The shrinking tapestry of college baseball in the Upper Midwest took another hit in 2009, when Northern Iowa shut down its baseball program, joining Wisconsin and Iowa State as mid-major/major Division 1 schools in the region that don’t play baseball.
Throw in schools such as Drake and Marquette, which play Division I basketball at a high level, but long ago abandoned their baseball programs, and the region is definitely under-represented as a whole.
The irony, of course, is that the region hosts the showcase event in all of college baseball, the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. There will be extra attention on the spectacle this year as it is the final time the two-week June event will be held at historic Rosenblatt Stadium before moving to a new $150 million stadium in downtown Omaha.
The team with the best chance to represent the area in Omaha this year is Minnesota, the 1956, 1960 and 1964 CWS champion. The Golden Gophers went 40-19 in 2009, losing in the final game of NCAA regional play to eventual national champion Louisiana State.
Minnesota has lost All-American second baseman Derek McCallum, but returns a strong core both offensively and defensively, led by outfielder Michael Kvasnicka (.341-10-65) and strong-armed righthander Seth Rosin (7-1, 4.21). Righthander Scott Matyas (0-1, 2.22, 15 SV, 28 IP/45 SO) is the top closer in the region.
Nebraska has been a home-state representative in the College World Series twice during the last decade, but faces an uphill battle to return for the last round of games at Rosenblatt. The pitching staff that self-destructed in 2009 (6.22 ERA, more than 6 BB/9 IP) should be much improved with a year’s experience and some strong summer-league performances. Righthanders Mike Nesseth and Sean Yost both have top-three round arms, though Nesseth’s success may depend on the development of a core of starters so that he can resume his more comfortable closer’s role on a full-time basis.
While Iowa is now down to one Division I program, the state still is very strong in its junior-college programs. Iowa Western is a perennial national title contender in the NJCAA Division I ranks, while Des Moines Area CC has assumed the same stature in Division II. Kirkwood CC has the region’s top JC prospect, sophomore righthander Patrick Lala, who was touching 95 mph in early-season workouts.
With that as a backdrop, here’s how we see the Upper Midwest in 2010 from a college perspective:
UPPER MIDWEST: IN A NUTSHELL
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