the Gators of the diamond won the SEC and advanced to the College World Series. Look, when Urban wins, everyone wins. Do you think Urban wants to be affiliated with a university that can't provide a high-level club in the sport that is America's pastime? Absolutely not. Urban is probably meeting with Beals weekly to tell him, "Omaha or get the Hell out." Nothing sells football recruits like seeing a their university do work in Omaha. How else would you explain Indiana suddenly getting visits from four-star linebackers?
Gordon Gee's Departure
Ok, I get it, everyone loves Mr. Bowtie. Sorry if I was thrilled to see him leave.
Gee left Ohio State to become the president at Brown in 1998. In 1999 Ohio State not only made the NCAA Tournament, they hosted a Regional. They then captured the Regional and hosted a Super Regional, falling one game shy of a College World Series appearance.
Clearly, we're better without Gee from a baseball perspective, though we were probably still better than with Karen Holbrook. Drunken orgies aside, baseball did go through a dark age: NOT ONE BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP with her as president. Ok, a lot better.
Baseball is, and always will be, about scoring more runs than your opponent. The philosophy under Beals has been to recruit athletes. Athletes that can run and field, throw and swing. For the first time since he took over the program, there is a mix in the composition of the Ohio State roster where one can find a blend of speed and power and pitchers with premium velocity that are good athletes and can pitch with command. Ohio State figures to have the ability to win the 1-0 ball game, to win close and in extra innings and manufacture runs, but also to let some big bats fly and put crooked numbers on the scoreboard.
With 11.7 scholarships to disperse to a roster of 35, there is not an overnight fix in college baseball. It does take time for a coach to establish his way, to find players that are to his liking, and put them in positions to succeed. If the Buckeyes do indeed go on to have a season worth remembering, it will be fun to add a new story to the program's success. In the end, though, it comes down to it being the right time for a team at Ohio State to play baseball at a high level.