As the outs and innings wound down last night, the gravity of what was unfolding in Mississippi slowly washed over me. As one of the last 16 teams standing, the 2016 Boston College baseball team has carved out for themselves a place in BC athletics history, regardless of what happens next weekend in Coral Gables.
Unlike Dan Rubin (and unlike most of us, I'm guessing), I can't claim to have watched BC baseball religiously from start to finish each season, and I can't claim much knowledge of the context and history of college baseball. But as someone who tries to at least loosely follow every BC sports team, right on down to the most obscure, what I do think I have a grasp on is the context of BC athletics as a whole.
What the baseball team has accomplished - putting up a solid record in the nation's foremost conference; bulldozing through a regional; being one of the last 16 teams standing in a highly competitive revenue sport sponsored by 300+ D1 institutions and featuring the very best amateur baseball players America has to offer - is impressive without even taking in to considerations the special circumstances that make this program's run so unlikely and thrilling.
But of course, it's impossible to talk about this program without talking about their unique circumstances. They're a northern team in a southern conference, in what could probably be fairly called a southern sport. They play on a football parking lot, in front of a smattering of diehards, taking on programs that have purpose-built stadia, season ticket holders and media. At Shea Field, you can't even broadcast games on TV or online, so there's a forced obscurity about the program; even soccer or lacrosse games you can watch video of online.
The program was essentially left for dead just three short years ago, when this year's seniors were freshmen and could barely muster any semblance of competitiveness in the ACC. The howls to can the program entirely could still be found in the comments section here two weeks ago.
The simplest way to put it is that BC is a non-revenue, geographic oddity of a team competing in what is, for many schools, a revenue-generating sport. For a school like Ole Miss or, next weekend, Miami, baseball is certainly as big if not bigger than, say, hockey is at a BC or a BU. It's not football or basketball, but it's a big deal. This isn't quite like Alabama-Huntsville going on a deep run in hockey, as BC has resources as an ACC school. But the comparison isn't that far off.
And then, of course, there's the Pete Frates story, and how everything surrounding that story has been an inspiration for BC fans long before the baseball team turned the corner and put their ugly stretch from 3-4 seasons ago behind them. This team and this program have made BC fans proud time and time again, and never prouder than this past weekend.
So, about that historical context.
Here's a list of BC teams all time that have made it further than the last 16. Obviously, it's hard to compare football because there's no applicable playoff system, so we'll leave that alone for now. We also won't compare non-NCAA sports like sailing, though they have been outstanding.
Men's soccer: One Elite Eight
Women's soccer: 1 College Cup (Final Four)
Women's lacrosse: 1 trip to the last 8
Men's basketball: 3 Elite 8s
Men's hockey: 5 national titles, Too many Frozen Fours and last 8s to list, obviously
Women's hockey: 1 national title game, 6 Frozen Fours, 7 NCAA tournaments (final 8)
And then there's baseball, with BC making the College World Series as one of the nation's top 8 in '53, '60, '61 and '67, but largely languishing since.
But that's it. Comparing accomplishments across sports is tricky, because there's obviously personal preference involved; some care about certain sports more than others. But it'd be hard to argue that, given baseball's stature as a major sport, BC's last 16 appearance this year has a special place somewhere on the historical list.
The Eagles obviously have their work cut out for them in the super regionals, and will need to pull off a big upset to make the College World Series. But if they do, it'll be only the fourth BC program to make it to one of the NCAA's marquee, neutral site "named" events- your Final Fours, your Frozen Fours, your College Cups, etc. Should they pull it off, they'll sit alongside the five hockey national champions, the basketball elite 8 appearances, and BC's major football bowl wins in the 1940 and 1984 seasons.
Congratulations to Mike Gambino and the Eagles on a historic achievement; here's to keeping it going and setting more historic landmarks.