Friday, June 8, 2007

2007 "Tip of the Cap" Awards: Part 1

3,630 !!
The highlight and climax of the 2007 MU Baseball season was the first-ever NCAA Regional hosted at Taylor Stadium / Simmons Field.

In the weeks and days leading up to the regional, fans and followers debated whether the MU Athletic Department would show their support of the baseball program by submitting a serious bid to the NCAA (and by finding a way to move the MSHSAA Baseball championships away from Taylor Stadium); then there was some doubt that fans would actually show up in large numbers, given the average attendance during the regular season of just 574, last in the Big XII.

As Tim Jamieson said, "From everything we’re feeling around town, it’s going to happen. It’s almost overwhelming. We’ve played in front of some big, big crowds. But never here.”

And it did happen. A new record was set on Friday night. Then Saturday night's crowd broke that record (see attendance totals at right).

For someone who learned to cheer and heckle in order to make up for the fact that the 100 fans who would show up at the old Simmons Field to cheer for the visiting team would invariably outnumber the 30 or so parents and girlfriends, plus Larry, myself, my son and at best 10 or 12 other fans . . . tonight was like opening up a Christmas present from the aunt who always sends hand-crocheted underwear, and instead finding in the box the keys to a new sports car.

And so our first tips of the cap are for those involved in that weekend:

A tip of the cap to Tim Jamieson, who, as the Tigers continued to roll toward their best win total in TJ's tenure, gained confidence to speak his mind about the questionable level of support given to baseball from the Athletic Department:
“There’s a lot of support,” he said. “But in terms of getting the word out and marketing our sport, we need to do a better job. . . We wanted everybody, including the people within the university, to see things through our eyes. To see things the way they could be." (Kansas City Star)

A tip of the cap to Mike Alden, Tim Hickman and the rest of the athletic department, for defying the cynicism of long-time fans and moving heaven earth and the MSHSAA in order to bring the Regional to Columbia. And for their great job in organizing the weekend to be a great experience for everyone. Mike Alden himself was in attendance for the full 9 innings of nearly every game, sitting in the stands, absorbed in the game when he wasn't shaking hands with MU supporters.

A tip of the cap to the people of Columbia, and to MU fans from all over the state, who shelled out more money than a season tickets cost to buy tickets for the weekend series in record numbers. Many of them expressed their enjoyment to me, and their surprise at how nice the stadium is, how exciting the games were, and how much they would like to come back again next season.

And most of all, a tip of the cap to the Tiger nine, a bunch of guys who were picked to finish 8th in the Big XII, a team that had to see article after article in the news well into the season, one after another mentioning the names of Scherzer and Culp before ever mentioning the players of 2007.

This was the scrappiest, gutsiest, most determined Mizzou baseball team I've watched in my time as a serious fan. They found ways to win games when it seemed impossible.
Like the Friday night game at Texas on May 4th, when the Longhorn catcher overthrew when tossing the ball back to the pitcher, sent it flying over his head, and Kurt Calvert stole home for the winning run.

The season was full of moments like that, with the Tigers taking advantage of every opportunity - no matter how unlikely - to score runs and win games.

Thanks for a great ride, guys!