Big 12-bound WVU eyes better baseball

Mountaineers play conference games in either Charleston or Beckley

Spring sports at West Virginia University have never drawn rousing support or much interest from people statewide or even the student body or the Morgantown community.

None of the sports had the number of scholarships the rest of the country’s schools provided for their students. The talent was often thin. And the weather in Morgantown in March and most of April is so raw and windy that attending many events was comfortable for only a masochist.

The Mountaineers won a significant number of games with their spring teams. But that was in the old Southern Conference, populated with schools with the same scarce funds for spring-sport athletes as West Virginia provided.

The school’s baseball teams were coached by Steve Harrick through the 1960s and on through the next decade. Harrick’s teams just kept winning Southern Conference championships. The likes of Furman, George Washington, William & Mary, Richmond, The Citadel, Washington & Lee, Virginia Tech, Davidson, and Virginia Military Institute were unable to stand in the way of the Mountaineers reaching the NCAA District tournaments held annually in Gastonia, N.C.

Once in Gastonia, Harrick’s West Virginia teams could never advance any farther, never getting past Wake Forest, Florida State, Duke, Auburn or Florida.

None of those schools offered much scholarship help either, but they all had weather suitable to being outside in late March. The more comfortable weather was a viable recruiting tool when scholarship money wasn’t available.

When West Virginia quit the Southern Conference and Harrick had coached his last baseball game, the plight of the Mountaineers took a downward tilt.

Finding teams that could win consistently became increasingly difficult for the squads filled with non-scholarship athletes from in-state hamlets like Red Jacket, Ronceverte, Craigsville, Ft. Gay and St. Marys.

And baseball became an afterthought to most who saw the occasional track and field performer make a splash on the national level.

West Virginia languished in the Big East. Too many times it couldn’t even qualify for the conference tournament which had eight teams.

The facilities were not much different from the years where Harrick was winning a majority of his games. There were no on-site dressing rooms. Those people who ventured out to Hawley Field often dressed like Eskimos and were witness to few talented individuals and fewer quality teams.

When Oliver Luck brought West Virginia athletics to the Big 12 conference, change was literally forced upon the school.

Luck had to promise significant upgrades to the baseball facilities. The Big 12 wasn’t going to allow its teams to be subjected to Hawley Field and its dearth of human comforts.

A new baseball facility was proposed and approved by the Morgantown city fathers. The stadium would also be used by a minor league franchise that has yet to be found.

In the meantime, West Virginia will play its 2013 Big 12 games either in Charleston or Beckley, not at haggard Hawley Field.

There will be three games vs. Texas Tech in Charleston, three games vs. Oklahoma in Charleston, three games against fellow newcomer to the conference, TCU, in Charleston, and three games against Kansas in Beckley.

West Virginia has conference road games at Texas, Baylor, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State.

Iowa State doesn’t have baseball.

Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor, and TCU are national powers. Five out of the nine conference schools that sponsor baeball are ranked in the top 30 in national polls.

How does West Virginia compete against that stern competition? It gets a new ballyard. One that has on-site dressing rooms, comfortable seats with arm rests and backs, and seats that are expensive because of their location to actual season ticket holders.

More scholarship money is made available for recruiting. The NCAA allows 11.67 baseball scholarships per school. Most coaches divide their scholarships to first- and second-year players. Some may receive a half-scholarship. Others might only get a scholarship that pays one-fourth of the actual cost to attend school.

West Virginia is going to eventually award the allowed 11.67 scholarships in an attempt to compete with the “have’s” of the conference.

First-year coach Randy Mazey was at TCU last season. He has been a head coach at East Carolina before. Mazey shoveled many of the 2012 players out of the program. He has a 34-man roster and 11 of those athletes have come from either other four-year colleges or junior colleges.

Mazey has already spread his recruiting net and has a total of six players from either Texas, Florida, Kansas or Oklahoma. His roster includes only eight players from the state of West Virginia.

Players from West Virginia will not beat players from Texas. And Mazey knows that.

The schedule calls for 14 of the first 15 games to be played mostly at neutral sites in the South.

Only seven games will be played at Hawley Field and they are against Eastern Kentucky, New Orleans, Marshall, and Pittsburgh.

There are 24 conference games and 32 non-conference games. Both Marshall and Pittsburgh will be played twice. A total of 11 games are scheduled for Charleston and another four in Beckley.

To get West Virginia into the Big 12, accommodations had to be made to improve the baseball program. Help coming from much-improved facilities, more available scholarships, a roster recruited from far and wide, and a coach whose background has plenty of winning seasons on his record.

The weather won’t improve. A concerted effort to improve everything else is being made and has to continue because of the pressure coming from conference headquarters.

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