The University of Michigan is playing for a national championship — not in college football or the Final Four, but the College World Series. This is the Wolverines’ first time in the CWS in 35 years, and they are representing for the Big Ten and cold-weather teams that don’t normally make it to this stage.
Not only are they in the CWS finals for the first time in more than three decades, but the unseeded Wolverines defeated second-seeded Vanderbilt 7-4 in Game 1 on Monday night. Although Michigan now leads the series, beating Vanderbilt is no small task. The Commodores are loaded with nine MLB draft picks, including the fourth overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft, outfielder J.J. Bleday, who leads the NCAA in home runs.
The Wolverines aren’t just representing the Big Ten, they’re trying to represent the diversity of kids playing baseball across America. That’s what head coach Erik Bakich said to ESPN sideline reporter Kris Budden in their win over Florida State in the CWS quarterfinals:
“We target a lot of inner-city kids. There’s a lot of great athletes out there. I think it’s ridiculous, the cost of travel ball and some of these showcases. It negates opportunities for a lot of kids. For us, we want to have a diverse roster, and we want to provide as many opportunities for kids all over the country that we can.”
That is exactly what Bakich has done by starting four black players in a sport that was 6% black in 2018, according to the NCAA demographics database. The team has been led by Big Ten Player of the Year Jordan Brewer, who went 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI on Monday night. Brewer hit a double up the middle in the first inning that brought in the first run of the game, giving Michigan a spark of energy to start Game 1.
Brewer had some help from his teammate and fellow first-team All-Big Ten selection Jordan Nwogu. The designated hitter went 1-for-5 but had a big single in the top of the eighth to keep the momentum with the Wolverines during crunch time.
Teammates Ako Thomas and Christian Bullock also had major contributions in crucial moments for the Wolverines. Thomas hit a double in the top of the second that brought one runner in and helped keep Michigan rolling. Bullock hit a double to right center field in the top of the ninth inning that kept the Commodores on their toes.
The Wolverines were able to pull out the victory with their consistent hitting and hard-nosed defense, but they will have a lot on the line against Kumar Rocker, Vanderbilt’s starting pitcher for Game 2 on Tuesday. Rocker, the black right-hander, had arguably one of the greatest performances in CWS history earlier this month. The freshman ace threw 19 strikeouts during his historic no-hitter in a CWS semifinal versus Duke.
Although baseball may be a predominantly white sport in America, the teams that are in the CWS finals would not be there if it weren’t for their black stars making history for their respective programs.