Everyone likes an upset.
College baseball is full of them every year. An upstart program that barely squeezed into baseball’s big dance often runs through regionals and super regionals to arrive at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
It happens nearly every year. Sometimes it’s a No. 4-seeded small conference squad with an overall financial budget that’s half of LSU coach Paul Mainieri’s salary. Sometimes it’s a No. 3-seeded major conference team making its first trip to baseball’s big stage.
It’s always something.
“It doesn’t happen in football, and you don’t see it in basketball as much as baseball,” former LSU pitcher and ESPN analyst Ben McDonald said. “That’s what separates our sport from any other.”
Not this year.
There is no Cinderella at this ball.
The 2017 College World Series features eight “blue bloods” of the sport, as LSU coach Paul Mainieri puts it. It’s a who’s who of college baseball, and it doesn’t include an unknown upstart that begs this question: “Who?”
The postseason success among the eight is striking.
Only seven teams in college baseball have won four or more national titles. Two of them, LSU (six) and Cal State Fullerton (four), are in this field. Those two programs, along with Florida State, rank among the top eight nationally in College World Series appearances.
Add Florida and Texas A&M to those three aforementioned programs, and you’ve got five of the 20 teams in all-time NCAA tournament appearances.
The other three squads aren’t bad, either. They’re just the newest blue bloods.
TCU, Oregon State and Louisville have a combined 14 CWS trips since 2005, and the Beavers won it all in both 2006 and 2007. In fact, all eight of the teams combine for a whopping 50 CWS appearances in the last 20 years — from LSU and Fullerton’s nine to Texas A&M’s three.
“Seems like all the blue bloods are there,” Mainieri said. “With today’s day and age, with the parity, seems like there’s always a Cinderella team or two there. Across the board, everybody that’s there has been a traditional power across college baseball.”
Mainieri knows all about Cinderellas. Two of them punched their tickets to Omaha by winning a super regional in Baton Rouge: Stony Brook in 2012 and eventual national champ Coastal Carolina in 2016.
UC Santa Barbara, like Coastal, made its first trip to the CWS last season. Texas Tech made its first Omaha visit in 2014 and so did TCU in 2010 and Vanderbilt in 2011. Kent State joined Stony Brook in Omaha in 2012. Southern Miss played in its first CWS in 2009.
There’s no first-timer at this year’s CWS. In fact, each of these eight teams has advanced to Omaha at least four times in school history. Five of the eight are national seeds, too, with North Carolina, Texas Tech and Stanford losing in regionals.
“All the teams you expected to be there are there,” said Kendall Rogers, a college baseball reporter for D1baseball.com. “The power names is the theme. Last year, you had UC Santa Barbara. This year, there’s not a weak link. A&M is probably the underdog in this tournament, and you could argue they were the hottest midseason team.”
In the previous eight CWS fields, just one year included so many historic baseball powers while missing a Cinderella: 2015. Virginia won it all that season, beating Vanderbilt in Game 3 of the championship series.
This year’s field might be full of big names, but many of them are amid a lengthy search for their first title. Florida State leads the nation in Omaha trips among teams without a championship: 22. Florida is third in that group at 10. TCU, Louisville and Texas A&M are all chasing their first championship, too.
“You got a lot of teams still searching,” said McDonald, who is providing analysis on day games in Omaha from Saturday through next Wednesday.
McDonald said the amount of college baseball brand names should draw more eyes. He’s expecting this year’s CWS to have one of its better viewerships.
“It’s fun to see the powerhouses. It brings bigger fan bases in,” he said. “That’s one plus. The audience on TV, too. The ratings will be better. You get programs that have history, being really good and going to Omaha. It helps viewership.”
Said Rogers: “There won’t be afternoon sessions with no fans this year.”
BY THE NUMBERS
How the eight CWS teams look statistically.
A POWERHOUSE FIELD
How the eight CWS teams stack up in historic success over the last 20 years. Despite all the CWS appearances and NCAA tournaments, five of them are still chasing a championship.
CWS appearances since 1997
NCAA tournament appearances since 1997
Overall national titles