The best college baseball teams in the nation traveled to Omaha for the start of the 2015 NCAA College World Series. Eight teams, including four from the best conference in the nation, the SEC, made up this year's field for the double-elimination tournament which ends on June 24. Of course, the defending national champion lives right here in the midstate, Vanderbilt University.
The Commodores come into the CWS red-hot after a best-of-three sweep of Illinois last weekend on the road. Once again, VU is loaded with talent, which will be hopefully playing at the next level. The Commodores had three players drafted within the Top 25 pick during last week's MLB Draft, including shortstop Dansby Swanson, who was the No. 1 pick along with fellow teammates, pitchers Carson Fulmer (No. 8) and Walker Buehler (No. 24).
As for the team itself, they are trying to become the first team to repeat at the CWS since fellow SEC member, South Carolina did it in 2010 and 2011. It is the program's third trip to the CWS in the last five season all under head coach Tim Corbin. Before he took over the program several seasons ago, VU had never advanced to the CWS.
As usual, the eight-team CWS is broken into two four-team pools playing a double-elimination format with the two winners out of each one meeting in a best-of-three series to decide a national champion. The Commodores are in the same group with fellow SEC rival, LSU, Big West foe Cal-State Fullerton, and newest member of the Big 12, TCU.
Like VU, TCU is making their third ever appearance to the CWS, while LSU is hoping for its seventh national title, it's first since 2009, and CSF is back in the CWS for the first time since 2009. The Titans are one of the few mid-major programs who have competed with the most established athletic programs in college baseball during its history, but they are looking for their first national title since 2004.
The other side of the bracket has turned into a SEC-ACC invitational as two teams from each league make it up, Arkansas and Florida from the SEC, while Miami (Fla.) and Virginia represent the ACC. The team with the most CWS experience is the Hurricanes under legendary manager Jim Morris, but this is their first appearance to Omaha since 2008, and the four-time NCAA champion is looking for their first title since 2001.
While, the two SEC teams, Arkansas and Florida have become recent powerhouses in the sport as they make its seventh and eighth appearance to the CWS, respectively. However, the Razorbacks best finish was losing in the title game all the way back in 1979, while the Gators best finish was also runner-up, but most recently in 2005 and 2011. As for Virginia, it has only made three CWS trips, including last year's runner-up finish to Vanderbilt in the best-of-three championship series.
Since moving into the brand-new TD Ameritrade Park a few seasons ago, the CWS has in some ways enjoyed more popularity, especially playing the event in a more modern ballpark. However, I believe the event has lost some of its charm from back in the day when the event used to be played at the famous Rosenblatt Stadium.
At the same time, I understand why the city of Omaha had to build a new stadium, because the NCAA was threating to move the CWS to another city, even though Omaha was an awesome host of the event for several decades.
If you want to learn the history of the event, including the heated discussion between the people of Omaha about the stadium issue back in 2008, I would recommend ESPN college sports and NASCAR reporter Ryan McGee's book "The Road to Omaha." Not only was the status of Rosenblatt a focal point of the book, but it also recapped the 2008 CWS, in which Fresno State won the national title as a No. 4 seed in their regional.
Each year the NCAA Baseball Tournament is made up of 64 teams in 16 four-team regionals with each of the 16 winners advancing to the best-of-three Super Regional with those eight winners making up the CWS field. When the Bulldogs won it all back seven years ago as a No. 4 seed out of their regional, it was like a No. 16 seed winning the NCAA Final Four in basketball. There are not many books on the CWS, but McGee's book on it could be a Father's Day gift for those longtime baseball fans.