MORGANTOWN — In a rather weird sort of way, the disappointment felt around the state today by WVU fans in its baseball team should be looked at as a sort of complement by manager Randy Mazey.
For there are obvious goals for any college coach in any sport, which is to say they are expected to win, to develop talent, to recruit well and to accomplish all of that while not breaking the rules.
Oftentimes the unspoken goal is to get people to simply care.
Care enough to not only spend money to visit the ballpark, but also to care enough to get emotionally invested in what happens with the program.
Care enough to be there in celebration when things are going well, which also sets up the point to also feel a real sense of hurt when things are not.
To his credit, Mazey has won. There’s no denying that. He’s recruited well. He’s developed talent. He’s never embarrassed the program.
And he’s got people to care, a task there may not be enough credit available to throw Mazey’s way.
Mon County Ballpark saw record crowds this season. When the Mountaineers traveled to GoMart Ballpark in Charleston, fans packed that stadium, too.
College baseball became an investable sport in West Virginia, not just this season, but rather that fact has been building over Mazey’s tenure to reach the pinnacle it did this season.
When he took over the program in 2013, the official attendance was listed at 200 for his first home game.
Now, that was at old Hawley Field, no more a true college baseball stadium than the Pittsburgh Pirates are true World Series contenders.
At that time, WVU was just beginning to allow the full allotment of 11.7 scholarships to be used in baseball. In the years prior under former head coaches, WVU never allowed them the luxury of using a full share of scholarships.
Why? Financial restraints were the official word back then.
Unofficially, no one simply cared enough about college baseball 20 years ago. Not the WVU athletics administration, not the media, and certainly not the fans.
The program was not without tradition. It boasted 24 alums who were drafted or played in the major leagues and appeared in 11 NCAA tournaments before Mazey’s arrival.
Yet it was a sport of survival back in the day. It couldn’t spend wads of cash, coaches were paid diddly-squat with expectations that were on the ground floor compared to what they are today.
Investing in Mon County Ballpark helped change that. Investing in Mazey helped change that, too.
And so we get to 2023, with WVU needing just one victory over its final three games of the regular season to secure an outright Big 12 title.
Texas, a program that has spent decades of squashing the little guy, squashed one more by sweeping the Mountaineers.
Moving on to the Big 12 tournament, WVU had an opportunity to build its case to host a NCAA regional for just the third time in school history. The Mountaineers went 0-2.
The outrage that followed on social media, it can be argued was equal to that of a disappointing football or men’s basketball season.
WVU still shared a three-way tie for its first-ever Big 12 title, yet it may have been the most frustrating conference championship ever won in school history.
You would have thought WVU had just finished last with the comments that accompanied it.
The Mountaineers (39-18) will get their NCAA site at noon Monday, and if they continue to collapse with another poor showing, it will certainly be a collapse that doesn’t go unnoticed.
That’s the atmosphere Mazey has helped create. Funny thing about it, prior coaches like Greg Van Zant or the late Dale Ramsburg could only have dreamed to be in the position Mazey is now in. We’re not talking the NCAA tournament, but rather the overall support behind the program.
Disappointing losses by WVU are no longer ho-hum, they’re statewide heartbreak.
Getting to that level was no small feat. People care about WVU baseball now, maybe Mazey’s biggest accomplishment.