MY COURT NOW: Ball State baseball has nowhere to go but up
Rocky two years leaves program at bottom with long, slow way back
As Kent State's improbable run in the NCAA baseball tournament continues, it begs the question on the state of Ball State's own baseball program.
Remember it? The one that's had seven first round draft picks and under former coaches Rich Maloney and Greg Beals, turned in combined records 256-144 and 217-199 respectively. Despite only one Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship in that time, the Cardinals routinely competed at the top of the MAC and developed pro talent on a consistent level.
The last few years, though, have been about as dreadful as it can get for Ball State baseball and not just because of Alex Marconi's 29-71 record the last few years. For the program, it can only go up from here but it's looking like it could be a long, slow crawl.
Athletic director Bill Scholl indicated earlier in the week that the baseball facilities are in need of a ton of work. The team features few players who look like they will improve enough to give the team a significant chance to rebound from a 14-36 record.
At times this season, it seemed like there was a shred of hope. The Marconi-led squad went out and beat Missouri on the strength of a strong start by Ball State's best pitcher Cal Bowling. Heading into the top of the sixth inning against Purdue, ranked 18th at the time, Ball State was down 3-2. It ended up a 15-2 defeat after 12 straight runs crossed the plate in the one of the worst half-innings for Ball State in recent memory.
Maybe that's why a coaching change was absolutely necessary.
Marconi was on a one-year appointed contract. It was renewed after the 2011 season when the team finished 15-35 and would generally be given a 90 days notice before the contract expires if Ball State opted to retain or terminate the deal. Seems to be the case for Marconi, who's resignation was unexpected and the timing of it too perfect for Scholl and the Ball State athletic department.
Who could blame Scholl here? The disparity of a program with a solid track record and a chance to put in his own guy to take the program where he wants it to go is the perfect opportunity. A job that he said coaches are clawing after. This is what he wanted, and it marks the first decision in his tenure where he will replace someone else's coach with his own.
It certainly won't be easy to turn a team that was in the bottom of the MAC in offense and near the bottom in pitching. The Cardinals hit an abysmal .249 and scored a MAC low 207 runs. The pitching staff compiled 5.75 ERA and struggled with bullpen depth all season long.
It's going to be about more than just recruiting and developing - the team needs an attitude adjustment, too. It needs more confidence, something that Marconi never gave them. Though I understand taking the bat out of the hands of some of your worst hitters in order to squeeze in runs in the later innings, doing so with your middle of the order sends a bad message to the team. It shows a lack of confidence you have in your players to get the job done and if you don't have any confidence in your best hitters, you are probably micro-managing too much with the whole lineup.
Baseball is a relaxed sport that becomes a mental game quickly. Even though the Marconi experiment failed miserably, the Scholl experiment as athletic director is just beginning, and hopefully could jump start a program that has far more potential than what it's shown recently.