For Louisville (second trip) and Indiana (first trip), the College World Series is a Can't Wait event.
OMAHA, Neb. (WDRB) – Tom Crean has coached in the NCAA Final Four. His Indiana team won the Big Ten basketball championship this season. He's attended the NBA Finals, Super Bowl and World Series, big-time sports events of every shape and size.
Here is what Crean texted about the trip he is making to the College World Series to watch Indiana play the University of Louisville Saturday night at 8:
That's the effect the College World Series has on people. It's about the plays and the pilgrimage. Rick Pitino is also making the trip to watch U of L, although his schedule won't clear until Monday. Louisiana State fans expect Les Miles, their football coach, to watch the Tigers. Ditto for North Carolina and basketball coach Roy Williams.
Crean will be at TD Ameritrade Park Saturday – and so will more than 700 Cardinal and Hoosier fans. Both IU and U of L sold their complete ticket allotments. Both schools planned to fill even more of the 24,000 seats at the sparkling 3-year-old facility wedged into the northeast corner of downtown Omaha.
"As soon as you walk into this park, you get filled with the excitement," Louisville shortstop Sutton Whiting said.
This is the best of the best in college baseball. Big-boy programs like Louisiana State, North Carolina and Oregon State are favored to survive this eight-team scrum, which starts with a pair of four-team double-elimination tournaments and ends with the two survivors playing a two-of-three series beginning June 24.
Just don't expect the Louisville and Indiana players to endorse any analysis that they are merely background noise. Their pod also includes Oregon State and Mississippi State.
"We're going to get their best shot and we're going to give them our best shot," Indiana catcher Kyle Schwarber said. "We're happy to be here, but we're not satisfied. I'm sure they feel the same way."
Mostly, what the U of L players feel is joy, especially pitcher Cody Ege. This is his 13th trip to the College World Series. He had to buy a ticket the first 12 times he showed up, including last season. He remembers he sat three rows behind the third-base dugout. He remembers he wanted more than a third-row seat this season.
Ege and his father drove nearly three hours from Cherokee, Iowa to enjoy the series nearly every year. Dad would let his son purchase one souvenir baseball cap per tournament. Cody Ege would scramble behind the dugouts chasing players with a ball and a Sharpie in pursuit of an autograph.
Ege has asked his teammates to sign every possible autograph during their visit to Omaha.
"You're going to make a lot of people's day or week," he said. "If you just sit down with a kid and talk to them for five minutes and sign their piece of paper, that goes a long way."
This World Series is different from the major league World Series. This is a baseball festival that stretches across at least 11 days, featuring teams from five conferences and seven states, warm weather campuses and teams that begin practice in the snow.
The WDRB Sports team arrived for Friday's practice session at 9:30 a.m. – and 1,600 pounds of chicken, pork and beef had already been dropped onto the smokers for the enjoyment of the players at a players' party Friday night. All eight teams participated in the opening ceremonies.
"It's a celebration," Schwarber said. "I have friends on most of the teams. There are 13 guys here that I played with last summer (in the Cape Cod League)."
Those 13 guys include Cody Sturgeon, Joe Filomeno and Jared Ruxer of Louisville. This will be the fourth time U of L and IU have played this season – February in Florida (IU won, 2-0), March in Bloomington (IU, 6-2) and May in Louisville (Cards, 4-3).
There was not a ton of hitting in any of those games. The teams combined for one home run – and 40 hits (21 by the Hoosiers).
This game should be similar, considering both programs will start their top pitchers – Joey DeNato, a left-hander, for IU; Chad Green, a right-hander, for Louisville. Each pitched four innings when the teams played in the season opener. Each intends to go longer Saturday night.
After all, it's Omaha. Everybody wants to stay as long as possible.