Every great collegiate sports program has its turning point. For Notre Dame football it was the Knute Rockne era. For Miami (Fla.) football it was the dramatic 31-30 win over Nebraska for the 1983 national title that set the stage for four more crowns. For Louisville basketball, it was the 1980 national championship triumph over UCLA that forever changed the way people looked at the Cards, who won another title in ’86. Now, as it hosts the biggest collegiate baseball event in state history, U of L baseball welcomes its own magic moment.
Whether or not Coach Dan McDonnell and the Cards (44-21) defeat Oklahoma State twice (41-19) and advance to the College World Series in Omaha, they will have permanently changed the way the community looks at their sport.
Never before had U of L won an NCAA Tournament game. Now the Cards have three victories including two wins over Miami, perhaps the game’s top power.
Never before had such an important three-day collegiate baseball event come to town. Now it's here.
And never before had Louisville baseball so dominated the sports scene in the Derby city. This weekend, despite a full slate of sports and entertainment activities in the area, the Cards’ Jim Patterson Stadium will be the place to be in Louisville.
Look for local politicians, community leaders and other local celebrities to show up and share the moment with the same enthusiasm as thousands of other Cardinal faithful. That fact should pay dividends for decades when it comes to recruiting, fan support, fund-raising and media coverage.
“This finishes off a great year for U of L athletics,” said McDonnell. “It’s great for the city, for the university and for our 10 seniors who have given so much to the program. This is what our stadium was designed to handle, and ESPN will showcase our entire program to the nation.”
Now, with U of L just two wins away from a trip to Omaha, it should be clear to prep prospects and fans alike that the Cardinal program can and will compete for a national title one day - perhaps as soon as next week.
Now, with the Cards being the only member of the Big East still alive in the NCAA Tournament, league members know Louisville should be a prime factor in the conference race from now on.
Now, in this McDonnell’s first year at U of L and his first season as a college head coach, it’s reasonable to believe the Cardinals will build on this year’s success and create a program with lasting power.
Sure, there will be bandwagon fans who have never seen the Cards play in person before but will pay $26 a ticket to see them go for the gold this week/files/storyimages/in front of standing-room only crowds. Even before workmen completed installation of 1,500 temporary bleachers, those seats were sold. History suggests many of the 4,000 fans expected for each game will be back again and again in the years ahead.
Sure, there will be unprecedented media coverage by writers and broadcasters who have paid minimal or zero attention to the Cards in the past. If they find the atmosphere as memorable and exciting as we expect, they’ll be back for more, too.
Best of all, youngsters will make their first trip ever to Patterson Stadium and begin to dream of playing on that same field some day. Perhaps by then, its permanent seating capacity will have been doubled or even tripled, thanks in large part to the momentum generated by the Super Regional of 2007.
For some programs, such a pivotal event never comes. For others who recognize the moment, embrace it and maximize its value, an opportunity like this provides a gateway to greatness.
Friday, June 8
Oklahoma State at U of L, 2 p.m. (ESPN2)
Saturday, June 9
Oklahoma State at U of L, 12 noon (ESPNU)
Sunday, June 10 (if necessary)
Oklahoma State at U of L, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
For ticket information call (502) 852-5151
NOTE: Columnist Ron Steiner also appears on the Red & Blue Review, a weekly statewide TV sports show (Insight Ch. 2), and is a guest each Friday afternoon on the Cardinal Insider radio program (KRDS, 790AM). He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .