Greg Cote

Hurricanes’ great history and tradition provided the road map back to Omaha

Miami Hurricanes pitcher Andrew Cabezas (53) holds up the U after winning their game against Boston College in game 3 of the NCAA Super Regionals held at Mark Light Field on June 12, 2016.
Miami Hurricanes pitcher Andrew Cabezas (53) holds up the U after winning their game against Boston College in game 3 of the NCAA Super Regionals held at Mark Light Field on June 12, 2016. Lriely@miamiherald.com

How much is tradition worth? What does it weigh? Does it even matter?

It does. It has invisible power. Not everywhere, maybe, but in this place, somehow.

In this little ballpark on the corner of the University of Miami campus, the place that has cheered four Hurricanes baseball teams to national championships.

In this place where a statue of a Wizard stands out front, and there is magic inside.

I think we saw this program’s tradition flex its muscle a little bit Sunday afternoon and help lift the Hurricanes back to Omaha, Nebraska, and another College World Series.

Boston College coach Mike Gambino had said it himself before losing to UM 9-4 in the winner-take-all Game 3 that ended this NCAA Super Regional. He was talking about tradition and aura and the belief that instills — all of it belonging to the Canes, all of it earned by the program that served as host.

“They have been here a million times,” he’d said. “They’re not going to be fazed by this.”

And so they were not.

UM earned its 25th invitation to the CWS, a silver trip in search of gold. Which might seem like a “million times” when your BC program has never in its history won it all and had not even been to a CWS in nearly a half-century, since 1967.

No, of course tradition didn’t help Edgar Michelangeli hit a grand slam and a three-run homer Sunday to knock in seven runs and vault his name into this program’s history and lore — a baseball masterpiece with a bat as brush by the player whose surname evokes that of the Italian Renaissance painter Michelangelo.

Neither did tradition pitch any strikeouts for Miami Sunday or make any plays in the field.

But tradition did help the Canes win, because it offered the map that told them how to, the confidence that told them they could, and the standard that told them they’d better. A raucous, sold-out home crowd didn’t hurt.

“I don’t see how that all can’t but help and be a factor,” UM coach Jim Morris said.

Boston College was the classic underdog just happy to be here, although so desperate to beat the favored Canes that when Michelangeli’s grand slam put the game away, the Eagles’ dejection poured forth. They didn’t like the batter’s bat flip or his celebrating trot. Benches cleared, but thankfully it was all posturing, no punches.

“I just had a lot of emotions,” Michelangeli explained. “So, it is what it is.”

That brief controversy shouldn’t diminish what the Canes just did or the imperative still ahead.

For UM, getting this far, this close, has never been enough.

“We’re not done. This isn’t the end goal. By no means necessary is this over,” team captain Willie Abreu said. “That shows you exactly what our standard is. We gotta win it. Last year [getting to Omaha] might have caught us by surprise. None of us had been there. That’s not the case this year.”

UM’s first opponent in Omaha will be the University of Arizona, next Saturday or Sunday. No team still alive this year has been there as much as pedigreed Miami, which seeks its first title since 2001.

“We won’t be happy unless we bring home a ring,” Morris put it bluntly.

When interviewing to replace retiring program legend Ron Fraser, whose statue is out front, fittingly slightly larger than life, Morris will never forget seeing a CWS runner-up trophy the school had won.

“It was being used as a doorstop in a bathroom,” Morris tells it, perhaps embellishing to add, “And it was wet. I don’t know what that means.”

It means second isn’t good enough.

Those were the standards that drive the Canes to win Sunday.

See, the 45-11 regular season record this year was really good.

The No. 3 ranking in the national polls — that was great.

Best regular-season record in the ACC? Nice.

The three-game sweep in last week’s NCAA regional was good.

But all of it would have hardly mattered — it would have disappeared — if Sunday’s must-win hadn’t been won.

Getting to Omaha is the starting point around here. It is the expectation of excellence UM baseball — Fraser to Morris — has created for itself.

Best or Bust.

No other South Florida team at the pro or college level invites such demands upon itself. The Miami Heat did during the four-year era of LeBron James and the Big 3, when reaching the NBA Finals was assumed, the bare minimum.

Only Canes baseball has been doing it more than 40 years.

This is the program’s 44th consecutive year in the postseason, the longest streak in NCAA Division I — in any sport. When last the Canes did not make the postseason, in 1972, Nixon was president, a new Ford Pinto cost about $2,000, and you could fill with gas for 55 cents a gallon.

“It’s ridiculous what Miami does,” BC coach Gambino said in admiration. “It’s so hard to get just to this level. It’s amazing what this program does.”

Morris admits: “The standard at Miami is impossible. To a lot of people if we don’t win it all, it’s a good season, not a great season. I feel great about our season, but if we finish second, people will tell me, ‘I hope you have a better season next year.’ ”

That is why what’s next is everything.

How UM performs now in the CWS will tell us about this season, and this team. Miami’s first back-to-back 50-win seasons since 1998-99? Not enough.

That isn’t particularly fair or entirely reasonable. It might even be cruel. But it is this program’s reality — and the highest compliment you can pay it.

After the final home game of the season the loudspeakers played that song with the words, “It’s magic, you know. Never believe it’s not so.”

That might as well be the credo of this little ballpark, and the baseball program that has built such a splendid tradition in it.

Walking out of the place Sunday evening, past the bronze statue that stands sentry, if I didn’t know better I’d have sworn Ron Fraser was smiling.

Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at miamiherald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.

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