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Penn State Baseball: Musings Of An Uneducated Baseball Fan

by on May 09, 2016 1:00 PM

It's not that I don't like baseball as much as it wasn't part of my upbringing.

I had a nice diet of football and a solid helping of hockey with an occasional sprinkle of basketball to top things off. 

So no, I'm not one to sit through nine innings and pick up the finer points of the game. I understand it, and like most Americans with a pulse I make a point to watch some amount of the World Series and anything worth taking in during the regular season. But it's not a sport that comes naturally to me. I'm just going to assume that the shortstop is going to make the throw that makes the most sense, and if he doesn't, well I'll be the one guy who isn't yelling at him. That's just the way it is.

But with Penn State baseball hosting No. 10 TCU this past weekend it was obvious my own shortcomings as a baseball fan would need to be put aside for at least one night so I could do my job and fake my way through some coverage of the game. TCU was the highest ranked team to ever visit Medlar Field, which in itself is worth the price of admission all on its own.

In truth I expected Penn State to lose, and the Nittany Lions did all three times they played this weekend. Although entirely to their credit, it was not without having a reasonable chance to win each game. The game I witnessed on Saturday came down the final out with a runner on third. Ultimately though it was a fielding error in the eighth inning that would eventually lead to the game's winning run that put things just out of reach. As is the case for any team in any sport, the margin of error is small when your opponent is that good.

However that's about as far as my insight extends. Instead, on Saturday night I spent the time taking the game in as a "fan" to try to understand what Penn State's baseball's biggest hurdle is as a growing program.

Surprisingly (because if there is anything Penn State likes it's money -- specifically your money) you can get into the game for five bucks and sit just about anywhere you want. For just over 10 bucks you can get a reasonable amount of food and drink that will set your life back five years but improve the quality of that life in the meantime. So food, a ticket and a seat anywhere in the park for $15. It's already apparent this isn't football.

The game itself was surprisingly competitive. Penn State went up two runs early, and TCU quickly answered. From there it was a long stretch of scoreless innings with drizzle and my reoccurring thought that if I left and went home nobody would know and I could still write this column.

But I stayed, because I like upsets and on the off chance Penn State pulled out the win I was going to feel stupid for having missed it after sitting in the cold for so long. And in truth it was a good game, and I like good games.

The crowd for the day was announced at over 2,000 which may have been true for the first of two games but certainly not the one I was at. Nevertheless the crowd physically in attendance was engaged, nearly everyone over the age of 40 dressed like they take Little League way too seriously. Baseball fans are, if nothing else, easy to spot in a crowd.

On the field things continued to tighten, Penn State's pitching was solid, and the offense managed to get timely hits and hard earned runs. The slogan on the scoreboard of "Blue collar baseball" seems like the kind of thing that was cheapest to trademark, but in the Nittany Lions' defense the game on Saturday night could have blown wide open on a few occasions But that never happened. I haven't the slightest idea how long it will take for this program to grow into whatever it wants to be, but nobody will accuse the Nittany Lions of not trying hard to get there.

And that's the biggest takeaway from Saturday. It's probably one of the worst kept secrets in Penn State athletics that, before Rob Cooper came to town to manage the team, Penn State baseball was something of an athletic extension of frat life. I don't even like baseball and I knew that the team was going off the rails. Even if that wasn't entirely true, it was such the assumption that nobody ever told me I was wrong when i said it in a public forum. Maybe not the best way to measure accuracy, but that's a separate issue.

Nevertheless it certainly seems that Cooper is the guy for the job. His resume speaks for itself with ties to the national team and his success is the kind of thing you try to emulate as an even younger manager. I don't need to know baseball to understand what that looks like and in the few short years that he has been here my impression of a team I know very little about has gone from that of a program that technically exists to a program taking steps towards something better. That's a credit to good coaching and a credit to a team buying into the process.

I've talked to Cooper twice since he got to campus, both times it was raining, something he can't control but an implied obstacle to succeeding as an outdoor sport with year round training. 

But both times I came away impressed. As a guy who doesn't care much about baseball, I was nodding my head and seeing why somebody who would know baseball would be happy to have Cooper running the show.

For all I know Penn State baseball is doomed to fail. Bad weather and bad luck coupled with the simple fact good baseball players would rather play somewhere else. Although if this weekend is an indication, the effort and the scrap is already there. Couple that with better and better players and the train starts to leave the station. Penn State basketball has long faced the same issue, only now just picking up some amount of steam.

What happens next is anyone's guess and probably not mine. For a few hours though I was entertained and I appreciated the effort even in defeat.

In truth I don't care if Penn State wins or loses, but if you have 15 bucks, some time on your hands and like baseball, I won't tell you that watching this group play a game I don't really understand is a bad idea. If anything I had fun, which is more than I can say about 90 percent of my baseball experiences.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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