UNC Baseball: Five Things To Know About This Year's Diamond Heels
Everyone who casually follows sports probably heard of the North Carolina Tar Heels' run to the Men's Basketball National Championship, culminating in a 89-72 victory over the Michigan State Spartans in Ford Field.
Knowledge of one of the university's other national title contenders (aside from soccer and field hockey) is a little hard to come by.
Nonetheless, the UNC baseball team will be shooting for a fourth consecutive trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska this season.
So here is a brief "study guide" to the Diamond Heels, currently ranked fourth in the Baseball America Top 25 Rankings with a record of 31-10 (13-7 in ACC play).
They Have a New Crib
For 35 years, Boshamer Stadium was the home for Carolina Baseball. Hosting five ACC Tournaments and three NCAA Regional Tournaments over that time, "The Bosh" and UNC Baseball grew up togetherat least until UNC Baseball outgrew the stadium.
After the 2007 Super Regional, in which the Tar Heels defeated South Carolina to advance to their seventh College World Series, Boshamer Stadium was completely razed and rebuilt.
Last year's Heels played at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in nearby Cary, North Carolina, but now the Heels are back at Bryson Field at Boshamer Stadium.
The new ballpark features a laundry list of amenities for players and fans alike: a 2,850 square foot weight room, seven suites, new grass, irrigation, and rubberized warning track, 4,100 seats, with room for 5,000 people with overflow areas included; and much more.
Some May Be Coming to a Ballpark Near You
In this June's MLB Draft, it is expected that two Heels (Dustin Ackley and Alex White), will be taken in the first ten picks.
Ackley, a junior from Walnut Cove, NC, is considered one of the best hitters in this year's amateur draft. He leads the Heels in batting average (.399), home runs (11), walks (33), and stolen bases (nine).
He has played first base this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the offseason, but has played outfield in the past.
White is also a junior, hailing from Greenville, NC. White leads the team in wins (six) and strikeouts (72). White drew national attention last weekend, pitching a one-hit shutout against No.7 Miami to earn Louisville Slugger's National Player of the Week.
Levi's Too Cool for (High) School
Also making a significant impact on the team (aside from upperclassmen Kyle Seager, Ben Bunting, and Mark Fleury), is a youngster from Welcome, NC.
Levi Michael graduated a semester early from North Davidson High School to join this year's Diamond Heels. He has immediately made an impact, starting in every game at second base.
Michael is second on the team in homers (10) and bats just a tick under .300. Cutting down on strikeouts (an improvement that should come with experience at the college level), should soon make the switch hitter an even greater threat at the plate.
Michael is also a superb defensive player, impressing time and again with his agility and glove work.
Opposing schools can only imagine what Michael will be like next season after he's actually been in school and with the team for longer than a few months.
Lefty Bats Thrive at The Bosh
Of the Heels' 42 long-balls this season, only six have been recorded by right-handed batters. Undoubtedly, this has a lot to do with the diminutive dimensions of the right-field fencing.
Hitting to left at The Bosh is not much different than the average ballpark: 335 down the line, 370 to left-center, 400 to dead center.
However, a walkway leading from various residence halls on the southern part of campus northward to the majority of classes prevents such space in right field. It is slightly further down the line (340 feet), but a hit of only 355 feet can clear the fence in right-center field.
On a slightly related side note, if you happen to be walking along the infamous walkway on game day, especially during batting practice, don't get caught reading a map or jamming to your iPod.
Coach Fox Is Here To Stay
Mike Fox, the head coach of the Tar Heels, has been the architect behind the most successful run in UNC baseball history.
Fox is one of six men to have played and coached in the College World Series for the same school. In 1978, Fox was named to the CWS All-Tournament Team, playing second base and hitting .277 with six home runs on the season.
As a coach, Baseball America's National Coach of the Year in 2008 has a 483-200-1 career record at Chapel Hill. 43 Tar Heels that have played under Fox have been selected in the Major League Baseball draft, most notably including 2006 National Player of the Year Andrew Miller (currently of the Florida Marlins), and Chris Iannetta of the Rockies.
Yesterday, UNC Athletics Director Dick Baddour announced that Fox had signed a six-year contract, keeping the coach in Chapel Hill through 2014.
Will the Diamond Heels earn a fourth consecutive trip to Omaha?
Is this the year the Heels break through and pick up that elusive first College World Series title?
No matter what happens for the rest of this season, you now know what to watch for when keeping tabs on a certain championship contenderthe North Carolina Tar Heels.
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