North Carolina’s program is at its real zenith these days–back-to-back College World Series trips for the first time ever, its first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship since 1990, an on-campus super-regional, and the impending construction of a new Boshamer Stadium are all signs that mark this as the golden age of Tar Heels baseball.
So naturally, the media in North Carolina has gotten wind of it, right? Well, not exactly.
The media contingent following the Tar Heels to Omaha is probably the smallest in the eight-team field. The only newspapers to send full-time staffers are the (Raleigh) News & Observer, the Charlotte Observer and the student paper, the Daily Tar Heel. One local television station is here; the Chapel Hill News, which is no longer daily, has a correspondent. The Durham Herald-Sun, which regularly staffs UNC baseball games and sent a reporter to Omaha last year, did not send anyone in 2007.
Meanwhile, Mississippi State–North Carolina’s first-round opponent–is certainly college baseball royalty in some ways, but this is the eighth trip in school history, just two more than North Carolina. However, Mississippi State fans burn for baseball, as evidenced by its home attendance. The Bulldogs drew an average of 6,939 over 32 home games this season (including 26,000-plus in the super-regional against Clemson), while the Tar Heels averaged 1,676 in 44 dates.
And Mississippi’s media has responded. My count of Mississippi media ran into the double digits quickly, and some members of that contingent were at the first game, chronicling the appearance of former Ole Miss assistant Dan McDonnell in Omaha as Louisville’s head coach.
I doubt that the members of the North Carolina media even knew Louisville’s pitching coach, Roger Williams, is a UNC alum and was the Tar Heels pitching coach until 2005. The only “beat” writer the Tar Heels really have is the Durham paper’s reporter, and he’s not here.
As a North Carolina native and resident, it’s pitiful to see how the rest of the country is starting to get what Ron Polk and the people in and around Starkville, Miss., started to get a generation ago. North Carolina is an incredibly strong brand name in college sports thanks to its basketball program–heck, even baseball coach Mike Fox played JV basketball for Dean Smith. College baseball has become a strong brand on its own, at a different level certainly, but strong and growing.
One day, perhaps the media in my home state will figure that out. But if they haven’t by now, with North Carolina baseball at its peak, it’s hard to imagine it happening.