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Mosbacher Minute: The long road ahead

Jack Mosbacher was a member of the Stanford baseball team from 2008-2011. Each week, he takes a look at the Cardinal’s ups and downs on its road to the College World Series.

This is was what I was afraid of all along.

The good news is that the Stanford Cardinal easily won its regional and punched its ticket to the Super Regionals, just one step short of the coveted College World Series in Omaha, Neb. The bad news is that the Cardinal now has to travel to Tallahassee and face a Florida State team that spent the majority of the 2012 season as the country’s top-ranked team.

Those who have followed my writing this season may have grown weary of my constant talk of the importance of obtaining one of the top eight “national seeds” for the postseason tournament and, in doing so, securing the right to host a Super Regional. This weekend, my friends, is my case in point. Super Regionals are always tough — the last 16 teams alive in the tournament each year are always talented and capable of beating one another — but winning on the road is an even more daunting task.

The Stanford baseball team swept through the regionals this past weekend, but the road to Omaha takes a tough turn through Tallahassee, Fla. and the Florida State Seminoles this weekend. (ALISA ROYER/The Stanford Daily)

First and foremost, Florida State can flat-out play. This year’s team won the regular season Atlantic Coast Conference title before getting knocked out early in the conference’s postseason tournament. The Seminoles spent a large portion of the season as the nation’s top-ranked team, their regular season performance highlighted by sweeps of eventual ACC postseason champions Georgia Tech and future regional hosts Miami and Virginia. Though the Seminoles are a young team, they had three players selected in the top seven rounds of this week’s Major League Baseball Draft. Simply put, they’re loaded.

On top of their on-field talent, the Seminoles boast one of the country’s great home-field advantages. Not only do Florida State games attract almost 5,000 fans a night (compared to roughly 1,500 on the Farm), but their fans are also among the most knowledgeable and intense in the game. To put it lightly, a game at Dick Howser Stadium is a different experience entirely than one at idyllic Sunken Diamond. When it steps onto the field, the Cardinal is going to feel much further away from home than the 2,500 miles that already separate Palo Alto and Tallahassee.

The heritage of Florida State’s fans is best exemplified by their most famous tradition. The actual origin of this tradition is still hotly contested — even among Seminole fans themselves — so I’ll just tell it the way I first heard it.

Sometime in the 1980s a team came to Tallahassee with a roster including a pitcher from Canada, and the Seminole fans had done their research. When this pitcher was called into the game in the fifth inning, the entire crowd serenaded him with a hearty a cappella rendition of Canada’s national anthem, “O Canada,” repeating the song several times as he tossed his warm-up pitches. The Seminole offense subsequently put together a huge rally against the poor Canuck and won the game. In every contest at Dick Howser Stadium since that day, the Seminole fans have risen from their seats in the fifth inning and sung “O Canada.” Made of equal parts humor and intimidation, this tradition perfectly personifies the lion’s den into which the Cardinal will descend this weekend.

This is what I was afraid of when Stanford was swept by Arizona and lost a pair of crucial series to Oregon and Oregon State. This is why it was so important for Stanford to secure home-field advantage for the entire playoffs. For the first time this year, and for the most important series of the year, Stanford has to play as an underdog.

And this has all of the makings of one heck of a story.

Before the season started, everyone knew that the 2012 Stanford Cardinal was among the most talented teams in school history and among the deepest in the country. In the first few series of the year, the team displayed its prodigious potential, swatting away powerhouse programs like flies and ascending to the top ranking in the land.

Then, the Cardinal struggled. It lost one series, and then another. Key players fell to season-ending injuries. The country’s most potent offense fell silent. Darkness had descended. All seemed lost.

But it battled back. Stanford showed remarkable resilience, climbing into contention for the Pac-12 title before a disappointing series loss to Cal in the season finale.

Today, as the Cardinal boards a plane for Tallahassee, the players know that they’ll need to play the best baseball of their lives if they hope to pass through the last gauntlet between here and Omaha. They’ll have to ignore the deafening cheers and angry insults of college baseball’s toughest fans (and struggle through what’s guaranteed to be biased home field umpiring). They’ll have to play hungry, relentless, fearless baseball.

In short, the odds are stacked against the Card. But the stage is set for what could turn out to be the dramatic, penultimate chapter of the greatest story of their lives.

I, for one, can’t wait to watch.

About Jack Mosbacher