The Miami baseball team plays its first game in the College World Series since 2008 on Saturday night.
Much has changed in the capital of college baseball since — most notably the venue.
The previous time Jim Morris’ squad was here, the CWS was played a few miles away at Rosenblatt Stadium.
On Friday, Miami took the field at TD Ameritrade Park (which opened in 2011) for the first time, but saw some familiar faces in orange-and-blue jerseys.
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The Hurricanes (49-15) square off against longtime rival Florida (46-19) in the marquee game of Saturday’s opening day in Omaha.
Florida and Miami have been playing each other in baseball since 1940, a span of 240 games but Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN) is not only the first between the two teams in Omaha, but the first-ever meeting outside of the state of Florida.
“This is the World Series and you’re excited to be here so it doesn’t matter who you are playing,” said Morris, who is making his 12th trip to the CWS in 22 seasons with the Hurricanes.
“It does add an interesting twist to it, playing Florida. But we’ve played Florida State out here, too, so it’s not something where in-state rivals haven’t played out here before.”
Both teams come to Omaha on quite a roll with the Hurricanes earning a No. 5 national seed as they have won 19 of their past 21 games.
Fourth-seeded Florida is considered the tournament favorite — the Gators are aiming for their first national championship in the sport — after winning nine straight and 13 of its past 15, including a two-game rout of Florida State in the Gainesville Super Regional.
Miami has won four national championships and is in Omaha for the 24th time. This marks Florida’s ninth trip to the CWS and fourth since 2010.
“Walking out of that tunnel, it’s pretty special,” said Florida starter Logan Shore (9-6), who only threw nine pitches against Miami on Feb. 20 before leaving with a hip flexor injury.
“I’m pumped for this. We haven’t played a team from outside Florida since the SEC Tournament. Go figure, we play Miami in the first game in Omaha. It’s always special to play an in-state rival, there’s always added hype to it. But Omaha does enough on its own. We’re not just here to beat Miami, we’re here to win the whole thing. Miami is just that first stepping stone for that.”
The Hurricanes counter with ace Andy Suarez (9-1), who was scheduled to face Shore in February, but missed his start against the Gators after sustaining a oblique strain during warmups in the visiting bullpen at McKethan Stadium.
“Just looking around this place, this is a big deal,” Suarez said.
Natural postseason foes, the Hurricanes and Gators have done a nice job of keeping one another away from Omaha over the years.
Most recently, it has been Florida putting the brakes on Miami’s annual run to Nebraska.
Since the Hurricanes last trip here in 2008, Florida ended Miami’s season in the regional or super regional round three times (2009-11) as the Gators won 11 of 15 meetings between the two during that span.
Over the past seven seasons, Florida has won 19 of 27 against Miami.
Most recently, the two have split six games with each winning two of three at home (Miami won the series in 2014, Florida in 2015).
“Both programs are very good, very competitive,” Morris said. “I expect a good baseball game like we played the first three this season. Those were great games to watch although it was freezing.”
Sophomore outfielder Willie Abreu said it is odd to play Florida in Nebraska, but that the hard-hitting Hurricanes are ready for the challenge.
“It seems kind of crazy. We could have played them just up the road,” Abreu said.
“This is the place to be. This is a great team and we’re excited to play them. Miami-Florida is a big rivalry and we’re excited to play it out on the biggest stage in college baseball.”