This weekend, the MAC crashes the party of not only big conferences, but southern teams.
Four days removed from the play, that hit has played in my head more than I thought it would. When Jimmy Rider's bloop double lofted in the air, it seemed like it was up there forever — each nanosecond passing by just gave Oregon a better chance to catch it. Now, the Sun doesn't play favorites and never has since the beginning of time. It is a star of fairness, and you have to respect that about the Sun. The outfielder lost track of it for just enough time that he broke his stride, leaving it up to their shortstop to track it, catch up to it, and then catch it. He did two of the three things.
An improbable hit sent Kent State to the College World Series for the first time in school history and the first time in 36 years in MAC history. But improbable hits are the cornerstone of baseball.
While other sports are traditionally known for size and power outlasting the competition, baseball is a game built for parity and heartbreak. In the pros, the Seattle Mariners won 116 games in 2001 — tying a record — and didn't even reach the World Series. In 1960, the Pirates won the World Series over the favored Yankees thanks to a home run by Bill Mazeroski, who had just 11 home runs all season. Even look at David Freese's game-tying triple in Game 6 last year. The ball just kept traveling and traveling until Nelson Cruz was not able to catch it.
And if you're going to find a better comparison for Rider's double, in terms of staying afloat in the air and suddenly coming down, I look at that Freese triple. You can look at the analysis. He saw a fastball coming, or the pitcher got the dude to swing at a pitch in the dirt. But sometimes baseball plays just happen.
The College World Series matters because it's a sport set up that anybody can win, bridled with a tournament format set up where anyone has won. (See: Fresno State, 2008, as a #4 seed and 33-27 record heading into the NCAAT). Kent State probably will not win the NCAA championship, but they're there and that's more than I, or they, thought was imaginable this season.
I'm going to watch as much as I can this weekend, knowing full well that Kent State is eighth out of eight teams in terms of not only baseball ranking but odds to win. I saw a betting site which put them at 15:1, quashing my theory that nobody puts out betting lines on the College World Series. Which is cool ... but remember that five of the last 17 World Series champion (the Wild Card era) were Wild Card teams, essentially the seventh or eighth worst team.