Saturday, May 3, 2008

Oakland County Baseball Needs OU

This weekend I get an up-close look at the destination of many an Oakland County prep student, Rochester's Oakland University. The Golden Grizzlies welcome Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne (IP-FW) for a four-game set this weekend.

The neat, professional-looking campus is a reflection of the county footprint it's nestled within. The tony stores and quaint retail districts of Rochester and neighboring Rochester Hills, plus the manicured lawns and jaw-dropping residential communities that surround Oakland University are unique to just about any collegiate campus in the state. In short, there's no 'student ghetto' at OU. In fact, I've yet to see a fraternity or sorority house on or near the campus, although I do see the letters BMW, SAAB, and H3 quite a bit. I'm fairly certain nearly any college student would take that over what a beer-stained frat house could offer.

Yesterday's first game was rained-out, meaning four games will be played in the next 31 hours, starting with today's first pitch at 12:00 p.m. Oakland's varsity field has long been known to be a liability to just about every coaching staff the school has empowered since the days the school was better known as the Pioneers and was a Division-II powerhouse in many sports. Per usual, the weekend will be played with fingers crossed and eyes wandering to the sky, hoping prayers for no more rain will be answered.

It shouldn't be like this. I know Michigan is in the midst of a one-state depression and even mighty Oakland County feels the pain. That doesn't mean progress can grind to a halt, too. In my near-10 years within college baseball, I've watched three different head coaches struggle to recruit the best talent available in Oakland County to OU because of facility offerings. Nate Recknagel was a freshman team All-American at OU; He's at the University of Michigan now. This week he had a single, double and home run for the Wolverines in a mid-week victory over Western Michigan. Several county student-athletes like Recknagel have chosen schools like Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan and Central Michigan because of facilities.

Players don't chose the aforementioned schools over Oakland because of academics. OU's got tremendous offerings in the undergraduate programs it features. Three years ago the University of Detroit canned their baseball program, giving Oakland a better pool of players to pick from against the other five Division-I schools in the state.

Oakland needs a new facility, a legitimate facility, if they expect to compete for any of the county's best baseball players. Oakland County is chock full of collegiate-quality baseball players. Look at the most recent statewide poll from the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association, at, dated 4/30/08. Four of the top 10 teams in the Division-I poll pull their players from Oakland County, including top-ranked and defending state champion Lake Orion, also ranked No. 26 of the top 50 teams in this week's nationwide poll at The state's No. 10 team in Division II is Madison Heights Lamphere.

Times are tough -- I get that. College baseball is not a revenue-producing sport in this part of the country for any school, that is also fact. I don't pretend to have all the answers and the truth is, the answers are hard to come by. None of what I'm saying is news to the leaders at Oakland University and I'll be the first to admit I'm not going to be the one the writes the check to solve the problem. But as an Oakland County resident, I can also say that OU is a jewel in the rough, tucked away behind the glam and glitz of a well-to-do county. The school could be a regional, collegiate powerhouse at the Division-I level.

Oakland has a tremendous swimming facility and a perfect basketball facility, one that helped Coach Greg Kampe's Grizzlies to a win over the University of Michigan a few years back. Oakland's won conference championships and NCAA invites in other sports, proving it can be done.

Here's to hoping there's a way to create a better opportunity for the county's best players to stay at home and play college baseball at OU.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing

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