Leistikow: Dear Hawkeye fans, Omaha has room for you
OMAHA, Neb. — Dear Hawkeye fans living in Iowa (and Nebraska; you too, Kansas City),
For many of you, witnessing history is a short drive away.
You may not be a die-hard Iowa baseball follower; in fact, you probably aren’t. Even so, you may have heard what Rick Heller’s Hawkeyes are doing over here at TD Ameritrade Park.
If not, I’ll catch you up.
As the underdog No. 8 seed, they thrashed Big Ten Conference regular-season champion Minnesota in Wednesday's tournament opener.
On Friday, they delivered a comeback fit for Hollywood, with a fourth-year player recording his first career RBI to help stun Ohio State in 10 innings.
On Saturday morning, they excited a whole bunch of your fellow Bumblebees in attendance in an 11-0 steamrolling of Maryland.
So at 1 p.m. Sunday, just across the Missouri River from Council Bluffs, your Hawkeyes have a one-game chance to win a Big Ten baseball championship.
Here’s a little background for how rare this is and what’s at stake:
Iowa has never won the Big Ten Baseball Tournament. The first one was held in 1981.
If Iowa wins, it'll make the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. That’s never happened, either.
And then there’s this: Your Hawkeyes, men or women, haven’t won an outright Big Ten championship in any sport in five years.
Since the men’s track team won the Big Ten’s outdoor championships in Iowa City in 2011, only the wrestling team can claim a partial championship — tying with Ohio State for the 2015 tournament title. (Iowa did have the Big Ten’s best regular-season wrestling dual record in 2013 and 2015, but I’ve never seen a T-shirt for that.)
Let that sink in. In 24 men’s and women’s championships, the Hawkeyes were shut out of sole Big Ten supremacy in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015. And in 2016, they're 0-for-23 with one unlikely shot left.
Sure, Iowa's had come crazy-exciting athletics success lately: The 2015 football team going to the Rose Bowl; the men’s basketball team going to the NCAA Tournament’s second round in back-to-back years; the women’s team going to the 2015 Sweet 16; and Heller's baseball team logging the program's first NCAA regional wins in 43 years last June.
But Big Ten championships are hard to come by, and it hasn't gotten easier with the expansion to 14 schools.
Yet, this baseball team is in the midst of a storybook run. At one point, the Hawkeyes’ record was 6-11. They had to win four Big Ten games in a row just to get here — on a tiebreaker.
Excitement is spreading. The Twitter hashtags #OmaHawks and #TakeOverOmaha were circulating Saturday.
If you come, there will be plenty of others in black and gold. And your baseball coach said it's noticed by the players on both teams.
“It was really big in (Friday's) comeback," Heller said. "I thought it really affected Ohio State to some degree.”
Even if baseball's not your thing, surely you'd enjoy a nice afternoon outdoors. The forecast is for temperatures in the high 70s, with a low chance of rain.
This is a pretty sweet stadium. It’s where the College World Series is held every year. There are excellent food options and sight lines.
For instance, you can see the Nebraska/Iowa border from your seats. Yes, it's that close to you.
If you won't listen to me, listen to Heller.
“There’s a lot at stake. These guys play good baseball. They’re fun to watch," he said. "If you haven’t come to see us yet, try to make it over."
Last I checked, gas was $2.19 a gallon. You could do a lot worse on a holiday weekend.
Next-door parking is $8.
You can walk up Sunday and get a game ticket for $10-$12, about the cost of a movie.
Except this show is here for only one afternoon. And there’s no certainty when it’ll be playing again.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.