Less than a week ago, I sat here and told you that making the tournament was the ultimate reward for a group of players who were told they would never be able to compete at the highest level. I touched upon the commentary of the argument, that you can't win in a southern league, you can't recruit players without facilities, and you'll never be relevant.
I talked about how for the players in uniform for the Boston College Eagles, that mattered. It gave them an abnormally large chip on their shoulder, something that bonded the men in that dugout to each other in ways none of us could ever comprehend. They play the game loose because everyone expects them to fail, but they play the game hard with something to prove. They've been committed to the program for years, rebuilding this through hard work.
That's something that started to win over the Eagles fan base. During the season, crowds began to grow as more interest grew in the team. It wasn't that they won; it's how they won. They became memorable because they outworked everyone, and they did it in a classy way. This past weekend, Ole Miss fans watched their team lose two in a row, eliminated before they had a chance to win a game at home. Instead of venting anger, a scan of Twitter mentions showed just how many of them instead latched onto Boston College.
Everyone is enjoying this Birdball ride, and even if it ends this weekend, the pride people feel in Boston College is real once again. If it were just that the team was winning, it would be one thing. But it's the way they're winning, with a clear enjoyment of the moment. It's spending time on Facetime with Pete Frates, laughing and smiling with reporters in postgame press conferences, doing a pregame ritual which involves a barking teammate, or going out of their way to thank fans and hosts.
Both on and off the field, the Eagles have done their part to this point, and it feels great. But the reality is that there's a looming discussion that, for the most part, I've been driving home all season long. For the bulk of the season, I sat with a fear that the announced new stadium wouldn't be built to suit their needs. They wouldn't get the training and development needs, and Boston College would be prevented from breaking through the next level barrier in a league where baseball facilities are ludicrously gorgeous.
With the Eagles stepping to forefront of the national college baseball picture, that fear is instead turning into excitement. Realizing what Boston College was able to do and how much more public this run feels than the tournament exit in 2009, I'm getting legitimately excited about the possibilities for this program because it runs even beyond just baseball. If Boston College builds the right stadium for this team with the right facilities, they'll be able to create a real baseball culture at the school unlike something seen at other northern schools.
"We know that our resources and facilities obviously don't match up to the rest of the conference," said Gambino when the team arrived in Chestnut Hill yesterday, "and we know that there are people outside this program that believe that this program can't win consistently. But what we're building, we don't want to have a program that has one great year. We want this to be a program with a chance to go to Omaha year-in and year-out.
"Obviously (getting to Omaha) won't happen every year," he continued, "and in a conference like the ACC, as tough as it is, just to make it here is a week-in and week-out grind. But we want to build something sustainable. I'm extremely excited for what we're doing this year, but the idea is to make this sustainable. Someone who I respect a lot told me when I took this job told me, 'Build a program, don't build a team.' That's what we've been working for these past few years, a slow and steady growth to make something sustainable."
That includes a potential groundswell of a culture starting to grow. We've seen it this year where students and fans congregated on top of the parking garage roof to have a cookout and a party. They've impacted games standing on the ramp and yelling out onto the field.
During the season, I asked Mike Gambino about it. "The atmosphere in the Birdcage has been awesome," he said. "The students have been out, and those students that are up there watching - they're having an impact on these games. Our boys get so fired up seeing all these students out there. It's a true home field advantage because of them coming up and having a blast on the roof and parking deck. It means so much to have everyone out here."
He reiterated that appreciation of the fans at the ACC Tournament. "We had a really good crew of parents and fans out there," he said, "and a lot came out wearing the Frate Train stuff. Felt like Pete was (at the game). I want to thank all of the for coming out. That was really cool."
If Boston College can capitalize on that culture, they'll be able to join the rest of the ACC in some ways. They'll be able to buck the argument that nobody cares about college baseball in the northern schools, and they'll be able to develop something that the rest of the league has. They can become a draw and form another major sport for the Eagles to compete in.
For years, BC was the team that plays in lousy facilities, in the north, with no culture, and no fan support. They can't recruit consistently to get good baseball players, and they surely can't develop guys into competing at a national level. This season has been steady growth, disproving all of that. Now is the time to capitalize on it and take them to the next level.