Recently, the college football world was captivated by the premiere of the newest in ESPN’s “30 for 30” series of films, “The U Part 2,” which chronicled in fantastic detail the rise of the Hurricanes’ football program under Butch Davis in the mid to late-90s coming on the heels of sanctions stemming from a Pell Grant scandal.
There’s no doubt about it; that was a fun time to follow Hurricanes football. The core of those best teams came from humble beginnings, as many of them weren’t highly-touted recruits, they not only won a bunch of games, but won them in style, and then by the time they left, they were big-time NFL prospects. If you go back and look the UM rosters from 1999-2002, they read like a who’s who of NFL stars.
It’s easy to forget that just a little more than 20 minutes down the road at Mark Light Field, the Miami Hurricanes baseball program was dominating in a similar fashion.
The baseball Hurricanes advanced to the College World Series in Omaha every season between 1994 and 1999, missed a year in 2000, but then returned in 2001. They were runners-up in Omaha in 1996, losing only on that oft-replayed two-run walk-off home run off the bat of LSU’s Warren Morris. But in 1999 and 2001, they were able to seal the deal and walk away as national champions, sweeping the field on both occasions. With 50-13 and 53-12 records, respectively, both squads were forces of nature from wire to wire.
Where the comparison falls a little bit short is on the pro prospects on each roster. Whereas the football rosters were filled with players destined for NFL glory, the baseball rosters were largely made up of solid college players whose skills just never translated to pro baseball.
From the 1999 team, only pitcher Michael Neu, infielder Bobby Hill, and outfielder Charlton Jimerson saw time in the major leagues, and it was nothing more than a cup of coffee for each of them. In 2001, Jimerson was the only player on the roster who ended up logging major league time.
Collectively, the team was greater than the sum of its parts and UM got the job done in any event.
It would be unfair to say that the program has declined since then in the same way that the football program has. After all, the baseball program has continued to make the NCAA tournament each and every year. But considering the success the program has enjoyed in its history, it’s tough for some of the UM faithful to keep from getting impatient.
The Hurricanes haven’t been to the College World Series since 2008, and that 2001 national championship is getting further and further in the rear view mirror. For a while, there was also a general feeling that the talent in Coral Gables just wasn’t stacking up to the talent head coach Jim Morris had brought in during the glory years.
But this is where the baseball program holds an edge over football. For better or worse, the football program seems trapped in mediocrity under head coach Al Golden, who did a good job leading the program out of the Nevin Shapiro booster scandal, but hasn’t been able to take the next step with the program into being relevant on a national scale once again.
Morris and the baseball program, on the other hand, are in great shape. After several years of sagging performance, 2014 was a comeback season for the program. They won 44 games, their most since that 2008 season, and the team got an influx of sorely-needed young talent in the likes of Zack Collins, Willie Abreu, and Bryan Garcia. Much of their core from last season returns and the most recent recruiting class is said to be just as talented as the class that produced the three aforementioned freshmen phenoms.
Director Billy Corben told the Miami Sun-Sentinel that only time will tell if this series becomes a trilogy, following the original “The U” and now “The U Part 2,” but that the football program winning another national championship would be the only way it would work. Sadly, it looks like that might be at least a few years away.
Judging by what we saw on the diamond last season and what we hear is just on the horizon with a new class of players, it very well may take far less time to write the third installment for the baseball program.