It is easy to see the effect of the baseball season on anyone associated with Southern Miss. Golden Eagle fans responded with overwhelming support as evidence of great turn outs of black and gold for regional, super regional, and College World Series games. As Golden Eagle Pride's own Cade Morrow reported, USM merchandise was one of the top sellers around Rosenblatt Stadium.
The great response from Southern Miss fans was no surprise, but it did bring other questions to mind. What will this run mean for the entire athletic program? Can this momentum carry over to next season? What might it mean for recruiting? Since our minds are always on football, can this baseball team have an impact on the football Eagles in the fall?
To examine what this might mean for the entire athletic program, consider another school that made a similar run. Remember George Mason? The Patriots unprecedented run to the Final four in 2006 continues to reap benefits for the University today.
Following the 2006 season, George Mason athletic director Tom O'Connor said merchandise sales are up, ticket sales are soaring and fund-raising is up, too. New uniforms, higher attendance, a new contract for the coach, and a buzz around campus all resulted from the miracle season. The impact was even felt outside the athletic realm. In fact, three to four hundred more freshmen enrolled at the University the following fall.
I am certainly not suggesting that there will be more students at USM because of the baseball team going to Omaha. The George Mason example goes to show that the benefits of a season like this can have a far reaching effect on all aspects of an athletic program.
For baseball, the benefits are obvious. Pete Taylor Park was built with the dream that one day this program would play for a National Championship. Now that the goal has been reached, USM baseball has the nation's attention. Season ticket sales will increase, merchandise sales will continue to reap benefits (probably on my credit card alone), and expectations will rise to an all time high.
For the players, off season workouts will have new meaning. Confidence will soar as returning players know they have played against the best on baseball's biggest stage. The momentum will certainly carry over and translate into a renewed hunger to return.
Imagine the sales pitch incoming coach Scott Berry can give recruits as he hits the trail to bring in players. Making it to Omaha speaks for itself. It tells recruits they can play for a National Championship at Southern Miss. Already respected across the state, USM has let in-state rivals know they have a battle on their hands for the best players in Mississippi.
As we reflect on the effects of this season, we will realize it is so much more than baseball, however. As Coach Fedora commented on his Twitter, "the baseball team has set the bar high, I love it." As fall football practice begins, they can look to their fellow baseball counterparts to see that great things are possible at Southern Miss with a singular focus. A season like this can create a mindset of big dreams.
As I personally reflect on the 2009 Golden Eagle baseball team, I think back to the day Corky Palmer announced his retirement. On April 30th, I remember thinking what a disappointment it would be if USM missed out on the NCAA tournament in Palmer's final year. I remember thinking how this team never could seem to gel and put everything together when they needed to, and hoping they at least make a good showing in the Conference USA tournament.
As I watched the Golden Eagles turn a game ending double play in Gainesville, FL to advance to the College World Series, my thoughts went back to the announcement of April 30th. With a giant dog pile on Florida's field, this team had come together to give Coach Palmer a trip that served as a perfect ending to a legendary career. They also gave the Southern Miss community an opportunity to stand proud and take incredible pride in our university. Athletic director Richard Giannini understand the significant accomplishment of this team, saying in a recent letter, "As you can tell the enthusiasm for all Golden Eagle sports continues to be at an all-time high and for those of you who do help and support us we are forever thankful."
National respect will not just be given, it must be earned. Despite one ESPN commentator referring to USM as "Southern Missouri" during a game against North Carolina, these Eagles have brought national respect to Hattiesburg that this University deserves. As a small part of the Golden Eagle community, this fan says thank you 2009 baseball Golden Eagles for an amazing ride. You have truly shown the nation why we love this University so much.