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MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
Patrick Mason was introduced as the new Virginia Tech baseball coach in Blacksburg on Thursday.
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
Virginia Tech hosted an NCAA regional for the first time this spring, drawing a big crowd for the first day -- but not the second.
Saturday, June 29, 2013
To the 1,772 people who came to Blacksburg on June 1: Good job. You did your part.
To those who didn’t? Well, before you question Jim Weaver’s commitment level to Virginia Tech baseball in light of this past week’s coaching change, you might want to evaluate your own.
Be honest about it, too. Own it. What kept you away from the second Hokies’ NCAA regional game ever played on Tech’s campus? Couldn’t have been the weather — 81 degrees, nice cloud cover, no wind or rain. Doubtful it was the cost — $10 for an adult general admission seat, $5 for youth and students.
Stakes not high enough? Oh, but they were. That game was win-or-else for the Hokies and Coastal Carolina.
Sure, there were other things going on that day. A music festival in Salem. A Carolina League baseball game. The typical summer destinations such as lakes, rivers, campgrounds and parks all had their allure, too.
But one day after 3,566 flocked to Blacksburg to see the Hokies play UConn, less than half that total showed up on June 1.
Maybe — and this seems a real likelihood — folks just had something else they preferred to do that day. And that’s fine.
It’s also telling.
Nothing’s worse than a media member (especially one who gets into an event free) telling a sports fan how they ought to spend their time or money. I’m not going to do that. But I am going to tell you the message sent by all those empty seats at English Field on June 1: Tech isn’t a baseball school.
Which brings us to this past week’s developments. On Thursday, Oklahoma hired baseball coach Pete Hughes away from Tech. Weaver and his administrative staff immediately elevated pitching coach Patrick Mason to take Hughes’ place.
Cue the outcry. Weaver’s cheap! Small-time! Lazy! Incompetent!
I get it. Weaver hasn’t exactly distinguished himself on the hiring front lately.
Women’s basketball coach Dennis Wolff was a Weaver “gut” selection who’s gone 17-43 his first two seasons in Blacksburg. He succeeded Beth Dunkenberger, another Weaver hire who struggled.
Men’s basketball coach James Johnson was hired, in large part, because Weaver thought he could keep a young nucleus of players and recruits from leaving town. That didn’t happen. The Hokies went 13-19 in Johnson’s first season, and next year looks like it could be worse.
All fair criticisms. But in this case, what did you expect the man to do with Hughes? Break the bank to try to keep him? Promise massive facilities upgrades to sweeten the pot?
Why build a bigger stadium if the community has indicated it has no plans to fill it?
We have no idea how Mason will fare. He’s 37 and has never been a head coach. Given his apprenticeship under Hughes, there’s reason to believe he can be successful, but he has to prove it. And “has to prove it” guys are the kind you get when you’re not a baseball school.
One argument that frustrated fans are making is on point. Weaver could have —and should have — broadened his search to include head coaches at other schools. If Mason was still his guy at the end of the process, great, but at least compare him to other candidates first.
After so many inside-the-building hires have gone wrong, Weaver has mortgaged the benefit of the doubt on his gut choices. That’s his fault, not Mason’s.
The irony is, Hughes will go down as one of the most shrewd hires in Weaver’s tenure. He wasn’t the simple or obvious one, and it took some work to bring him here.
But at least the way Hughes chose to leave — unlike, say, the way Seth Greenberg was forced to — made sense. Weaver shouldn’t be criticized for that, at least by those who passed on a perfect opportunity to demonstrate passion for the program earlier this month.
In the end, a full house on June 1 likely would have done nothing to change what happened this week. The right (wrong?) dominoes fell. When Oklahoma comes calling, you go. It’s a legitimate chance for Hughes to make a College World Series next year — something that can’t be said at Tech.
But you can bet a full house would have made everybody think about this just a little bit more. Hughes. Weaver. The community. It would have signaled that Blacksburg really was embracing the evolution of the sport. If an NCAA regional can’t pack the place, nothing will. Or so the administration has every right to believe.
Think of it like voting. Your single ballot probably won’t alter the outcome of a presidential election, but if you don’t go to the polls, you forfeit your right to complain.
That’s where Tech baseball is now. There are 1,772 people who can curse the fact that Tech wasn’t formidable enough to keep Pete Hughes.
The rest should ask themselves how much they really care.
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