Michigan Coach Erik Bakich Joins The Baseball America College Podcast
This week on the Baseball America College Podcast, Michigan coach Erik Bakich joins Teddy Cahill and Joe Healy to talk about the Wolverines’ runner-up finish in the 2019 College World Series, expectations for 2020, as well as some wide-ranging issues around baseball, including diversity and youth participation.
Michigan put together an amazing postseason run in 2019 after being one of the last four teams the committee selected to the NCAA Tournament. It won the Corvallis Regional before upsetting No. 1 overall seed UCLA in super regionals. In Omaha, the Wolverines swept through their bracket and beat Vanderbilt in Game 1 of the finals before losing the next two games to finish as runners-up.
Michigan finished 50-22 and they had the best postseason for any Big Ten team in 50 years. The run helped elevate the program on the national stage. Bakich said the foundation for that success was laid long before last June.
“Everything that we had done along the way prepared them to get up and bounce back,” he said. “Last year’s team was extremely tough, extremely competitive and the game rewarded them for that. They got very hot at the right time and ended up being one of the more enjoyable experiences any of us have had in baseball.”
Now, Michigan is out to prove 2019 was not just a flash in the pan. The program has been building under Bakich and is set up to achieve more success after last year’s breakthrough, even after losing co-aces Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffman and Big Ten player of the year Jordan Brewer.
The Wolverines return a strong core up the middle of catcher Joe Donovan, shortstop Jack Blomgren and center fielder Jesse Franklin, all juniors, as well as righthander Jeff Criswell, who spent the summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. Michigan will also benefit from the return of lefthanders Ben Dragani and Steve Hajjar, who missed last season due to injuries. Put it all together and Michigan has high expectations for 2020.
The Wolverines know they have to earn it on the field, however, and they will have a bigger target on their backs this spring.
“We’re not going to rest off of last year’s success and assume we’ve made it or that we’ve made this jump,” he said. “That’s going to be telling here in the future whether our program has truly moved the needle and moved from a competitive Top 25-caliber program to a program the competes to go to the World Series on a perennial basis.
“The way we can control that now is we have to think about doing everything we did last year a little better this year. We wanted to be one game better last year, we wanted to be the last team standing. We fell one game short, even though it was a remarkable season. We have to go into this year – the competitiveness, the toughness – on the field, off the field, everything that we do – it just has to be a little bit better. It has to be one more better, whatever that one more is.”
Michigan’s momentum is also helping it off the field. The Omaha run invigorated interest and support in the program, Bakich said, and there are now serious talks ongoing about facility improvements that will help the Wolverines continue to develop premium talent in Ann Arbor.
“As your program grows and the family gets bigger, you need a bigger house,” Bakich said. “We’re in deep discussion right now with our administration and donors. The excitement level has never been higher about expanding our facilities and improving our indoor training facilities and having one of the best indoor training spaces and performance labs for rotational, power athletes that we possibly can. In teaming up with the strength and conditioning profession to make sure the services we’re providing in this lab biomechanically are state of the art.”
Part of the legend of Michigan’s postseason run was the Kenny Chesney concert the Wolverines attended as a team between the end of the regular season and the start of the Big Ten Tournament. His music became the soundtrack for their June and, now, Bakich is hoping it will continue to connect them into the future.
“He’s got a tour coming out next summer and one of the stops is Ford Field,” Bakich said. “We are working on a Team 153 reunion and another concert, I think it’s August 15th, 2020. Trying to get the whole team back together to go see Kenny Chesney at Ford Field in Detroit.
“We are all lifelong Kenny Chesney fans now and anytime one of his songs comes on the radio, we turn it up.”