(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.
Illinois Wesleyan baseball coach Dennis Martel repeated over and over how unbelievable the Titans’ post season run was. I’m sure he must have housed a butterfly garden in his stomach, but you’d never know it on championship day.
Before the final game even started, he encouraged his players to appreciate the environment in which they were playing.
“Get out of the dugout, enjoy the moment, take a look around,” he told them.
“Look in the stands, create a memory.”
A short walk and survey of the crowd brought an observation by one of the Titan players that should have been clear much earlier.
“This must be a big game, our president is here boys,” he noted after seeing Illinois Wesleyan president Dr. Richard Wilson in the stands.
Must be a big game?
College baseball coaches have a different look this spring, thanks to a new rule that mandates wearing a helmet when coaching the bases. The NCAA passed the rule last September that states “It is required that base coaches wear a helmet. Play will not continue until compliance with this rule is met. It is recommended that the helmet meet NOCSAE standards.”
On July 22, 2007, Tulsa Drillers (Colorado Rockies AA affiliate) first base coach Mike Coolbaugh was hit by a line drive and died an hour later.
The tragedy resulted in Major League Baseball implementing a helmet requirement last season, and the NCAA has followed suit in 2009. The rule has received a very lukewarm reception from baseball coaches in professional baseball (Larry Bowa at one point said he would pay a fine for all 162 games to keep from wearing the helmet, only to acquiesce when he was told he would be ejected every game he didn’t wear one). In the college game, a similar response has occurred.