The reality finally hit Willie Abreu on Wednesday afternoon.
“I’ve never had goose bumps talking to the media until right now,” Abreu said. “It’s starting to get real.”
The fact the University of Miami baseball team is headed to Omaha sunk in loud and clear as a small gathering of fans and family members came together at Alex Rodriguez Park to wish the team well as it departed to the College World Series.
The Hurricanes (49-15) will make their first appearance in the College World Series since 2008, starting with an 8 p.m. clash with rival Florida (49-16) Saturday. UM is seeking its fifth national title and first since 2001.
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“We’re all stoked to get over there and get settled in to play the Gators,” UM third baseman David Thompson said. “I don’t think it’s hit me yet. I’ve dreamed about doing something like this since I was a little kid.”
Thompson is one of several Hurricanes players that followed the team growing up and remembers what it was like watching experiencing joy during that 2001 championship run and sorrow when they came up short in 2008.
“I grew up coming to all the games so in 2008, I think I cried when they lost,” Thompson said. “This is a really fun time in my life right now and just happy to be going to Omaha with my family and people that have supported me on the way here.”
Abreu, a sophomore right fielder, was six years old the last time the Hurricanes won a national title, and like many of his teammates, he has never been to Omaha, but has heard plenty about the town’s atmosphere during the CWS.
“People talk a lot about how great it is to play in front of so many people who enjoy the game of baseball,” Abreu said. “We’re looking forward to the whole experience. We just have to stay humble because we’re there to win.”
UM coach Jim Morris drew cheers from the gathering as he walked to the team bus. Morris is leading the Hurricanes to Omaha for the 12th time in his 22nd season in Miami.
Morris said this week he hasn’t been back to Omaha since 2008.
“We usually all go to one steakhouse in particular when we’re out there so hopefully it’s still there,” Morris said. “I don’t go [to Omaha] unless we are playing in [the College World Series]. Maybe, I’m a bad loser I guess.”
This will also be the Hurricanes first time playing at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha – the venue to which the event moved to in 2011 after being held at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium from 1950 to 2010.
UM’s half of the CWS bracket includes ACC rival Virginia (39-22), last year’s national runner-up, and Arkansas (40-23), one of four SEC schools that advanced.
The rest of the bracket is comprised of reigning national champion Vanderbilt (47-19), TCU (49-13), and traditional contenders LSU (50-13), a six-time national champion, and Cal State Fullerton (39-23).
The Gators enter the College World Series as favorites to win it all according to some odds makers. Bovada is giving the Gators 5-2 odds of winning, and gave the Hurricanes the fourth-best odds at 9-2 also behind LSU, an 11-4 favorite, and Vanderbilt, 4-1 odds.
Winning the first game appears paramount regardless.
Since 1950 when the College World Series went to an eight-team double-elimination tournament format, only 11 teams have lost their opening game and still won a national championship.
“I think we’re two different teams since the first time we played,” second baseman George Iskenderian said. “We’re both different hitting-wise. They turned it around and so did we. There were pretty low scoring games in that series. The bats have heated up and both teams have great pitching so it will be a great game.”
The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association named Thompson and Iskenderian first team All-Americans Wednesday. It was Iskenderian’s first such honor and the second for Thompson.