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Proposed change of college baseball season would benefit northern schools

Jerry DiPaola
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West Virginia athletics
An artist's rendering of West Virginia's new Monongalia County Ballpark in Morgantown, W.Va., a $21 million stadium that is scheduled to open in March.
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West Virginia athletics
West Virginia coach Randy Mazey is pushing for the NCAA to make baseball a summer sport.
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Pitt athletics
Coach Joe Jordano has led Pitt to a 9-2 record this season.

When Randy Mazey was entering ninth grade at United High School, his father sent a petition through the small town of Armagh, Indiana County, with the hope of making baseball a varsity sport.

It worked.

When Mazey graduated from United four years later, he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles.

These days, Mazey, 48, is the head baseball coach at West Virginia, and — in the grand tradition of the Mazey men — he is championing another cause.

Mazey wants the NCAA to move its baseball season to the summertime.

“When baseball is supposed to be played,” he said.

Mazey, whose team will move into the $21 million Monongalia County Ballpark in Morgantown, W.Va., next month, said southern schools have a decided climatic advantage over their northern rivals that would be diminished in the summer.

“It’s literally unfair for half the country,” he said while traveling by bus to South Carolina to open the season Friday against Clemson.

West Virginia, whose first 17 games are on the road, will open the 3,500-seat park March 17 against Waynesburg, three days before the first day of spring.

Mazey, who coached at several warmer-weather schools before he was hired at West Virginia in 2012, said he has significant support from coaches at most of the Power 5 schools.

“We got 37 responses back,” he said. “Thirty-one have voted for it.”

Of the six dissenters, one coach whom Mazey declined to identify said it would be “too hot” in the summer.

The proposal likely needs the endorsement of Major League Baseball, which would be forced to move its draft from early June to later in the summer. Other potential problems could include disruption of some players’ internships and summer jobs and the necessity of feeding and housing players on campus long past the end of the winter and spring semesters.

Mazey’s proposal, which he has not yet presented to the NCAA, would delay the start of the season until late April or early May, with the College World Series played in August, he said.

Pitt coach Joe Jordano supports the proposal. He said his team had three outdoor practices before playing Saint Louis, Kansas State and Ohio State on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the Snowbirds Classic in Port Charlotte, Fla.

“If you told a basketball team you can practice on a regular-sized court three times prior to playing your first game, they would look at you like you have four heads,” Jordano said. “But in baseball, especially northern baseball, that’s our reality.”

Meanwhile, West Virginia, Penn State and Pitt use indoor facilities to prepare while some of their opponents play several outdoor intrasquad games.

WVU senior third baseman Justin Cox said he is accustomed to playing baseball in colder temperatures, but he said outfielders don’t get live reads on fly balls when they practice indoors.

Penn State second-year coach Rob Cooper said northern schools’ disadvantages aren’t as dramatic for his team, which can play intrasquad games in 118,000-square foot Holuba Hall.

“If you picked up Penn State and moved it to the middle of Florida, we would play the exact same amount of intrasquad games we would have played here,” he said.

Players also can hit “24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Cooper said, in the two-story high batting cage inside 5,406-seat Medlar Field at Lubrano Park that the team shares with the State College Spikes, a St. Louis Cardinals Single-A farm club.

The park’s namesake, Penn State board of trustees member Anthony Lubrano, likes the energy Cooper has brought to the program. But he said Cooper needs help.

“Cooper is leading Penn State on a path to being successful,” said Lubrano, whose $2.5 million donation launched Medlar’s construction a decade ago. “We as alumni are going to have to help him in the process and step up and provide funding for him to be able to have that success.”

Lubrano noted that Big Ten rival Ohio State has its own chartered aircraft while Penn State often flies through Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for road trips.

Pitt plays most of its ACC games against schools south of the Mason-Dixon Line, presenting a problem of a different sort. Six ACC schools were listed among the top 24 teams in Baseball America’s preseason rankings, led by No. 4 Virginia and No. 9 Miami.

“You have a very, very small margin of error,” said Jordano, who has 492 victories in 18 seasons at Pitt (775, including 10 years at Mercyhurst). “We need to be on point in all phases of the game, every pitch, every weekend.”

Jordano said joining the ACC and construction of the $29 million Petersen Sports Complex, including baseball’s Charles L. Cost Field, has been “an incredible asset.”

He also hopes to improve the facility, possibly with an addition to the hitting building and expansion of the seating capacity (presently at 900).

“We are in search of a new athletic director,” he said. “We will see what the priorities will be. I am certainly encouraged by our new chancellor (Patrick Gallagher), who has expectations of excellence on and off the field.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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