There were two Cinderellas at last year’s College World Series in Omaha: Kent State from Ohio and Stony Brook from Long Island.
They’re hardly considered traditional college powers, and in fact, it’s rare for two teams from northern climes to get that far.
But neither team performed particularly well. After his team bowed out in the second round, Kent State coach Scott Stricklin talked about the headlines.
“You hear it: ‘Cinderella Sent Home.’ ‘Cinderella Sinking Like a Cinder Block.’ I think that was one that I read. You didn’t write that, did you?” Stricklin asked.
No, this reporter can’t take credit for that one. But here’s one I just came up with: “Cinderella Prepares for a Return to Omaha.”
On a gray, chilly February day in San Diego, the Golden Flashes practiced before a four-game series against the University of San Diego Toreros. Teams from the North play many of their early season games on the road against teams from warmer climates. Kent State’s first 21 games this season were on the road. Before their Feb. 15 season opener in Wilmington, N.C., Stricklin’s team practiced only two times outside back in Ohio.
“One day we probably shouldn’t have been,” he recalled. “After we were outside for about 30 minutes, I was thinking, ‘Why are we out here?’ But it’s tough elements. It’s tough going. We’ve got a FieldTurf field at Kent State, so if it’s bearable and there’s no snow on the field, we’re going to try to get out and at least take some fly balls and ground balls and do some things like that.”
The 1989 Wichita State Shockers baseball program took the school’s first, and so far only, NCAA title. Wichita State, better known for its basketball team that plays in nice, warm arenas, has struggled and may miss the postseason for the fourth straight year. To Gene Stephenson, who’s is in his 36th year as the Shockers head coach, the road to Omaha is more challenging than beating the seven other regional winners there.
“Oh, it’s much harder to get there,” he said. “Much harder and for those people to think otherwise, they’re a little off their rocker. When we were getting to the College World Series on a regular basis, or semi-regular anyway, that we were the only team in a cold environment that was making it there each year.”
Former pitcher Greg Brummett, voted the Most Outstanding Player when the Shockers won the College World Series in 1989, recently watched his son, Garrett, make his first start on the mound as a freshman for the Shockers. As a Kansas native and a current baseball coach in the junior college ranks, Greg Brummett knows baseball isn’t number one in his home state.
“It’s not a year-round sport,” he said. “Kansas is a basketball state. Let’s be honest with you.”
Gene Stephenson would like to change that. And, for a long time, he has advocated for a change in the calendar that places baseball closer to when everyone follows it.
“It’s absolutely ludicrous that we play half of our regular season before basketball, March Madness and the Final Four is over,” Stephenson said. “And no one is thinking baseball, including the major leagues until they start the season. So the only thing that makes sense for baseball to truly be the third major sport in college is to have the season from the first of April through August.”
But so far college administrators haven’t warmed up to that idea.
This season, the Shockers canceled eight games because of snow and postponed five others because of bad weather. Rain, shine, sleet or snow, Wichita State, Kent State, Stony Brook and other arctic college squads will try to write new Cinderella stories, despite the weather.