Another deep breath in.
Forgive me. I'm trying to calm down. I was doing rather well until I came across CSTV's Doug Kroll's fall Top 25. Kroll does admirable work and I figured this off-season list would give me an idea where the national media perceived Michigan stood a few months removed from a Super Regional appearance.
I started to look for where Kroll had Michigan ranked. I zipped past the top five. Then, the top ten. Fifteen came and went and still no sight of a team that beat number one overall seed Vanderbilt to capture a regional title.
The top twenty disappeared before I finally stumbled upon Rich Maloney's troops at number twenty-two. Twenty-two? Twenty-freakin'-two?!?!?!? A team that returns nearly all of its players from a regular season conference title, a regional tournament crown and a super regional appearance can't get a ranking above twenty-two?
Now, this alone might have me cranky. However, the topper for me was Kroll's summary of the Wolverines:
22. Michigan (42-19, Lost In Corvallis Super Regional)
Winning the Big Ten is always the goal for the Wolverines, so knocking off No. 1 seeded Vanderbilt in the Regionals last season was icing on the cake. Two-way star Zach Putnam is back for his junior season to lead Big Blue.
Breath, Brian, breath.
Yes, winning the conference is a goal for Michigan. It's also a goal for Ohio State, Minnesota, Illinois, Penn State and the other five teams in the Big Ten. Of course, I'm thinking that winning their conference crown is also a goal for Texas, Louisiana State, Stanford, USC, North Carolina, Oregon State and any other elite baseball program in the land.
Suggesting that Michigan or any other Big Ten program only has eyes on a conference title sounds more like football talk from the Seventies than current baseball thinking around the Big Ten. (The conference office notwithstanding.) This just in: This ain't football, Bo and Woody aren't coaching anymore and the Seventies are thirty years in the rear view mirror.
I'm not sure how many times I've heard Coach Maloney speak, but he rarely goes on for very long without mentioning Omaha. The college baseball media may believe it's folly, but the goal for Michigan is to play in the College World Series. That's not just the prevailing thought in Ann Arbor, either.
Does anyone think that Ohio State and Penn State have spent all that money building state-of-the-art ballparks just to host a Big Ten conference tournament? I've talked to people at both programs and they can't wait for the chance to host a regional. (In the Buckeyes case, another regional.) Does that sound like anybody's ultimate goal is the conference crown?
What of the other programs? Well, let's see, Michigan State, Purdue and Indiana are either renovating, building new or have plans to build new parks. Illinois is currently remodeling and hoping to lure a Frontier League team to partner with them, so they can upgrade even more. Minnesota, a program with plenty of CWS history, recently announced the outline for a new Siebert Field, as well. This increased financial commitment to facilities speaks to a goal that exceeds just a Big Ten banner.
It's not only shortsighted to believe that Big Ten programs have smaller goals than the schools in college baseball's power conferences, but it was unfair to the Michigan players and coaches to dismiss their regional victories over Vanderbilt as "icing on the cake". One would have hoped that Michigan would have garnered some respect after dispelling all the media's preconceived notions prior to the Nashville Regional.
By placing a veteran Michigan team so low in the Top 25, it only affirms that most of the college baseball media still view the Wolverines regional triumph as little more than a fluke. Never mind those regular season wins over programs like Mississippi State and Oklahoma. Forget the one-hit, one-run loss in the Super Regional opener at Corvallis against defending national champion Oregon State. (As if anyone played OSU better, let alone in their building.) No, that Nashville performance had to be luck.
I'm probably more upset about this than normal because Kroll is usually more balanced in his assessment about northern programs than most of his media brethren. (Sans fellow CSTVer Eric Sorenson, of course.) To see his general underwhelming preview makes me pessimistic about what the rest of the college baseball media is going to say about the Big Ten and Michigan heading into 2008.