The Michigan baseball team is setting the bar high for the upcoming season.
How high? The goal is the College World Series or bust. Last night, At Meet the Wolverines Night, Michigan coach Rich Maloney and his players listed plenty of reasons they believe this team is capable of reaching Omaha for the first time since 1984.
Last year, the team won the regular season Big Ten Championship, and was granted an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. In the regional championship they upset the No. 1 overall seed Vanderbilt.
The Wolverines are ranked No. 8 in Baseball America’s preseason rankings and are a favorite to win the Big Ten title. According to Maloney, “We have the bull’s eye on us this year.”
The Wolverines also are getting a vastly improved baseball stadium with the completion of the Wilpon Baseball Complex. This version of Ray L. Fisher Stadium will see its first game March 19 against Oakland.
“I’m excited for our baseball family to get the new facility,” said Maloney. “It was a dream for a lot of people and with the help of many we can do great things.”
Many of the donors were former baseball players and Maloney hopes the new facility will help Michigan win its bid to host an NCAA Regional or Super Regional this year.
“If we had the Super Regional at Michigan last year it would have been a dream come true,” Maloney said. “Our goal has always been making it to Omaha, but this past year, because we came so close, we actually started to believe it.”
In the warm-weather dominated world of college baseball, Michigan’s recent success has been something of an anomaly. Several of the teams the Wolverines play early on in the season are from far warmer climates.
“We’re trying to play as competitive a schedule as our travel limitations will allow us to and that will speak volumes to the NCAA selection committee,” Maloney said.
Although much of last year’s team returns, there will be some changes for the Wolverines. Junior Kevin Cislo has been moved from second base, where he was All-Big Ten last year, to outfield. Last year’s starting shortstop, senior Leif Maher, has replaced him.
“The transition is going pretty good,” said Cislo. “Right now I’m just feeling up and ready to go down south and take some fly balls, Leif is one of the best in my opinion. He doesn’t have to fill my shoes. He’s a great player in his own right.”
Another player who has gone through a transition is sophomore Chris Berset who was last year’s backup catcher behind All-Big Ten backstop Doug Pickens, who signed a contract with the Cleveland Indians in the offseason. Now Berset has his chance to step up.
“I’ll probably be close to the bottom of the lineup so I don’t feel much pressure from the expectations for the team,” Berset said.
Adding to the team’s excitement is their Feb. 26 exhibition game against the New York Mets.
“It’s going to be a great experience for our kids, no matter what happens in the game,” said.
The coach added that the team would prefer to play against the Mets’ newest pitching acquisition, Johan Santana, the 2005 AL Cy Young Award winner.
By shooting for the big names at both the pro and collegiate level, the Wolverines seem to be signaling that they’ve arrived in college baseball’s upper echelon.