MORGANTOWN - Late this afternoon, at what is certainly one of the few perfectly-manicured patches of land still remaining in the Oklahoma City, Okla. area, West Virginia's baseball team will get back to the business at hand.The Mountaineers will continue their rather storybook season. A team that was unanimously picked to finish dead last in the Big 12 in its inaugural season begins play in the conference tournament at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark as the No. 3 seed.It does so with the best pitcher in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country, Harrison Musgrave. It is led by a coach, Randy Mazey, who almost unfathomably was not selected as the Big 12 coach of the year, but has turned in one of the best coaching jobs in the country.An NCAA tournament invitation is on the line, which would be WVU's first in 17 years. Hopes are not only high, but realistic. The Mountaineers' first game today, at 5 p.m. against Kansas, will be televised live by Root Sports Pittsburgh.
It's all pretty heady stuff, really. Consider this: A team that was seldom very good in a league that wasn't very good, the Big East, has become one of the best teams in one of the best leagues in the country, the Big 12.And yet despite all of that, baseball has become almost secondary this week to the West Virginia baseball team.Tournament? What tournament?"I think 20 years from now, when they look back on their college baseball careers and to the tournament they played out in Oklahoma City, I doubt they're going to remember the games at all,'' Mazey said. "They're going to remember what they did for these families and the impact that we've had on people's lives.''Indeed, if there is anything more remarkable than what these Mountaineers have accomplished as a baseball team this year - they go into this week's Big 12 tournament with a 31-25 record and seeded behind only Kansas State and Oklahoma State - it is what they have accomplished this week.
Situated in Oklahoma City only by chance - the Mountaineers finished a series in Stillwater on Saturday and, instead of returning home, they went straight to the tournament site - WVU was the only visiting team in the area on Sunday and Monday when a series of tornadoes swept through. Most of the players had never experienced anything like it."We were sitting at the hotel at lunch watching it on TV,'' Mazey said. "And then you look out the window and see the same thing.''This wasn't about what the Mountaineers were going through, though. As quickly as the shock of what was happening around them passed, the players and coaches switched into help mode.By now, you know the stories of how they asked if they could go to the hardest-hit areas outside Oklahoma City and help, but were turned away; and of their trip to Wal-Mart to load up on supplies for victims. They have been the toast of OKC media for what they've done. On Wednesday afternoon they were featured on a news segment on CNN.Truth be told, what the team did was merely a drop in the bucket of what will need to be done. Mazey was even actually kicking himself for not gathering his team and jumping into action sooner."In retrospect, I wish we would have gotten more organized to be ready to help as soon as the storm came through here," he said. "We tried to get the guys loaded up on the bus and get them down there when it was really chaotic and they were still searching for people. You never know what kind of devastation you are facing until it actually happens."
The bottom line, though, is that Mazey and his team did some remarkable things this week and none of them had anything to do with baseball.And that might go down as the most memorable thing about this team, which has already done some pretty memorable things on the field.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1