Boise State Coach Gary Van Tol, Akron Coach Chris Sabo Join The Baseball America College Podcast
This week on the Baseball America College Podcast, Teddy Cahill and Joe Healy are joined by a pair of coaches leading programs returning to college baseball for the 2020 season in Boise State’s Gary Van Tol and Akron’s Chris Sabo.
The two programs are similar in that they are both coming back from a hiatus, but the timetables are quite different. While the Zips have been dormant just since the end of the 2015 season, the Broncos haven’t taken the field since 1980.
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That type of wait has the Boise locals eager to see the team play again.
“Everywhere I go, people want to stop and get an update and talk about Boise State baseball,” Van Tol said. “They can’t wait to come and watch a game. I think we have a real special opportunity to build something pretty unique.”
But just because it hasn’t been as long since Akron took the field, it doesn’t mean that it was a seamless transition to get the team back on the field. Sabo admits that it has been work intensive to get to this point.
“They didn’t have baseballs, they didn’t have a uniform, obviously no players, the field was in disrepair,” Sabo said. “It’s been a long haul, but it’s been good. I was happy to work with the players that we recruited this fall. We actually just concluded our individual meetings to send them on their way for the holidays yesterday, so I’ll be looking forward to January and playing some games beginning February 14.”
In some ways, it might be an advantage that the Zips haven’t been gone that long. Some of the infrastructure from before is still in place and memories of the program competing in the MAC are still fresh.
On the other hand, Sabo and his staff will have to overcome that recent history. When the curtains came down on the previous iteration of Akron baseball, it had finished over .500 overall once since 1997 (25-24 in 2008) and it had been since that 1997 season that it won more than 30 games in a season.
Still, Sabo doesn’t spend much time mincing words about his vision.
“I didn’t do this to win one baseball game next year,” Sabo said. “I did this to build something from nothing and be competitive.”
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Given the 40-year layoff, Boise State has something less than a running start into this new era, but that hasn’t done anything to temper excitement, not just among locals, but internally.
That includes an initial class of players who committed to the Broncos in time to arrive on campus in the fall of 2018, a full year before the team would even play fall games. Going into that recruiting cycle, Van Tol wasn’t sure what to expect, but when it was all said and done, it was clear the interest was there.
“That first month on the job when I was trying to put that blueprint together, there was no one that was going to come on campus a year early,” Van Tol said. “Having patience and going through the first six months, it was obvious there was plenty of interest, and I was looking to try to balance the roster with some JC transfers and some incoming freshman and those were going to be our two biggest classes. And then as things moved forward, we ended up having 12 guys on campus last year that sacrificed a full year of their life just to train and get acclimated and lay the foundation.”
Expectations should be relatively low for these two teams in 2020, with good reason. Being competitive in year one of a rebooted program is a tough trick to pull off.
Even Oregon, a Pac-12 program with immense financial support at the outset, struggled to a 14-win campaign in its first year back on the scene in 2009.
However, each has a compelling case that it could be competitive moving forward.
Boise State, a school in a growing city, will be part of a quality Mountain West Conference and will be able to recruit in areas where there simply aren’t a ton of college baseball teams. In theory, this allows the program to give players in the region a chance to stay more local than they would have otherwise.
Akron resides in a state with a much greater number of Division I-caliber recruits, and even if bigger programs pick off the cream of that crop, the Zips will have the advantage of seeing those types of players more often and being seen by them with regularity.
For these two programs, getting back on the field seemed so far away for so long, nothing more than a far off destination in the distance. But now, Opening Day is upon them, ready or not.