Maryland has a new baseball coach – Vanderbilt assistant Erik Bakich – and as a result a program that typically can only flirt with relevance warrants an extensive mention.
That’s not meant to be mean to the Terrapins. It’s just, well, the truth. Sure, Justin Maxwell and Brett Cecil have come through in recent years. But Maryland baseball isn’t exactly a big to-do.
Pointing fingers as to why the Terrapins can’t make the ACC tournament (four years running) and their conference neighbors less than three hours to the south can reach Omaha isn’t what this entry is about.
Rather, the question is whether Bakich (or anyone else for that matter) has a realistic chance to succeed in College Park.
A friend of mine actually requested back in February a list of the longest NCAA baseball tournament droughts among power conference schools. So, assuming my research was correct then and adjusting for the teams that made the tournament this year, here’s where Maryland stacks up on this list:
Michigan State: 1979
West Virginia: 1996
It should be noted Oregon suspended its program in 1981 before reinstating it in this spring. Also, six schools (Colorado, DePaul, Iowa State, Marquette, Syracuse, Wisconsin) don’t field baseball teams.
So, of the large state schools in the power conferences that have continuously fielded baseball teams, Maryland has the longest drought.
(For those who would hurl accusations of not looking for the sunny side, Maryland’s drought isn’t the longest inside the Beltway).
Anyway, back on topic: Hiring a recruiting dynamo like Bakich certainly adds an element of hope to a program that really hasn’t possessed for some time.
The last few years, the Terps had at least become a team that could be counted on to win the bulk of their nonconference games. That was a demonstrable upgrade, believe it or not, but it’s not like Maryland was competing to play beyond May.
And then there’s this encouraging nugget: Vanderbilt reached three NCAA tournaments in in its history before Bakich (and head coach Tim Corbin) arrived in 2003. The Commodores have five NCAA berths in the seven years since.
Still, inertia is a powerful thing. Maryland has struggled for so long, and while Shipley Field occupies a coveted piece of campus real estate, it isn’t on par with most of the quality programs in the ACC.
Those are serious issues to be overcome. Bakich certainly seems as qualified as someone could be to give it a try.
And if he actually achieves relevance for the Terps, he’ll be worth every bit of the buzz his arrival has generated on a slow June afternoon.