The 2021 college baseball season is set to be one of the best years in the history of the sport, and on top of that, Louisiana Tech may be one of the most compelling stories of all.
No, really. Before you start picking and calling it hyperbolic, listen to this one.
College baseball has evolved tremendously over the years as ten different schools have won national championships since 2008. Remember that no team won it in 2020, as the season was canceled due to COVID-19. And the list of champions includes teams from the SEC, the West, the Sun-Belt Conference and even the Western Athletic Conference.
So unlike college football, college baseball has offered a nice balance in variety in recent years. Now, take that observation and add that well over 60% of seniors in college baseball came back this season after Major League Baseball shortened the draft from 40 rounds to just five.
This means that you will have older teams all over the country with players who would have jumped the chance to become professionals in normal years, so the quality of the game should increase as a direct result.
And while I’re itching to see what Michael Federico does with ULM after a 12-5 start in 2020 that featured an electric three-game series against Ole Miss in Monroe, I would be lying if I did not admit that Louisiana Tech is set to be one of the best stories of the year in baseball.
What baseball program has been through more than the Bulldogs in recent seasons? Tech’s struggle through adversity began when a tornado tore through Ruston and tore through tennis courts, the softball court, the soccer field and JC Love Field at Pat Patterson Park.
That forced the Bulldogs to play their games elsewhere, and until two weeks ago, the team was still training at Ruston High School. The Bulldogs had optional meetings in the afternoons before heading to Ruston High School’s baseball team for their practice only to return at night to resume baseball activities. How do you want that schedule as a college baseball player?
Last week, the Bulldogs finally had to move into their new Love Shack. Seeing this team train at the new stadium after all they have been through should make deaf baseball fans teary-eyed, especially considering that Louisiana Tech did not lose a single player to transfer during the entire remodel. Steele Netterville, who was one of 12 Bulldogs playing at the old stadium, beat the first home run in the new park on his fourth turn by BP.
“It felt like Christmas morning when we went out,” Netterville told school officials. “Honestly, I was shaking a little because I was so excited to be in this new ballpark. It was great to be out here with the guys.”
Lane Burroughs recently told us on The Morning Drive with Aaron and Jake that he, Taylor Young and Netterville took it all the other day, and each thought, “Wow, this looks like a minor league baseball park.”
And the look of the new stadium can not be exaggerated. On top of the beautiful facilities inside, the competition is wide open, so fans do not have to miss a pitch when they go to the concession stand.
Baseball will undoubtedly look a little different in 2021 with the COVID-19 restrictions and potential lineup changes overnight due to the complex nature of this pandemic. But some of the changes will be welcomed. Conference USA will have four game weekends in conference games, the active routes will be increased to 40 and the travel list for conference games will increase from 27 to 30. It will definitely help with what will surely feel like marathon weekends after a while.
But one thing will remain the same – Louisiana Tech will be one of the best competitors in the C-USA. If pre-season awards are any indication, Louisiana Tech will have one of its best years yet. After all, several publications named two different Bulldogs (Netterville and Parker Bates) as the Preseason C-USA Player of the Year.
And it does not even mention Young, who we have been following since high school days in West Monroe. Young, by the way, in his three seasons with the Bulldogs has never posted lower than a .420 on the base percentage for an entire season.
The Bulldogs have certainly faced a tremendous amount of adversity in recent years, so it would only be fitting Louisiana Tech to tear off one of the most memorable seasons yet when the competition it faces may just be the toughest of all time. Now it’s a story worth following.