The Hoos travel to Boston for a weekend series with the Eagles. Here is Dan's take on the state of their program and what to look for this weekend. You can see our responses to their questions at BC Interrpution.
Streaking the Lawn: It's no secret that northern schools have a hard time competing in college baseball. Some teams have had some success in recent years as UConn comes to mind. What do you think are the biggest challenges and do you think Boston College can overcome their geographic disadvantage?
BC Interruption: I think the biggest challenge facing Boston College is, by far, their facilities. Every time I talk about them, I think of the scene in Moneyball when Brad Pitt says, "There are rich teams, there are poor teams, then there's 50 yards of crap, and then there's us."
Let me paint the picture for you for what BC has for baseball facilities. There are no locker rooms at the field, there's barely any seating, and it's a wind tunnel behind the football stadium. The outfield is a parking lot during football season for tailgating, the dugouts are above ground, and it's natural grass - which is a disaster given the unpredictable weather patterns of Boston. There's no lights, no indoor batting cages, and training facilities are sorely lacking. By the end of the game, your fingers, toes, and back will be sore if it's 40 degrees out because it'll feel so much colder.
The players and coaches themselves appreciate the challenges and turn them into opportunities; they're tougher and more rugged than any team anyone will face. For example, this week the team was taking batting practice in the outdoor cages while it was snowing outside with temperatures below 30 degrees because we had freak snow fall in April. They don't think they can't win, but there's no question the facilities hold BC back from being a player who can go get up into the national showcase. Coach Gambino has done an amazing job making this team competitive when you consider what they're up against. As he puts it, when you consider the challenges of being an ACC athlete and further consider the academic requirements at a place like BC, it takes a special kind of athlete to play baseball at BC.
They are in the process of overcoming that, and the school announced it will build a new baseball stadium as part of a $200 million facilities enhancement across different areas. But if they don't give the team indoor training or batting cages, it's going to set the team back further than it will help them out. That makes it imperative for BC to "get it right," something I've been stressing nearly every week out of sheer fear that if they don't get it right, it'll set the program back even further and further.
STL: With the Red Sox having one of best followings in all of sports, it's clear Boston is a great baseball town. Does any of that fanaticism carry over to the Eagles?
BCI: The baseball team has some support, but it can't match what the Red Sox have. A typical BC game can draw a few hundred people, but seating at Shea Field is limited, and there isn't a ton of loud crowd support. The majority of people stand on an exit ramp from Alumni Stadium along the first base line, and the crowd usually thins out over the course of a game.
I think if the team can become more successful - and get the facilities - they're likely to draw a few more people to games. I don't think they'll ever draw the crowds you'll see at FSU, Miami, or even NC State, but there's no reason why the Eagles can't be a team capable of drawing 1,000 people.
I think there's an element that college baseball in New England is, for the most part, an unknown that people haven't discovered. It lives a little bit in its own niche, but that niche is substantially smaller than what you'll see elsewhere.
STL: Boston College last played in the NCAA Tournament in 2009. What do they need to do to get back to Regionals, and is this team close to realizing that goal?
BCI: I think getting into the ACC Tournament has to be the first step. I'm sure Virginia fans can understand that perspective since finishing seventh or eighth can get a team in our conference into the national tournament. But jumping up four or five spots from 12th or 13th is substantially easier said than done.
I feel that BC, at this point, is close to that area, despite what the record shows. The team opened up the year finding its groove and dominated NC State with its pitching, but it's fallen off in recent weeks. Disjointed play and practice schedules caused by weather isn't helping, but if BC can get rolling, I think they have the arms and a lineup that can carry them at least into the ACC Tournament.
Mike Gambino inherited a situation where even though the team was coming off an NCAA appearance in '09 and an ACC appearance in '10, it was a program headed for decline. He weathered the storm of a steep decline that ended with a 12-win season back in 2012, all while reconstructing the program. He's done a fantastic job in doing that, and if he can get the institutional support he needs, this team could be a factor. They might not get to the Louisville/FSU/Miami territory, but it would help get them over the top to really start consistently competing with that next level of team.
I think they might be there already, but it remains to be seen if it's sustainable.
STL: Who should Virginia fans be watching for this weekend?
BCI: The BC pitching staff is something to really keep an eye on. Mike King is a legitimate Friday starter in the ACC, and his name's been coming up in the top 100 of some draft prospect lists. He dueled with FSU last weekend for over eight innings and was in position to win it well into the ninth. He'll give Virginia all they can handle from the mound.
For the rest of the weekend, Jacob Stevens is in the top five in the NCAA this season in ERA as a freshman. At one point, he hadn't allowed an earned run over 30 innings or so before Clemson's Seth Beer did what he does best and went yard. Stevens has only allowed two earned runs to this point.
Out of the bullpen, Justin Dunn is a top 85 prospect and the team's closer, but he's capable of throwing multiple innings. With the ball in his hand, he can dazzle.
At the dish, Joe Cronin's been the straw stirring the drink, hitting at a .354 clip with 22 RBI, and Donovan Casey, Jake Palomaki, and Michael Strem are players to watch. But the one thing about the BC lineup is that no one player is going to jump off the lineup sheet. They are constructed to be a 1-9 threat, with guys who can go deep into counts and work base runners. You're as likely to see a sacrifice bunt out of a cleanup hitter as you are out of a number eight hitter. They've embraced small ball and manufacturing runs. That means Virginia's pitching can shut them down (FSU held them to three hits on Friday), but at the same time, the lineup can really levy some taxes by forcing the 'Hoos deep into their bullpen.
STL: What's your prediction for the weekend series?
BCI: I think BC is a lot better than their 3-7 league record would indicate. But at the same time, I fear that the lack of practice time due to weather the last week (we somehow managed to wind up with five inches of snow on Monday) caused rust to build on this team. Even though they have a game against UMass midweek, that's not exactly a great measuring stick because the Minutemen aren't a major national player.
I think Virginia definitely comes in as the favorite, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Eagles are able to take a game or win the series. This is going to be a great test for BC, and I know we're a cross between anxious and excited to see how we're looking back at things on Monday morning.
The weekend kicks off at 2:30 p.m. on Friday and continues on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. You can follow Dan at @DanRubin12 on Twitter