There have been countless radio and television interviews, a hero’s welcome on campus and they were even a trending topic on Twitter. Nathan received so many media requests about his alma mater, the Rangers set up a conference call so he could talk about the team that plays in a facility named after him.
“Anytime you get a chance to be on nationwide coverage and get your face out there, your game out there, I think players and top recruits are going to see that you don’t have to go to the South and to the West to play at top schools,” Nathan said. “You can play in the Northeast, you can get on a squad that has good facilities now, and are continuing to improve the sights and everything around campus.”
They’re a scrappy bunch with a roster loaded with talent. They had seven players drafted last week, led by speedy center fielder Travis Jankowski, a supplemental first-round pick of San Diego who is hitting .422 with five home runs, 46 RBIs and 36 stolen bases.
He’s followed in the lineup by catcher Pat Cantwell (.296, 1, 32), third baseman Willie Carmona (.399, 12, 72) and second baseman Maxx Tissenbaum (.389, 3, 51) _ a top four that had LSU’s Mason Katz declare that they’re “an SEC-caliber team.”
Johnson (12-1, 1.94) is the school’s career victories leader and heads a staff that includes Brandon McNitt (8-3, 2.50), Evan Stecko-Haley (7-3, 3.47) and Frankie Vanderka (3-3, 2.37, five saves).
“People can say we’re a Cinderella team or whatever they want,” Johnson said. “We like having the underdog story. We don’t mind that. The only thing that might make us the Cinderella story is that we definitely don’t make as much money as the big-time schools and don’t bring in as much cash flow and fans. It’s a little more of a grind for us, but we’re used to it and we feel we can compete with all the best teams in the country.”
Stony Brook will head to Omaha as the likely fan favorite in the college baseball-loving town, so expect plenty of red in the stands when the Seawolves open Friday against UCLA (47-14).
“It’s one thing to be an underdog and another to be an underdog that no one has ever heard of before,” said Matt Shick, co-host of “The Schick & Nick Show” on Omaha’s 1620 The Zone. “When you think of the College World Series, you think of the LSUs and the Texases. If you ask fans around here about Stony Brook, they think that’s the name of an apartment complex in west Omaha. You know that these people are going to embrace this feel-good story.”
Stony Brook’s alumni association says there are nearly 100 alumni living in Omaha. Pat Lawlor, owner of Lawlor’s Custom Sportswear _ one of Omaha’s biggest sports outfitters _ plans to print up 200-300 Stony Brook baseball T-shirts with the team’s “Shock the World” rally cry on the back.
“If they get past that first weekend to where they’re one of the final four teams going forward, then watch out,” Lawlor said. “This town will be crazy.”
After playing in front of tens of thousands of fans rooting against them the past few weeks, the Seawolves look forward to cheers from 20,000-plus in Omaha. After all, Stony Brook drew a total of about 5,800 fans at home _ all season.
“I have no idea what it feels like to have that many people cheering for you when you strike people out and stuff like that,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we will in a few days. It’s going to be amazing.”
AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawkins in Arlington, Texas, and Eric Olson in Omaha, Neb., contributed to this report.