The calendar has flipped to June, meaning the world of college sports is nearing its annual hibernation period. Almost every college sport has ended because most college school years have ended, so the athletics schedule is a little sparse.
But it’s coming up on finals season, which means you need something to distract you from studying, your last-second search for a summer internship or, if you’re like me, your impending graduation and the jobless, directionless, nebulous blob known as the rest of your life.
Fear not! The sports world (and the NCAA selection committee) has given us all another gift: Stanford is hosting a regional in the NCAA baseball tournament this weekend. The Cardinal will compete in a four-team, double-elimination bracket, and the winner will go on to the Super Regionals. From there, a best-of-three series will determine the eight participants in the College World Series.
In short, Stanford is beginning a tournament to decide the national champion, and in sports, there is nothing better than a tournament. Basketball’s tournament captures the nation’s attention for a whole month, while football’s lack of a tournament has created such an uproar that even Congress has gotten involved.
But for many, it doesn’t get better than the road to Omaha. In baseball, no game is a gimme, and all four teams have a legitimate shot at advancing from a regional. Take the 2008 Fresno State team. The Bulldogs barely got into the 64-team tournament by winning the WAC tournament, and as a No. 4 seed in their regional, they had the equivalent chance of a No. 13 or 14 seed in basketball. Yet they beat the odds, becoming the lowest seed ever to make the College World Series and then continuing their magical journey all the way to winning the national championship, the first title in any men’s sport in the school’s history.
This is particularly relevant this year given the fact that Fresno State is once again a No. 4 seed and, as chance would have it, the Bulldogs are starting the tournament against none other than Stanford. To make matters worse, Fresno State is the only team that managed to defeat Stanford’s Friday starter Mark Appel. So naturally, Appel and Fresno State are set to face off once more tonight.
Getting to watch Stanford in a tournament like this is a treat, but being able to head over to the ballpark and see it live is another thing entirely. For the first time in four years, the Cardinal gets to play its regional right here on the Farm, which means that the team will get a home-field advantage, but also that we as fans get a rare opportunity to watch the tournament in person.
It is commonly said that baseball is the best sport to watch in person, and Sunken Diamond is as scenic a spot for a game as you could ask for. They say every time you go to a game, you could see something you’ve never seen before, and Stanford has helped support that statement of late. A week ago, the Cardinal played the longest game in school history (18 innings and about six hours), including the first time in my life I’ve ever seen a walk-off win overturned after an argument with the umpires. What will happen this weekend?
Finally, if you’re really looking for a reason to head on over to Sunken Diamond this weekend, here’s the simplest one: There will be some really good baseball. Stanford has as talented a team as any in the country, and at least two Cardinal players will likely be first-round draft picks in the majors. Appel and Stephen Piscotty, Stanford’s two All-Pac-12 selections, are expected to go in the first round this Monday when the 2012 draft begins, and there is a ton of talent behind them on both sides of the ball. The Cardinal has been up and down this year, but Stanford is solidly in the hunt for the national championship with a good shot to beat any team it faces.
The road to Omaha begins tonight, and I hope to see you there.
Jacob Jaffe hopes that Stanford baseball will give him a good excuse to road trip to Omaha. Let him know what you think at jwjaffe“at”stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @Jacob_Jaffe.