Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of ASU fandom is watching a team when it struggles. Many of us sat through 2 decades of futility in football, and it still is not something you can ever get used to. So when an ASU team takes a step in the right direction and begins to show that maybe, just maybe, they do belong. We as fans begin to take notice.
The Arkansas State Baseball team has faced challenges this season. The year began with 3 consecutive road losses, and the offense took several games to get untracked. The team had no left-handed pitching depth to speak of, and the primary power hitters for the team were all left handed. There were 3 second basemen on roster, and none of them seemed ready to take over full time.
However, the players left on the team had caused reason for optimism rarely seen on the diamond for the Red Wolves. All but one regular starter from last year was returning on offense, and while the team had to overcome the loss of its Friday Night Starter to Graduation, another capable pitcher in Jacob Lee was ready to take his place.
Tommy Raffo had finally managed to fulfill his promise of recruiting depth to Arkansas State. Some were convinced, Baseball America picked ASU to finish 4th in the Sun Belt this season, a thing so rare, it didn’t seem possible. ASU had never finished better then 7th in the league since I became a fan in my Freshman season 9 long years ago.
Not everyone saw the potential though. Many fans were not surprised to see the SBC coaches and media pick the Red Wolves 7th in the league. However, I tend to believe the players may have taken it as an insult.
Since that day, ASU baseball has been a season of firsts. Since league play began The Red Wolves have beaten MTSU in Murfreesboro in a 3 game series for the first time ever, won a series from perennial league power Troy for the first time ever, and swept a series from a strong South Alabama team for the first time ever this past weekend to continue the season of “firsts.” Next week the team can go for another “first” and clinch no worse than 2nd place in the league heading into conference tourney action at Western Kentucky Memorial Day Weekend.
Jacob Lee has been the unquestioned leader of the team. He has 6 wins this season and has an ERA just below 3.00. John Koch set the ASU season and career saves record (Another first!) this year, and is the go to guy in the pen when things get hairy. Michael Faulkner runs like people are chasing him, and broke a stolen base record that was set before I was even a glint in my mother’s eye. He has a chance at the career record which was set so long ago the majority of the readers of this article were not alive back then. Claude Johnson and Logan Uxa lead a strong offensive attack, and the defensive wonder-kid, Dustin Jones continues to dazzle us with a cannon for an arm.
This season, is a season of firsts. The next stop, is another first. ASU has not won an SBC Tourney title since the 90’s. Its time to see if this team can prove that football isn’t the only good thing going at Arkansas State. For many ASU fans…that itself would be a “first.”