I seldom have many opportunities this time of year to sit down and watch college baseball on television, especially in the early evening. Last night, I watched a couple of innings of the Ole Miss at Vandy game on ESPNU. The portion of the game I saw was a pretty good game, but what really caught my eye was the right hand portion of the screen; the part that was listing projections for the field of 64 NCAA College Baseball Tournament which starts in less than two weeks. The SEC and ACC were both projected to have eight teams selected to play, while surprisingly, the Big Ten had just two. As the pages changed, and the projection for the Southern Conference came up, I did a double-take. What…..? The SoCon has three teams projected to be among the field of 64? When the list came around a second time, I was sure of it. The grand, old SoCon, the league that started it all for teams now in the Southeastern Conference would likely get three teams in the tournament this spring.
How about that! Appalachian State, Elon, and The College of Charleston should all get in the 2012 tournament. Southern Conference baseball does something that basketball has never done before; get more teams in the post season than just the one automatic qualifier. My feeling of true excitement went away quickly when I realized that UTC doesn’t have a baseball team. In fact, the Mocs haven’t fielded a baseball team since 1980.
People have pushed and pulled, twisted arms and tried desperately to bring college baseball back to the school, but the powers that be have been solidly set in their ways for more than thirty years now. Baseball was dropped at UTC just one year after Title IX was passed in congress, leveling the playing field for male and female athletes. A few years later, the Lady Mocs ultra successful softball program was formed, but even in a city and area loaded with top baseball talent, UTC failed to yield to pressure. They say they simply do not have the money or financial backing.
A rumor from the early to mid 1990s was that a wealthy carpet icon in north Georgia, who shall remain unnamed, was willing to give the school a million dollars to start baseball back, with the only stipulation being the Mocs had to hire his son as head coach. That too was a no-brainer as his son was already a successful head coach in the Southern Conference. UTC failed to react in a timely manor, so the man tossed his money to another school in the league, who happily named the son the head baseball coach.
The first Southern Conference Baseball Tournament was held in 1950, and the event now held in Charleston, South Carolina each May is one of the very best. A SoCon team has even been to the NCAA College World Series, as The Citadel, led by the late Coach Chal Port advanced to Omaha in 1990. The tradition of Southern Conference is very much alive and well.
When the Mocs dropped baseball in 1980, Bob Brotherton was the head coach and Marvin “Stump” Martin was his assistant. Both men remained bitter for a long time after the decision was made, but both men are still 100% behind bringing baseball back. One other reason recently given as to why UTC doesn’t have a baseball team is, “We don’t really have a place to play.” With the movie, “42” being filmed at historic Engel Stadium this spring, and the movie company doing millions of dollars in improvements, the Mocs would now have a beautiful home for baseball.
The timing is as right as it will ever be. Someone please step up and help bring college baseball back to our city. Like the league we play in, it could be a pretty big deal.
Contact Randy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 42 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer, author and is also a media concepts teacher at Red Bank High School in Chattanooga. He is currently teaching an "Intro To Sportscasting" class at Red Bank, the only class of its type in Tennessee. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 10 years. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry Davey and Alison Smith). They also have one grandchild (Coleman).