By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
This past week West Virginia opened its final season of baseball in the Big East and won three of four games against Big Ten competition, a strong run, indeed, but one that ended with a rather thorough thumping by Michigan at 14-3.
That game should set off sirens within the WVU athletic department, for it should display just how far the Mountaineers are from being a premier program.
Michigan, you see, over the years has sent a steady flow of players to the major leagues, a couple of them like George Sisler, Charlie Gehringer and Barry Larkin of Hall of Fame quality, while others like Bill Freehan, Hal Morris and Jim Abbott were All-Stars in their own right.
The point is that when West Virginia moves into the Big 12 it is going to run into a number of schools that play the game at a level unknown at WVU, the conference long having been known for its quality baseball.
Schools such as Texas, which has sent the likes of Burt Hooten, Spike Owen, Calvin Schiraldi and Greg Swindell to the big leagues, to say nothing of a right-handed pitcher named Clemens, has been the standard within the conference, but most of the schools have given major leaguers their first step along the way.
Oklahoma, for example, sent some familiar names into the show such as Lindy McDanile, Don Schwall, Carl Morton, Mickey Hatcher and John Russell, who is known in these parts for his dreadful run as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The jokes are already making the rounds about the Mountaineers’ baseball home, Hawley Field, and what the reaction will be when Texas rolls into town being used to playing in its Disch-Falk Field, renovated for $27 million three years ago.
Complete with lights, a state-of-the-art sound system and a video screen, 19 suites and ... well, just let it be known that Hawley Field doesn’t even have locker rooms.
Oliver Luck, the WVU athletic director, is well aware that the next major project, now that there is a $25 million basketball practice facility, must be an upgrade to that facility ... and there is much more ahead, including the Natatorium and the track.
In truth, while WVU stacks up well in the Big 12 with its football, basketball and soccer facilities and programs, and has a modern wrestling and gymnastics facility, too, it still has a lot of work to do to bring it to an acceptable level in the Big 12.
And then there is the matter of adding another sport, something the Big 12 requires of WVU, and that may be the most interesting decision that Oliver Luck will make short of conference affiliation.
He has stated that the sport will most likely come from golf, men’s tennis or men’s track and field.
Luck has indicated that it will most likely be golf, in part because he sees it as being important in this region, West Virginia being something of a
golfing haven known for The Greenbrier Resort and its affiliation with Slammin’ Sammy Snead.
If one might be so bold as to disagree with Luck, who is riding something of a hot streak with the success of the football team under first-year coach Dana Holgorsen and his ability to bully his way out of the Big East, he would suggest that the ghosts of WVU past scream out for a return of men’s track and field.
To begin with, there is already a facility on grounds, one that could use some major upgrading, but which is serviceable.
More important, they possess one of the nation’s best kept secrets in women’s coach Sean Cleary, who has built the women’s team into a power and has turned out a couple of national champions, especially in the distance events.
Cleary would cherish the opportunity to take hold of a coed program that included men’s track, a sport that has a strong history at the school.
A major part of that history is Mike Mosser, an All-American miler from the early 1970s who was so upset over the 2003 decision to drop men’s track and field that he resigned as president of the school’s Varsity Club.
The decision to drop men’s track came at a time when it was just gaining national prominence. In fact, just one month after announcing it was canning the sport the Mountaineers won their first ever IC4A championship, a major regional meet, but it offered little solace to the athletes who were sent scurrying off looking for track programs.
Let us just hope that the decision to add a sport is not looked upon as only an inconvenience to fill the conference obligation but done with a purpose and a pocketbook that will finance it so that it can be competitive in a conference where either golf or track is carried on at a high level.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.