Tuesday’s rally on Fourth Street for the University of Louisville’s baseball team started at 5 p.m. as about 800 fans cheered the Cards who are bound for the College World Series in Omaha. At 7:10 p.m., the city’s newest celebrities were still patiently signing autographs for both long-time fans and newcomers to the U of L bandwagon. (See photos at left.)
It seems life has changed forever for the Cardinal baseball program, which will play its first game ever in the CWS against No. 1-ranked Rice at 2 p.m. Friday (ESPN2). Yesterday’s feel-good party received extensive radio, television and print coverage, which expanded its reach to tens of thousands of residents, and should ext/files/storyimages/the spike in interest long after the Cards complete their work in Omaha.
“Louisville baseball has arrived,” proclaimed U of L head coach Dan McDonnell after seeing the crowd for the rally and record-setting crowds for three days of play in the Super Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium. Earlier in the day, the Cards’ two week/files/storyimages/victories over Oklahoma State (9-0, 20-2) earned them an unprecedented No. 8 national ranking to go along with the admiration of the local community.
“Our players appreciate this support,” McDonnell said. “It means a lot to all of them because of the work they have done over the past several years. This is what they dreamed would happen one day, and that day is here.”
Tuesday’s event heralded that fact as a band played, fans cheered and the players waved back, spoke briefly and shot videos of their own from the stage to commemorate the day.
The U of L team was officially greeted by Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson and Vice President for Athletics Tom Jurich. The coaching staff received specially engraved Louisville Slugger bats that were presented by Rick Redman, vice-president of locally-based Hillerich & Bradsby. The company has contracts to provide baseball gear for both Louisville and Rice.
After the send-off party and autograph session, the Cards returned to campus Tuesday evening for a bit of free time. Wednesday morning they’ll have their last workout at Patterson Stadium, then board a jet for Omaha at about 4 p.m.
“Our guys have approached this opportunity with a great attitude,” said McDonnell. “They’re loose, relaxed and enjoying the chance to play some more great teams. We’ve already beaten three power programs (Miami, Missouri and Oklahoma State), so they’re asking ‘Why not us?’ when it comes to making a run at the championship.”
SPECIAL OFFER – Fans seeking special memorabilia for the College World Series can turn to Hillerich & Bradsby, which is producing personalized, full-sized baseball bats similar to those presented to the U of L staff. Orders can be made by calling H&B toll free at 877-775-8443, online at www.sluggergifts.comor by visiting the Louisville Slugger Museum and factory at 8th & Main in downtown Louisville. Each bat costs $60 with $10 from each being donated to the U of L Baseball program.
TICKETS GONE – U of L announced Tuesday afternoon that its allotment of 700 tickets for its first two games in the World Series have all been purchased. Additional information on tickets for the Cards other games in Omaha will be posted on www.uoflsports.com. For travel information to the College World Series, fans can contact Champion Sports Tours at (866) 995-7444, or log onto www.championsportstours.com.
NOTE: Columnist Ron Steiner can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].