Since the Michigan baseball team clinched a spot in the College World Series on Sunday with a 4-2 win over UCLA in the deciding game of a Super Regional, it’s been well-documented how rare of a feat it was.
Michigan became only the second Big 10 team since 1984 to advance to the College World Series (Indiana in 2013), and other than Kent State’s improbable trip to Omaha in 2012, no team from the Great Lakes region has made it recently.
So what can casual U-M fans, who don’t usually follow college baseball but have obviously become inspired by what the Wolverines have done and will be all in following U-M now, expect viewing the College World Series?
Here’s a synopsis of what U-M fans should know about Omaha and the College World Series.
Omaha is baseball heaven
Think of combining the traditions of the Lions annual Thanksgiving game with the Tigers home opener each year.
That’s a good way to describe what the College World Series means to Omaha, which has hosted the event since 1950 and will continue to do so until 2035.
Fans pack the stadium each day for games over a 10-day span, and it is to Omaha what the Rose Bowl is to Pasadena every Jan. 1.
The eight teams that make it to Omaha are divided into two, four-team groups, with the winners of those groups meeting in the best-of-three College World Series finals.
The format within group play is double-elimination and teams can go all out with their bullpens to win initially, since there are days off after each of the first two games.
One group will play games on Saturday (two total games), then have Sunday off while the other group plays its games.
The initial group then comes back Monday to play its second games and then has Tuesday off.
Michigan will be in a group with Texas Tech, its opponent in the first game, Florida State and either Ole Miss or Arkansas, both southern powers who have Game 3 of their Super Regional Monday afternoon.
The other group features Vanderbilt, Louisville, Mississippi State and either Auburn or North Carolina.
Winning the first game is almost a must. Winning the first two games is even better.
Michigan fans should place a tremendous amount of importance on the first game with Texas Tech, because a loss would all but cripple the chances of making the championship series right off of the bat.
The loser of that game will have to come out of the loser’s bracket and win four straight games just to make it to the championship series.
Meanwhile, the team in group play that wins the first two games has a decided advantage. The team that goes 2-0 will get two or three days off to get its pitching lined up while the other teams fight for survival out of the loser’s bracket, and then will just have to win one game to advance to the championship series.
Running into the sentimental favorite
Michigan has a chance in its second game to play Florida State, which is the sentimental favorite among die-hard college baseball fans going in. Legendary coach Mike Martin is retiring this year after 40 years at the helm, and despite Florida State being one of college baseball’s winningest programs, it has never won a national championship under Martin despite numerous trips to Omaha.
Michigan can win
Yes, there have only been two Big 10 teams to advance to Omaha since 1984. Yes, a Big 10 team hasn’t won a championship since Ohio State in 1966.
And yes, the field is full of powerhouse programs from the south.
But make no mistake, Michigan can make some noise.
The Wolverines have two starting pitchers, Karl Kauffmann and Tommy Henry, who were drafted in the second round of the Major League Baseball draft.
The lineup is full of power and speed from top to bottom, and the team is playing loose as can be.
Don’t be surprised if Michigan continues to represent itself and up north baseball well in Omaha.
Elephant in the room
If there’s one negative for U-M, it’s that advancing to Omaha might mean plenty of rumors surrounding its head coach, Erik Bakich.
That’s not to say Bakich will leave, and he could very well stay entrenched at Michigan for a long time.
But there are openings at traditionally good programs down south and out west, such as Oregon, Oregon State, USC and Florida State.
Given he led a Big 10 team to Omaha, the fact that he’s young at 41, and he is a proven recruiter who has ties in the south from his days as an assistant at Vanderbilt and Clemson, Bakich could be a hot candidate for other openings.
But until it’s over, Michigan fans should not worry about that and enjoy this memorable ride.