The 2021 college baseball season is set up to be one of the best years in the history of the sport, and on top of that, Louisiana Tech could be one of the most compelling storylines of all.
No, really. Before you start to nitpick and call that hyperbolic, hear me out on this one.
College baseball has evolved tremendously over the years as 10 different schools have won national championships since 2008. Keep in mind no team won it in 2020, as the season was canceled due to COVID-19. And the list of champions feature teams from the SEC, out west, the Sun-Belt conference and even the Western Athletic Conference.
So unlike college football, college baseball has offered a nice balance of variety in recent years. Now, take that observation and add in the fact that well more than 60% of college baseball seniors returned this season after Major League Baseball shortened the draft from 40 rounds to just five.
That means you’re going to have older teams across the country with players that would have jumped at the chance to go pro in normal years, so the quality of play should increase as a direct result. And while I’m itching to see what Michael Federico does with ULM after a 12-5 start in 2020 that featured an electric three-game series against Ole Miss in Monroe, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit Louisiana Tech is set up to be one of the best stories of the year in baseball.
What baseball program has been through more than the Bulldogs the last few seasons? Tech's battle through adversity started when a tornado ripped through Ruston and tore through tennis courts, the softball field, soccer field and J.C. Love Field at Pat Patterson Park.
That forced the Bulldogs to play their games elsewhere, and up until two weeks ago, the team was still practicing at Ruston High School. The Bulldogs had optional hitting sessions in the afternoons before giving way to Ruston High School’s baseball team for its practice only to return at night to resume baseball activities. How would you like that schedule as a college baseball player?
Last week, the Bulldogs got to finally move into their new Love Shack, though. Seeing this team practice in the new stadium after everything they’ve been through should make diehard baseball fans teary eyed, especially considering Tech didn’t lose a single player to transfer during that entire rebuild. Steele Netterville, who was one of 12 Bulldogs who played in the old stadium, hit the first home run in the new park on his fourth swing of BP.
"It felt like Christmas morning when we walked out," Netterville told school officials. "Honestly, I was shaking a little bit because I was so excited to be in this new ballpark. It was great to be out here with the guys."
Lane Burroughs recently told us on The Morning Drive with Aaron and Jake that he, Taylor Young and Netterville were taking it all in the other day and each thought, “Wow, this looks like a minor league baseball park.”
And the look of the new stadium can’t be over exaggerated. On top of the beautiful amenities inside, the concourse is wide open, so that fans won’t have to miss a pitch when they go to the concession stand.
Baseball will undoubtedly look a bit different in 2021 with the COVID-19 restrictions and potential lineup changes overnight due to the complex nature of this pandemic. But some of the changes will be welcomed. Conference USA will have four-game weekends in conference play, the active rosters will be increased to 40 and the travel roster for conference play will increase from 27 to 30. That'll certainly help with what's sure to feel like marathon weekends after a while.
But one thing will remain the same — Louisiana Tech will be one of the top contenders in C-USA. If preseason accolades are any indication, Louisiana Tech is going to have one of its best years yet. After all, multiple publications named two different Bulldogs (Netterville and Parker Bates) as the Preseason C-USA Player of the Year.
And that’s not even mentioning Young, who we’ve followed since his high school days at West Monroe. Young, by the way, in his three seasons with the Bulldogs has never posted lower than a .420 on-base percentage for a full season. The Bulldogs have certainly faced a tremendous amount of adversity over the last few years, so it would only be fitting Louisiana Tech rips off one of its most memorable seasons yet when the competition it faces just might be the fiercest of all time. Now that's a story worth following.