Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.

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If winning in anonymity has any motivating properties, what the Ohio State Buckeyes have thus far accomplished in baseball might well be enough to push them into unheard-of successes and unforeseen titles.

It’s likely that what the Ohio State Buckeyes baseball team accomplished over the past three weeks has gone unnoticed to the rank-and-file reader of Press Pros, except for that nearly 600,000 page views (readers) that have tapped in from Franklin, Licking, Deleware, Union, Madison, and Pickaway counties…the veritable bread basket of “Buckeye Nation” in central Ohio.

If you missed it, the baseball Bucks have risen from the ash pile of the Big Ten standings, like a mythical phoenix, from a 9th-place position after losing a series in Illinois a month ago…to sweep Purdue, take two of three from Iowa, sweep Michigan, and win this past weekend’s series over #1 Minnesota, in Minnesota!

They’ve gone from ninth place to fourth place, and now occupy the #4 seed in next week’s Big Ten Tourney to be played in Omaha, Nebraska.  Fate paid them no favor, by the way.  The Buckeyes drew #5 Michigan on Wednesday at 9 pm, central time, a God-forsaken time to play a baseball game!

But if you missed all that, you also missed a team that set a school record for wins in a regular season this year (38).

They led the Big Ten in home runs (53) and doubles (116), respectively.

And, they finished the season with a 7-2 record against nationally-ranked opponents, with six wins over top 25 opponents in the past two weeks.

But a lot of people did miss all that because attendance for an Ohio State baseball game, even in the heart of the “Nation”, comes as an afterthought.  You know how they proudly list the attendance records for football in the fall?  Well, come spring if they list it at all for baseball it comes with a much smaller asterisk…if there is an asterisk.  I’m told they’ve counted the heads in the dugout before to, uh, help fight the loneliness.

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If you ask people anywhere in Ohio about making the effort to see the Buckeyes play baseball, in comparison to football, you might come to believe that there are actually two OHIO STATES!  Reasons listed for people’s ambivalance include:

*  Spring is just too inconvenient, busy, and cold, as opposed to football in the fall.

*  Baseball lacks the environment, atmosphere, and tradition of football.

*  And some will actually tell you that they like being part of a bigger event, a bigger crowd, and history…and they like the marching band.

None of this comes with baseball at Bill Davis Stadium, by the way, where a “good” gathering for a home game might be 1,500 people.  But a ticket to see them play Michigan last weekend cost $10, too…not $150 dollars like it will come November.

Sadly, Ohio State baseball, as a representative sample of college baseball, is a great story waiting to be appreciated, now and in the future.  And perhaps the chapter of this story least appreciated is Springfield, Ohio product, Greg Beals, who inherited the program as head coach from Bob Todd six years ago after Todd set school records for career victories (901) in his 20-plus seasons.

Inheriting the remnants of what Todd left behind for his first three seasons, Beals’ record did little to create interest and enthusiasm.  Those first three years came with a net winning percentage of just over .500, and more than a few critics who questioned whether his previous coaching resume, an assistant for nine seasons at Kent State (where he played), and eight years as head coach at Ball State (where he won 243 games), was consistent with the qualifications necessary to recruit and win in the Big Ten.

But given players of his own choosing, since 2014 Beals has quietly made .500 baseball his foundation for improvement.  His record over the past three seasons is to date 108-67 (.600), and his recruiting philosophy of seeking players with high character and competitive instincts portends nothing but continued success going forward.

“It’s a very important aspect to what we look for in a recruit,”  said Beals recently.  “Even to the point of asking moms and dads about how a potential recruit has been brought up.  We want to know if they’re accustomed to hard work as opposed to having an easier course.  We want players who are willing to compete.  We want players who fit our system and work to become a contributing part of that system and a good teammate.”

When you read the criticisms on Facebook they’re sprinkled with the term, “we need a change”, but never specify the qualities believed lacking.  When reminded of it, Beals smiles and acknowledges his awareness, his admission that it comes with the job…but that while he is coach he’ll continue to stay the course with his system.

Sonny_thumb0216If the glass is half empty to some, there are others who see it half full. I would be so bold as to make the statement – the prediction – that the next major NCAA title won at Ohio State, outside of football, is likely to be in baseball, whenever that comes.  Such has been the progress under Beals with players like Pat Porter, Nick Sergakis, Ronnie Dawson, Troy Montgomery, Tanner Tully, and the Big Ten’s best bullpen!

In the meantime they’re in Omaha this week, site of the annual College World Series, hoping to qualify for inclusion in that field as either the Big Ten Tournament champions, or by securing an at-large bid.  Either way, it’s the next chapter of what’s thus far been a great baseball story…a great Ohio State story for the spring of 2016.

Waiting, and deserving, of the “Nation’s” appreciation!

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