It’s the last new beginning for Tulane this year.
After months of introducing each Green Wave program to the American Athletic Conference, Tulane’s baseball team will be the last to begin its journey into its new home. The first pitch against Connecticut at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Turchin Stadium will officially welcome Tulane’s baseball program into conference play.
It’s the first of 24 league games this season — and in many ways, the Huskies (15-8) are a fitting team to welcome the Green Wave (17-8) into the league. The two programs have never met on a baseball diamond, and they represent two very different histories — UConn with the Big East, Tulane with Conference USA.
But now they will co-exist in the American, and it’s another step into a new era of Green Wave baseball.
The league isn’t entirely different from the Green Wave’s past. Seven of the eight teams have previously shared a conference with Tulane, including four that were in C-USA within the past two years (Houston, Memphis, Central Florida and East Carolina).
Seven of the eight teams have compiled winning records in nonconference play, combining on a 124-68-1 record and running up the No. 7 conference RPI in the country.
“We want to make a statement,” senior infielder Garrett Deschamp said. “There’s a lot of quality competition here and we are ready to be in it.”
Still, it’s new ground for the program and one that is still largely uncertain. After playing in a strong, multi-bid baseball league for more than a decade, the new group is still trying to find its identity in its second year of existence.
“Well, first off I have to check the standings to remember who all is in the league,” said Mark Etheridge, who covers the sport for D1Baseball.com. “I can’t remember all the moves and I get paid to do this. For the casual fan, just knowing which ones are conference foes can be an obstacle. But from a baseball standpoint, it should be solid.
“With Houston, UCF, Tulane, and East Carolina, you have some programs who should be consistently in the hunt. I think at least one of the other programs will rotate into contention each year. If you have five solid teams out of eight, then you have the makings of a solid baseball league.”
Tulane coach David Pierce has already expressed his happiness with the league and believes it has the makings of a perennial top-five RPI league considering the available resources, the warm climates and the successful histories at the various schools.
Still, recruiting to a largely unknown quantity has yet to bear out many results.
“I think it’s a little too early to tell at this point whether the league is really going to be a big help in recruiting,” Pierce said. “But I get the sense when I talk to kids, they may not know the name of the league as much as they know the other programs in it. We have good baseball programs and over time it will definitely help, but I don’t know if I could say that is has helped yet.”
What would certainly aid the Green Wave would be a return to its success around the turn of the century, when Tulane was considered a standard-bearer for C-USA, winning five titles in 10 years from 1996-2005. However, the league was overwhelmed in the past decade by Rice, which has won either the regular-season or tournament championship since it entered C-USA in 2006.
Now there’s an opening at the top, and the race to claim that spot begins Friday for the Green Wave. While Pierce admitted no dominant force has been established in the league, he also warned against getting too wrapped up in one season determining Tulane’s future.
“There’s not enough history to say who the top dog (in the American) is right now,” Pierce said. “For us, it’s not about that. It’s just about positioning ourselves and playing well. If we do that, things will fall into place. We can’t think about it like if we win the league this year, we are suddenly some top dog where we’ll start some dominance.
“We are far from that. It’s too early to make a prediction on any of that, but we just want to start off well and play to our abilities and it will all take care of itself from there.”