Hawley Days Are Behind Mountaineer Baseball Team
By Bob Hertzel
It was a cold March day.
Doesn’t matter which one, seeing as they were all pretty much alike when West Virginia was playing baseball at home.
Home then was Hawley Field, a field only someone named Hawley could love.
It was probably a nice field if you were a small college in 1980s, but the ‘80s had become the ‘90s and the century turned over and things were changing so very rapidly in college sports, trickling down to West Virginia, which found itself caught up in a conference that was far more West than Virginia.
So it was on those baseball days, when the opponent was WKU — no, not Western Kentucky University but Who Knows University — maybe 150 fans would be huddled under blankets to watch a game West Virginia was as likely to lose as win, and what did it matter, anyway?
It was going nowhere.
But times were changing and WVU was moving to the Big 12 and the teams in that conference were Texas and Oklahoma and TCU, warm-weather teams who were national contenders.
WVU realized it had to hit or get off the pot, and so it reached out and brought in Randy Mazey, familiar with the conference as a highly respected pitching coach at TCU and familiar with rebuilding at Charleston Southern and winning at East Carolina, where he had reached the NCAA Super Regional with a 51-13 record.
He was going to make the transition, a transition made a lot easier with the announcement the Mountaineers were building a new baseball facility to be shared with the Pirates’ minor league team, a beautiful new stadium with a fantastic view in an area that was ready to grow into a commercial center, bringing restaurants, shops and bars with it.
At first it was difficult, playing in the Big East and not qualifying for the conference tournament.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, what have we gotten ourselves into?” Mazey admitted.
Some of his older players, too, could not imagine the turnaround that WVU baseball would undergo before they graduated, how would become a nationally-ranked program for the first time in decades, reach the NCAAs for the first time in 21 years, and become a program to be envied, not ridiculed.
Jackson Cramer, the senior first baseman who had so much to do with the turnaround and with helping this team earn that NCAA bid, was asked moments after learning they had qualified for the NCAAs if he had imagined this moment back in the Hawley Field days.
“That team we had with all the draft choices on, not making it to the NCAA, coming from Hawley Field to this field, it’s hard to imagine. Now it’s here and it’s hard to look back on things and how they were,” he said.
That was back in 2014, when WVU had six players go in the Major League draft.
Mazey understands the change didn’t just happen. It was the result of a commitment from the school to the program and a lot of hard work from those who were chosen to lead it out of the dark ages.
“When an opportunity like (playing in the NCAA) presents itself, it just doesn’t happen accidentally. You have to work toward it,” Mazey said.
“First, you have to make a decision you want to do it. Let it be a lesson to everyone out there. If you really want to do something special, you can do it. This is a time these kids will never forget. The university will never forget it, the community, probably, and Mountaineer fans everywhere.”
WVU didn’t just slip in the back door, either. It had been taunted and teased trying to get in, being in the last four not to make the tournament two of the last three years, each team so close, yet so far away.
Last season the Mountaineers nearly broke the door down with a late rush that including a 17-4 run through the final 21 games, winning 10 in a row at one point and taking TCU into extra innings in the Big 12 championship game.
It was a program that had arrived, but no one could really believe it, so this year they got together, overcame a string of injuries that tested their character, to say nothing of their ability, could not be denied.
It was a signal to the world that things are changing, ironically coming in the same year that Miami’s streak of 44 consecutive NCAA Tournament bids ended.
The significance of this bid will be felt for some time, for WVU becomes a national name as far as recruiting goes now.
“It’s amazing when your name pops up on the screen, the impact it has around the country,” Mazey admitted, visioning far more doors than those to the NCAA Tournament being open now as he and his staff are out recruiting.