I’ve been following this possibility for a couple weeks, and yesterday it happened.
Gene Stephenson, the long-time coach that started the baseball program at Wichita State University and brought the program to prominence on a national scale, was fired yesterday by athletic director Eric Sexton.
It was apparent at the Missouri Valley Conference baseball tournament here a few weeks ago that something was in the works. Sexton was around for some of the tournament, but even congratulating Stephenson after a victory against Indiana State, the disconnect between the two was obvious.
As the ending of baseball games go, this was unique.
Trailing 9-5 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, local favorite Illinois Wesleyan University mounted an improbable rally against North Central College that led to one of the more bizarre endings to a baseball game I’ve ever witnessed.
Enter Matt “the Cat” Adams. The long-time “assistant director of baseball operations” at Illinois Wesleyan, as he is referred to by public address announcer Ed Moore, Matt has been known to put an occasional hex on an opposing pitcher.
I’ve been critical of certain things related to the inception of Independent League Baseball in Bloomington/Normal, predominantly related to decisions made with the stadium construction. I’ve been less than enthused with some of the rhetoric coming from the front office as well, but I’ll just chalk it up to the growing pains that come with starting a professional franchise.
It’s nice to have professional baseball locally, even devoid of a Major League affliation. As transient as this community is, I’m not sure the fanbase will ever be what team owners would like (or projected to potential investors), but crafting a sustainable organization with corporate sponsorships and steadily improving game promotions would be a great thing for BloNo.
For years, I just assumed Martensdale St. Mary’s (IA) was a small Catholic school with stellar baseball, bolstered by a non-boundaried policy that allowed players to drive from miles away to join a successful program.
I was wrong.
In the midst of following a winning streak building off a 43-0 state championship run in 2010, I learned that it’s Martensdale-St. Marys, and that it isn’t a private school at all. It’s a consolidated school with rural boundaries that include the town of Martensdale (pop. 459*) and St. Marys (pop. 127.*). Perhaps had I bothered to note that their mascot was the “Blue Devils,” I likely could have concluded they weren’t a school of religious influence pretty quickly.
(Bloomington, IL – May 19, 2011) – By the time he threw his first pitch, he’d already prepared the mound for play, something that’s become a regular task for him. This was the start of Jason Pankau’s night, one that would end with a thrilling 3-2 victory on a 1-6-3 double play with two runners on in the 9th inning.
Head coach Dennis Martel was still two blocks away when he heard the final out on the radio and rambled onto the field as the post-game handshakes were concluding. Driving most of the day after attending the funeral of his mother-in-law three state’s away, it was a comforting and fitting ending to Illinois Wesleyan’s first round game in the NCAA Division III Central Regional. He joined his team and engaged them in a “group hug” – quietly celebrating their victory and looking forward to tonight’s matchup.
As a fan, it’s easy to embrace the success the Titans have experienced of late, including the first-ever national baseball championship by a CCIW team in 2010.