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Getting to Know the AAC (Baseball Edition)

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The 2024 College Baseball season is just a little over two months away. Fall practice is wrapped up, and it won’t be long before the Roadrunners return to campus and make the final preseason preparations. There will be a handful of things to keep an eye out for. Official roster, schedule releases, conference predictions, and ongoing construction at Roadrunner Field. In the meantime, I wanted to look closely at the teams welcoming UTSA and their former C-USA peers into the American Athletic Conference. 

Around this time last year, I wrote an objective yet eye-opening piece on where UTSA lined up, facilities-wise, with these teams. A year later, it is time to look beyond the facilities and see what they bring to the diamond. Having spent ten seasons in C-USA, fans are familiar with the four other teams coming with UTSA. Over the summer, Jared put together a get-to-know-your-neighbor-type podcast series. I am going to take a similar approach but focus specifically on Baseball. While UTSA has yet to release its 2024 schedule, several conference teams have put theirs out. I decided to introduce the teams in the order UTSA is expected to face them this season. 

East Carolina Pirates – 2023 (47-19; 18-6) – (March 22-24 @ Roadrunner Field)

Head Coach – Cliff Godwin (10th season); 304-151-1; 16th coach in program history

Stadium – Clark-LeClair Stadium; three thousand bleacher seats and room for several thousand more in “The Jungle.” 

History – 1961 NAIA World Series Champs. 22X regular season conference champs, including the last four seasons (excluding COVID year). 13X Tournament champions, last was 2022. The Pirates have made thirty-three NCAA Regionals, missing out only five times since 1999. The Pirates have made seven super regionals, the most recent being 2022. ECU is still looking for that first Omaha trip. Despite the rich history, they have yet to win a super regional. 

Pirates in the Pros – 127 draft picks, with 20 making it to the MLB level. The Pirates have four active players: Shawn Armstrong, Alec Burleson, Jeff Hoffman, and Gavin Williams. 

Getting ECU to open conference play will be quite the test for UTSA. What better measuring stick than hosting who I must believe will once again be the AAC pre-season favorites? 

Tulane Green Wave – 2023 (19-42; 8-16) – (March 28-30 @ Turchin Stadium)

Head Coach – Jay Uhlman (2nd season); 22-46; 6th head coach in program history. 

Stadium – Greer Field at Turchin Stadium; capacity up to five thousand. A pro-style stadium that opened in 2008. 

History – Despite their overall and conference record last season, the Green Wave showed why a conference tournament can be beneficial. They surprised the nation when the below .500 team upset the field and perennial favorites ECU to be crowned AAC tournament champions. The trophy punched their ticket to their twenty-second NCAA regional. They have been atop the conference sixteen times between regular season and tournaments. In addition to their regional appearances, they have made a super-regional three times and have made it to Omaha twice. While their resounding NCAA post-season success is not as recent, they have a rich history, including an SEC regular season championship (1948.) Tulane is also often regarded as having one of the best logos and uniforms. 

Green Wave in the Pros – Tulane has had 131 players drafted, ten of which were first-round picks. Of those 131, they have had 30 MLB players. 

Roadrunner fans may be excited at the opportunity for another New Orleans trip. I am most curious to see if the 2024 Green Wave resembles their 2023 season more or the post-season run that saw them put it all together at the end. 

Memphis Tigers – 2023 (29-28; 10-14) – (April 12-14 @ Fed Ex Park)

Head Coach – Matt Riser (1st season); 19th coach in program history 

Stadium – Fogelman Field at Fed Ex Park; Opened in 2010 with a capacity of two thousand. Became Fed Ex Park following several renovations and construction. 

History – Memphis is another program that has had its share of success, albeit not as recently. Their only conference tournament championships were back in the 70s as members of the Metro Conference. While they have made five NCAA Regionals, they have not played past the conference tournament since 2007. They will look to make a longstanding name for themselves in the AAC under first-year head coach Matt Riser. 

Tigers in the Pros – Since 1963, they have had 105 players drafted, and 16 have played at the MLB level. Perhaps their most well-known alumnus is Dan Uggla, who spent ten seasons in the big leagues and was a three-time All-Star. 

Wichita State Shockers – 2023 (30-25; 13-10) – (May 3-5 @ Roadrunner Field) 

Head Coach – Brian Green (1st season); 22st coach in program history and 4rd since 2014 

Stadium – Tyler Field at Eck Stadium is a stadium that has seen a plethora of improvements over the years. It can now hold over six thousand fans. 

History – The Wichita State Baseball team has had more than its share of ups and downs, both in the W-L column and the program. They have the eighth-highest winning percentage in Division I, but their program has been shut down two different times. The doors were closed from 1923 to 1947, then again from 1971 to 1977. The Shockers have twenty regular season championships, eighteen tournament championships, and twenty-eight NCAA Regional appearances. As of late, they have struggled. In 2013, all their wins and post-season success were vacated after the NCAA determined that twenty-one players “improperly received discounts on non-baseball merchandise from the program’s athletic apparel manufacturer. 

Wichita State has also made the College World Series seven times. They finished runner-up three times and were National Champs in 1989. Most recently, in 2023, they made headlines in a negative light again. Loren Hibbs stepped into the interim role after their previous head coach was suddenly relieved of his duties. The trickle-down saw a difficult season for the Shockers, and the final result was almost the entire 2023 team entering the transfer portal. While the program was not shut down this time, WSU will look for a fresh start with Brian Green. 

Shockers in the Pros – WSU has had 195 players drafted since 1967, with 15 first-round picks and 41 making it to the MLB level. Former Shocker Alec Bohm was drafted third overall and currently plays for the Philadelphia Phillies. Former UTSA Roadrunner Josh Killeen committed to Wichita State out of high school and spent two seasons there before returning to San Antonio for the 2021 season. 

USF Bulls – 2023 (21-39; 7-17) – (May 10-12 @ Roadrunner Field)

Head Coach – Billy Mohl (6th season) 148-158-1; 6th coach at USF 

Stadium – Red McEwen Field; capacity is over three thousand, with room for expanded capacity to potentially host regionals and super regionals. The stadium opened in 2011 as part of a $35 million facility upgrade project. 

History – The Bulls have been regular season champions six times, the most recent being in 1996. They have been conference tournament champions five times, the most recent being 2021. While they have appeared in fourteen NCAA regionals, they have just one NCAA super regional appearance in 2021. 

Bulls in the Pros – Of the 127 players they have had drafted, 19 have appeared at the MLB level. They currently have two active players, one of whom is Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Shane McClanahan. 

In many ways, UTSA’s transition to the American should be smooth. The Roadrunners will have a significant turnover of the starting nine and have some new arms at their disposal. ECU seems to replace past foes Southern Miss and Dallas Baptist. While not covered in this blog, fans shouldn’t forget about Florida Atlantic and Charlotte – who knocked off DBU last May to win the Conference Tournament. It should be an exciting season in the new conference, and there are some fun travel destinations for some away series. 

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