David Zurawik

ESPN does college baseball right, including Towson storyline

I am in heaven. I know I am part of a minority, but I love college baseball the way most folks love NCAA basketball. Forget the Final Four, the Road to Omaha is what gets my adrenaline pumping.

And ESPN started the journey for viewers like me with an outstanding tournament selection show Monday at noon and a "Road to Omaha" production at 6 p.m. Both aired on ESPNU, the collegiate sports channel that my TV always seems to be set to when I turn it on during baseball season.


ESPN has long done right by college baseball while much of the rest of the media world ignored it. But this year, ESPN is upping the ante in promising to cover every game from here on out among the 64 contenders for the national championship that will be decided at the College World Series in Omaha next month.

And I'll probably be there to make sure they deliver on that promise. Next Friday through Monday when the regionals are played, forget about it. I'm locked and loaded for every game I can watch until I pass out or play ends in the early morning hours on the West Coast.


Monday's selection followed strong coverge Sunday of the SEC championship game between Vanderbilt and LSU. Great extra innings baseball, and ESPN had it all the way. Both LSU and Vanderbilt are in, of course. LSU, which won Sunday, is one of the No. 1 seeds, while Vanderbilt's a powerful No. 2.

What impressed me most about ESPN's selection show was the breadth of knowledge from its analysts -- former LSU standout Ben McDonald, who is best known in the these parts from his pitching days with the Orioles, and former Stanford All-American Kyle Peterson.

They knew all about the wild ride of Towson University's baseball team from Death Row to the Big Dance. In announcing where the winner of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament would play, they offered a timeline of the past few months -- from the announcement that the baseball program would not be back next year, to Gov. Martin O'Malley interceding, to $300,000 in state funds putting Towson baseball back in business.

Even more impressive to me was their knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the Big 12 teams in the tournament: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State.

These are not teams that folks in the east usually know much about. I only know about them because I have a nephew who pitches for Texas Tech. I can tell you the ERA of virtually every Big 12 pitcher this year.

But ESPN knew that, too, Monday. Peterson knew Oklahoma has perhaps the best one-two pitching punch in college baseball with Jonathan Gray, who will be the first or second major league draft pick next month, and Dillon Overton, who is 9-2 so far. And that's why Peterson says he picked them as his sleeper to win it all.

He and McDonald also knew that Kansas State was one of the best hitting teams in college baseball with a one-two-three top of the order that has shredded Big 12 pitching. Another team to watch, though, it doesn't have the pitching depth to go very far.

I admit I'm biased. A baseball scholarship allowed me to go to college. I'll always love college baseball for that.

But all these decades later, few things still bring me as much pleasure as watching NCAA tournament baseball on television.


Thank you, ESPN, for allowing me to O.D. on it this year. I'll be there straight through Omaha.