The ACC held its annual baseball tournament this past weekend in Greensboro. As is usually the case, I decided that if the conference was going to hold championships less than an hour from my house, the least I could do was go. It was an enjoyable time.
The baseball gathering had been moved from Fenway Park to the more fan-friendly stadium normally used by the minor league’s Greensboro Grasshoppers. This was part of the current ACC strategy of ‘Move everything to North Carolina.’ While it did deprive the players of the opportunity to perform before a completely-empty Fenway, moving the championships to places where the league actually has fans does seem to make a bit of sense.
That is, until the 8 teams gathered and it was brought to everyone’s attention that North Carolina had not qualified for the tournament. Nothing says ‘ACC Championship’ like thousands of empty seats. Playing the baseball or any other championship in Greensboro without participation by the Tar Heels and their fans does tend to keep fan numbers down. While it can be assumed that had the baseball affair been kept at Fenway Carolina’s season-ending sweep of Tech would have enabled the Heels to knock Fredo from the tournament [ imagine how empty Fenway would have been without Fredo's half-dozen fans!], Carolina just missed playing in Greensboro, depriving the ACC of quite a bit of atmosphere and revenue. Just wait until December and the inevitable football championship held between Fredo and the Canes!
While Carolina was out, Tech was in. Lousy facilities and the weather-related problems associated with a season that begins in Blacksburg in February makes building a baseball power at Tech a dicey proposition. Throw in that the ACC is college baseball’s dominant conference [and, judging by the impressive numbers of national championships being racked up this year by the league, dominant in most all sports except for one] and accomplishing much of anything in baseball at Tech is a daunting challenge. Despite the obvious drawbacks, Peter Hughes is quietly building a program and doing it without running the clown show that is being operated in another Tech sport.The baseball Hokies are a very satisfying team to watch and pull for.
With the Carolina fans not there, or those of 3 of the 4 NC teams, the attendance slack was picked up by the tons of NC State fans that showed up. The Wuffs have had precious little to cheer about over the past few years and State’s run to the finals brought them out. They were joined by quite a few Tigers and Hoos [!] and by Saturday night, even a goodly number of Hokies. As is often the case at these affairs, I took the opportunity to chat with quite a few Wolves and Tigers and Hoos and even the stray Heel that had bought tournament tickets and decided, what the hell, they were going anyway, even if Carolina was not. As is always the case, I found them all to be a terrific and friendly crowd. I continue to enjoy the camaraderie that exists among ACC fans, a marked difference to what was seen in the miserable Big East.
I did field the occasional jibe related to the humor of Tech’s basketball coach constantly running his mouth while winning nothing, but, let’s face it, Seth’s shortcomings are not exactly a foreign concept to me. And, when you consider that those other fan bases over the years have provided Chuckie, El Sid, Uncle Jed, Big John, Butch, Dour DickieB, Matt, the Tommy Bowden Death Watch, Craig ‘Tubby, we have fans. Hoo knew?’ Littlepage, Fallback Dave and that crowning jewel, the Great NFL Legend algroh, Tech is still ahead of the game.
The Tech team not only made the ACC Baseball Tournament for the first time since their first year in the league, they showed up to play, to boot. That was apparent when Tech finally got around to taking the field late Thursday night, after that afternoon tilt of not only the Canes playing Fredo, but the Canes playing Fredo for five hours in Greensboro in the hot sun while more numerous fan bases stood around and waited for the darn thing to finally end. Justin Wright made the wait worthwhile. GT’s Danny Hall had best get his Jackets ready for a steady diet of curve balls in the Atlanta regional. 15 strikeouts later, Tech was 1-0 and off and running.
Tech’s starting pitching wasn’t quite so good the remainder of the tournament, but, against Clemson, it didn’t need to be. Tech was able to knock off the Tigers and, for a few hours at least, establish themselves as the ACC’s tournament Cinderella team. Things looked even better for Saturday after the scheduled game following Tech, the NC State one, brought black clouds over the ball park that sent me heading up 29 back to Danville and, eventually, both teams back to the hotel after the ensuing gullywasher.
The Pack was back at it early Saturday morning. By the time they knocked off Georgia Tech, I was feeling pretty good about Tech’s chances [much] later that night against a State team that would be something other than well-rested. By the wee hours of Sunday morning, that feeling had disappeared, along with Tech’s chances of bringing me back to Greensboro on Sunday. I elected to watch State’s tough finals loss to Florida State from the comfort of my recliner. It was a heck of a lot cooler and my refrigerator was a lot closer walk than having to journey out to the beer garden behind the center-field fence for adult refreshment.
Despite Tech not winning the thing, or making the championship game, I considered my time in Greensboro well-spent. I had the opportunity to watch and pull for a terrific group of Hokies and meet a number of great ACC fans. I always enjoy both.