UCF baseball team continues upward trend, making pitch as ‘Orlando’s team’
Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 17:04
Terry Rooney and Co. are making a statement.
It’s been a long year of UCF Athletics, the school year is nearing an end and the die-hard, pom-pom waving UCF fan base is slowly checking out. They’ve been through a lot this year and, hey, they’re tired.
But the resident top-15 baseball program in the nation is refusing to be ignored.
I said it in a recent column and I’ll say it again: UCF is a national-championship contender in two sports right now, at this very moment. The women’s track & field team is No. 12 in the country with arguably the fastest woman on the planet, at least so far this year, in freshman Octavious Freeman (Freeman’s 11.10 in the 100 meters is the fastest time by a woman, professional or amateur, this year).
And then there’s baseball, the red-headed stepchild of college sports’ big three. UCF made a statement earlier this week when it was voted No. 10 in the nation in the latest National College Baseball Writers Association poll, released Monday.
Say what you want about where the poll ranks in comparison to other polls and if it matters as much, but a group of people whose job it is to follow college baseball have decided the Knights are worthy of a top-10 ranking.
I can only imagine what Bright House Networks Stadium or the UCF Arena would look like if either football or men’s basketball ascended to No. 10 in any poll. I know, however, what the Berg looks like when it is home to a top-10 team. It looks like around 1,400 fans to watch the Knights throttle a pretty good FAU team that currently is atop the Sun Belt Conference, 12-3.
It’s not a bad turnout. It’s good, even. But it’s not great. And it’s not appropriate, not when you consider the MLB talent on the Knights’ roster (see D.J. Hicks and Ronnie Richardson).
The problem is, as mentioned earlier, the fan base, specifically students, is checking out. Hey, finals are coming up, after all. And then there’s this notion that baseball is a very distant third to football and basketball on the college landscape.
Not so fast, says Rooney.
“I want people to understand that in the bigger scheme of college baseball. … College baseball is a revenue-producing sport,” Rooney said. “Baseball is a revenue-producing sport. … Some of these teams in the SEC are getting 9,000-10,000 fans a game. That’s not paid – that’s actual [attendance].”
College baseball is always going to be third, but in some places it’s still big business. UCF should be one of those places.
Rooney, who says he has been pleased by the fan support so far this season, said it at the beginning of the season: UCF should be Orlando’s baseball team.
The Knights have no competition.
There’s not a major or minor league club within an hour of Orlando. There is, however, a top-level college baseball team.
Rooney’s vision is slowly coming along. The Berg took the first step in upgrading from a high-level high school stadium to a big-time Division I stadium when it added an upper deck along the first-base line. A good start, but it’ll look even better when those artist renderings of the finished product come to fruition.
The program deserves it.
It’s been a long year. Football was frustrating for UCF fans, what with all those close losses. Basketball was maddeningly inconsistent, beating UConn one day, losing to Rice another. But don’t check out, not just yet.
Rooney’s program refuses to be ignored. The Knights look as though they’re going to keep winning until people take notice.
“I hope people understand that this baseball team can compete with anybody in the country,” Rooney said. “We’ve got a long way to go, but so far, I mean, these guys have put themselves in position to do it [reach the College World Series].
“The more people that know it, the better.”