How much does 44 years of history weigh? That is what these Miami Hurricanes baseball players carry onto the field with them in Louisville Tuesday to begin the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Will such a thing lift a team, or crush it?
“The blessing and the curse,” coach Jim Morris calls The Streak.
Every year since 1973, uninterupted, UM has qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Morris has lived it so he mentions nonchalantly what is so extraordinary as he calls it (ho hum) “a streak unmatched in any sport in NCAA history.”
Yes, for nearly a half century South Florida could set its clock on UM being in college baseball's national playoffs every year. Twenty-five of those 44 straight NCAA appearances would reach the College World Series, with national championships resulting in 1982, 1985, 1999 and 2001.
Now that streak is in serious jeopardy.
UM baseball, of such consistently high pedigree throughout the decades of the Ron Fraser/Morris continuum, is today what is so rarely has been:
The underdog. The little train laboring uphill.
Starting Tuesday at 11 a.m. vs. Georgia Tech (Morris' previous employer before joining UM in 1994), the Hurricanes must win two games and perhaps three in the ACC tourney this week for any chance at an at-large invitation to the NCAAs.
Sixth-seeded Miami is in Pool C along with No. 3-seeded Wake Forest and No. 10 Tech. The Canes must advance out of the pool for any shot at the NCAAs.
That desperation is the residue of a 29-26 regular season that marked UM's fewest victories since 1970 and fewest games over .500 since '66.
Being in an NCAA regional always had been a given, nearly a birthright; “We've always been worried about hosting,” as Morris put it.
Morris own’ personal streak of 32 straight NCAA appearances as a head coach - all 23 at UM and his last nine at Georgia Tech - also in in jeopardy.
The Canes must win their way in to keep UM’s record-setting streak and Morris’s own run alive. Canes baseball has not missed the playoffs for the first time since the summer the 1972 Dolphins were reporting for training camp.
A UM season beset by injuries and underperformance ended on the upbeat, at least. With the year's only four-game win streak. With the same lineup on the field seven straight games. Well-timed, the Canes seem to have jelled just in time for the postseason.
“We need that positive reinforcement,” Morris said of ending on four straight wins. “That confidence as a team.”
They needed it because, overall, “It's been kind of a nightmare all the things that have gone wrong,” Morris admitted.
UM lost star players such as Zack Collins and Willie Abreu to the MLB draft. Lost freshman stud Michael Amditis to a broken leg. Injuries left Morris needing bailing wire and twine to cobble togteher linueps.
The Canes' top pitchers, Michael Mediavilla and Jesse Lepore, were a combined 20-2 last season and a combined 5-10 this year.
A popgun offense had nobody bat better than .278 and only one player with more than four home runs.
For much of the season this wasn't UM baseball, but an imposter trying to be. It began late in the season to finally look the part. Now the Canes must take another step, and marshal all of the program's pedigree, too, this week.
It is hard to fathom the Canes would not earn an at-large NCAA bid and be one of the 64 qualifying teams with a decent ACC showing. Miami's overall RPI power index is 47th nationally and its strength of schedule rating a strong 11th. One also imagines the selection committee, in terms of a tiebreaker or close call, might look favorably upon a program of historical heft that also finished strong.
That the 44-year streak is in such peril should only make us appreciate it even more, whether it continues this week, against odds, or suddenly ends.