The last thing an athletic program like West Virginia University’s ever wants is to own an unhappy section of its fan base. The reason for that grumbling, though, has to make WVU very, very happy.
There isn’t an all-session ticket to be found for this weekend’s NCAA baseball Morgantown Regional. Anyone looking for a single-game ticket has to hope one of the participating teams has some leftovers to return. Chances are those tickets will get snatched up as quickly as the other ones were.
That proves something: Mountaineer fans have been waiting for this day for a long time.
So has WVU coach Randy Mazey, and he always knew that, one day, it would come.
“I have been saying it for years that this day was coming in our program,” he said Thursday. “I don’t know if anyone outside myself, my coaching staff and the players believed it, but it’s here.”
Fans couldn’t really be blamed in the past if they were skeptical. West Virginia hadn’t hosted NCAA postseason baseball games since 1955 and never in the current regional format. Before the Mountaineers qualified for the 2017 Winston-Salem Regional, they hadn’t seen the NCAA postseason since 1996.
A 21-year drought would make just about anyone doubtful. And it’s not like WVU hasn’t had great players in that span. Chris Enochs was the 11th overall pick in the 1997 Major League Baseball draft. Steve Kline spent 11 years in the majors. Jedd Gyorko, Dustin Nippert and David Carpenter all had substantial major league careers.
It’s just that the team as a whole hadn’t coalesced into one ready for the postseason. It became one in 2017. It became regional hosting material this year.
What of the future? WVU obviously doesn’t want this weekend’s slice of history to be an aberration. It wants this weekend to be the start of a trend, for Morgantown in May to become an NCAA postseason tradition like Tallahassee, Florida, Fayettteville, Arkansas, and Corvallis, Oregon, have been.
The demand for tickets at Monongalia County Ballpark is a very promising sign. Mountaineer fans have hungered for this opportunity and they’re devouring every chance they have of experiencing it.
If they want the fun to continue in the coming years, here’s a suggestion: be as hungry for a seat at next season’s home opener as you are for one at Friday’s regional opener.
Being excited for the postseason is good. Maintaining that energy in future seasons will send a clear message to the WVU brass that fans are in for the long haul, which means that WVU should be into baseball for the long haul.
They’ve already shown plenty of commitment with building the Mountaineers’ current home park. It’s a definite upgrade from the ... shall we call it “quaint” or perhaps “rustic?” ... Hawley Field. But, as it has been said in the past, there’s no such thing as standing pat. You either move forward or, in standing still, watch everyone else sprint past you. There will be a need to evolve in the coming years. If WVU sees an even greater devotion from its fans to its baseball program, spending the money to evolve will be less of a debate and more of a formality.
This new plateau for WVU baseball is undoubtedly special. But it needs to just be a plateau rather than an apex.
“This doesn’t happen every day in Morgantown,” Mazey said. “The excitement that has been building in this program for the last five or six years has started to come to a head, and I am super excited to see the crowd that we are going to have [Friday] night supporting these guys.”
The size and fervor of that crowd will not be in doubt. But if WVU fans want more chances to soak in this type of atmosphere, it shouldn’t take an NCAA Regional to get that big and that loud in the future.