Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Monday, June 25, 2007

Giving a Michigan Man Some Appreciation

After getting excited over Michigan baseball's post-season run and finally bringing that joy to this blog, I scurried away and hid once the Wolverines lost to Oregon State in the NCAA Super Regionals. (For those of you who have been checking back here regularly, I seem to have gone into hibernation for the summer. That Tigers baseball, she's a demanding mistress.)

But those same Beavers went on to repeat as national champions, after beating North Carolina for the second straight year last night, which I thought was worth noting as a consolation. It doesn't always take the sting away, but losing to the team that eventually won the championship often seems to redeem the loss. (I don't imagine many Red Wings fans were celebrating that Anaheim Ducks Stanley Cup, however.)

Michigan baseball had already moved on, but perhaps somewhat unwillingly, after news broke last week that Coach Rich Maloney was not only being pursued by Tennessee, but had already gone down to Knoxville for an interview. I got the news from Mr. Big Ten Hardball, who called to see if I'd heard anything more. Shortly thereafter, I made a call to my future brother-in-law Vols fan, checking if he'd heard anything, and warning him to back off Maloney. (He never did return that call, which probably means I'll soon be getting a lecture from my sister about leaving threatening messages on her fiancee's voice mail.)

Of course, the baseball team won't ever be as high on the radar around here as the football, basketball, and hockey programs, but the recent post-season run made it pretty clear that something good has been going on at Fisher Stadium over the past couple of years. That success would likely be short-lived, however, if the man in charge suddenly decided to seek the surer thing of a school in warmer climates, in a part of the country where college baseball is a larger part of the sports culture. And did I mention he'd be paid a lot more?

It got pretty scary there for a couple of days, because I think the general consensus was, "Who could blame Maloney for leaving?" BTH expected him to take the Tennessee job. So did the Michigan Daily. And if that had happened, all of the excitement and progress that had been generated over the baseball program would've felt pretty empty. I don't know the situation well enough to say it would've been devastating. But I don't think that's an overreaction, either.

Beating Vanderbilt and advancing in the tournament got people (and media) to take notice (locally and nationally). Virtually the same roster was eligible to return next season. Fisher Stadium is undergoing a huge renovation to make the facility competitive with the rest of the Big Ten and suitable to host tournament regionals. Michigan is poised to become a player in college baseball, which is really saying something for a northern school. Maloney leaving for Tennessee probably would've cut that off right at the knees.

That's the sort of thing we expect to see happen to mid-major basketball programs who expect to eventually lose their coach to a bigger program in a more prominent conference. And maybe that provided the proverbial wake-up call (or dose of humility) to the Michigan athletic department and fanbase at-large. This isn't football or basketball (or hockey). Achieving annual prominence in this part of the country isn't a given for baseball. You have to work at it. And no one's worked harder at it than Maloney.

Fortunately, Michigan recognized that and did what was necessary to retain Maloney, signing him to a five-year contract extension. That should effectively stamp down any future rumors of defection (which seem to have been swirling around ever since the Big Ten Tournament, depending on who you talk to). No more year-to-year agreements. No more underappreciation. No more whispers of seduction from southern schools (although I suppose there's nothing to stop those schools from continuing to inquire).

It's not often you get to follow a program on the rise around here, to see something built from the ground up. It's worth some appreciation. This is a commitment. This is establishing something. And hopefully, it's the start (or continuation) of some really good baseball in Ann Arbor.



  • At June 26, 2007 8:56 PM, Blogger Brian said…

    You've caught the bug, Ian. I guess I'm to blame for that. Sorry.

    For the record, I was told that while Maloney did interview in Knoxville, he was never offered the UT job.


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