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College | Story | 5/20/2020

363 Days and Counting...

Mike Rooney        
Photo: Hoover Met (Michael Wade)
2020 College Honor Roll | Letter to College Baseball

I Wish We Had Met: May 13

This time last year, I experienced one of the best College Baseball weeks of my life.  This year, an encore was not possible for obvious reasons.

Please indulge me as I reminisce upon those seven wonderful days in 2019.  It was the best of times. 

On Monday, May 20th, I settled into the SEC Network hotel near Birmingham, Alabama.  Despite a life spent in College Baseball, this would be my first time attending the famed SEC Baseball Tournament in person.  “Hoover”, as it is commonly referred to, was something I had watched on television countless times.

The host city of Hoover, Alabama, and the hotel, were clearly all in on the event.  Upon entering the hotel, the tourney’s logo was illuminated on to the marble floor in the lobby.. very impressive.  Upon entering my room, there was placard on the TV stand that highlighted which channel the SEC Baseball Tournament would be on.  #YouGetMe
The event itself would make any College Baseball fan proud.  The games kick off on Tuesday and there are four per day early in the tournament.  The fanfare around the stadium would remind you of a College Football Saturday. 

Here’s another interesting factoid: no school or organization currently claims Hoover Metropolitan Stadium as its own.  It is in fact, the home of the SEC Baseball Tournament.  To be clear, this tournament has its very own stadium.  #LargeLeague

If you had to summarize Hoover, it really is a Baseball Wonderland.  We saw 12 different teams in two days.  Vandy was on its way to making history.  There were over 13,000 fans in attendance for the Tuesday night LSU-Mississippi State game.  (Note to self: 13,000 fans on a Tuesday night!)  To top it off, I was given a SEC Network logo’d bucket hat for my broadcast duties.  #WinningAtLife

After those memorable few days in Hoover, I then journeyed to Durham, North Carolina for the ACC Tournament Championship.  This very underrated event was being played at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.  This Triple-A ballpark is an absolute jewel and the downtown setting was festive.

The first few days of this tourney involve a much-maligned pod system with a round robin format.  Eventually the four pod winners begin a single-elimination tournament on Saturday.  The electricity ramps up quickly and there is a very old school feel to that part of the format. 

Like Hoover, it is fun to see so many excellent teams in one venue.  The separator here was the ballpark.  It is splendid in every way and made for an outstanding experience. 

From Durham I ventured to Bristol, Connecticut and the mother ship.. ESPN.  The ACC Tournament Championship game begins at 12 noon ET so this Sunday night trip to ESPN has become a ritual for me over the last couple of years. 

Upon arriving in Bristol on Sunday night, the chances of a good night’s sleep were minimal.  And that is because the Monday that lay before me was surreal.  In the morning, I would get to represent the sport of College Baseball on both “Get Up” and “Sports Center”. 

This was a thrill for several reasons.  First of all, the interview on Get Up would be conducted by the great Laura Rutledge.  Laura has been one of our teammates on College Baseball broadcasts and even married a former College Baseball star (Josh Rutledge of Alabama).  Laura is a superstar herself and she truly loves our sport.  It was a blast!

Appearing on Sports Center for the first time in my career struck in me in several ways.  For starters, this is a show I’ve been watching religiously since I was ten years old.  More importantly, I always feel a strong sense of pride when a global program like Sports Center focuses its attention on College Baseball. 

I was somewhat anxious for this “hit” but a sense of purpose helped calmed me.  This was the greatest time of the year in our sport and it was my responsibility to help the American sports fan get ready for the run to Omaha. 

It also helped that I could tell the hosts (Nicole Briscoe and Randy Scott) about Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman.  They loved the story about him tackling Christian McCaffrey on a kickoff return during Rutschman’s freshman year.  (He kicked for the Oregon State football team.)  #PlayBadlyForAdley

From there it was on to the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.  While the show is very much a celebration, I always feel conflicted.  You are elated for teams that achieved something truly great for their program.  And you feel heartbroken for the teams who accomplished so many amazing things during the season, only to fall short of making the NCAA Tournament.  All that said, it is an absolute privilege to help present the Field of 64 to College Baseball fans everywhere. 

My final stop before leaving Bristol has also become an annual tradition for me: after the Selection Show, I head to the radio studio on ESPN’s Bristol campus.  From there, I join Daron Sutton for our Perfect Game College Baseball radio show on SiriusXM Channel 84.  It is a joyous show as we interview coaches who are lifted up by the thrill of their place in the NCAA Tournament.  It is the perfect capper to an incredible week.

 Reflecting on that glorious week serves as a reminder as to why I love College Baseball so much.  Our sport has taken me places I never thought possible.  It has introduced me to people who have changed my life.  In good and bad times, the sport of College Baseball has been a constant for me.    

Sharing my passion for College Baseball in a public setting is an honor and I miss those conversations dearly.  But that’s ok, this too shall pass.  I believe my College Baseball Dream Week will happen again.  Maybe just 363 days from today.  I’ll be ready!
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