California has long been a hotbed of college baseball talent and the state has long produced top team after top team. 71 trips to the College World Series have originated from California, resulting in 21 national championship teams from five different schools hailing from the Golden State. As a result, the state has hosted its share of postseason contests, but this season could be different.
In the 11 postseasons played since the NCAA went to the 64 team Super Regional format, the state of California has been well represented when it comes to Regional hosts. In those 11 years, the West Coast has had four host sites three times, three host sites six times and two host sites twice. Whether the region has hosted two, three or four times, California has always be a feature, hosting at least two Regionals in every single year.
This season, the state of California is suffering from a lack of teams off to a quality start and a possible lack of facilities qualified to host. It is admittedly early in the season, but this is shaping up to be a year with only one California host or even an unthinkable, none.
At the moment, only two teams from the state are in position to host: UC Irvine and UCLA. UC Irvine hosted a Regional in 2009 and despite a tough weekend in South Carolina, will likely be in position to host should they win the Big West. The problem is that rumors persist that they will not bid on a Regional and official word from the athletic department on whether they will bid is that, “no determination has been made yet.” If the Anteaters do not bid, that leaves UCLA. The Bruins are 9-0 and playing extremely well so if the continue their strong run of play, earning the right to host is rather likely. For UCLA to host, though, they will have to bring in an extraordinary amount of temporary facilities in to expand the capacity of Jackie Robinson Stadium, concessions, restrooms, press facilities and facilities for the teams participating. UCLA maintains that they are willing to lose money to host so they will likely be able to host, but such an overhauled facility could be the best California has to offer.
So who else is out there can still move up to earn the right to host by Selection Monday? Realistically, there are only three teams who can get it done.
Cal St. Fullerton entered 2010 a consensus top five team, but they are off to a 4-6 start and are suffering from a host of problems. They’ve dropped out of some of the top 25 polls and are hanging on at the bottom on reputation alone. Even with their struggles, Fullerton is still a talented team with great tradition and the best fan support in the state, which the NCAA does take into considering whether they admit it or not. The Titans haven’t killed their Regional host chances, but they have given themselves an uphill battle.
San Diego is another of the early season disappointments with a 4-6 start of their own. The Toreros look to miss Eric Valenzuela more than they were expected to as their pitchers struggle to get outs, even with a staff full of talented arms. If their pitchers can sort things out and start winning, they can still play their way into host consideration with Rice, Coastal Carolina and Arizona St. all on the schedule in consecutive weeks from late March to early April. Even if they can play their way into hosting position, they will have to figure out a deal with San Diego St. to host at their ballpark like they did in 2007 because their stadium isn’t near good enough to host.
Stanford isn’t in the underachieving category like San Diego and Fullerton, but they are in position to play their way in a Regional host. The Cardinal are extremely young, but are 7-4 and have a series sweep of Rice under their belts. The uber-talented Brett Mooneyham, who has a ERA over 10.00, will have to get on track for the Cardinal to make a run, but they have the facility, the tradition and the talent. Stopping them could be an unexpectedly deep Pac-10 because they will likely have to jump UCLA and Oregon St. in the conference if they are to host, but certainly at least one of them.
So where have all the California hosts gone? It’s still March so there’s plenty of time for teams to turn it around, but you have to wonder if the state will have more than one Regional host. Assuming Irvine chooses not to bid, UCLA is the only team that has positioned themselves well in the early going to host. Everyone else is playing catch up and if there is only one California host, where do all of the West Coast teams get shipped to? A lack of California hosts may not just have an impact on the local schools, but the rest of the country could be forced to deal with dangerous West Coast school invading their Regionals. It’s a strange time in California.