Bring the Heat: Pac-12 Adds Postseason Baseball Tournament
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Oregon State coach Mitch Canham paused for a few seconds, considering what the next several days of baseball would look like at Scottsdale Stadium during the inaugural Pac-12 postseason tournament.
He envisioned some of the best college players in the country all competing in one spot. He pictured the considerable number of Major League Baseball scouts and baseball fans who will attend. Then he thought about the thermometer-busting temperatures of 105 degrees or more that could be coming over the next few days in Arizona.
“I'll have a better answer in a few days,” Canham said laughing.
The water and sunscreen will be plentiful over the next few days in Scottsdale, which is hosting the tournament at the spring training home of the San Francisco Giants from Wednesday until Sunday.
It's the last of the power conferences to add a postseason event, joining the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten, which have all had them for years.
The SEC's version is particularly popular, with more than 100,000 fans making the pilgrimage to Hoover, Alabama, during late May. The crowds in Scottsdale weren't at that level on Wednesday morning for the Arizona-Oregon opener, but the hope is the event will quickly become a crowd pleaser.
Pac-12 deputy commissioner Teresa Gould said the idea of a postseason tournament has been talked about for at least 20 years, but those discussions rarely gained traction until the past few seasons. Scottsdale showed interest in hosting, and after a few COVID-19-related delays, the tournament is a reality.
“We're thrilled this has finally come to fruition,” Gould said.
Stanford coach David Esquer — who was voted the Pac-12 Coach of the Year on Tuesday after leading the Cardinal to the regular-season title — said he's happy to join the conference postseason party. The league's top eight teams qualified for the tournament, which will be a double-elimination format. The championship game is Sunday.
Even factoring in the desert heat, Esquer welcomes the postseason excitement.
“The last week of the regular season, we'd be just playing typical games and the SEC and ACC are playing tournaments with all this excitement and atmosphere and TV,” Esquer said. “Now it gives us a chance to do the same thing."
The games will feature some of the nation's top college talent. Oregon State pitcher Cooper Hjerpe and outfielder Jacob Melton, Stanford outfielder Brock Jones, California outfielder Dylan Beavers, Oregon shortstop Josh Kasevich and Arizona catcher Daniel Susac could all hear their names called early during the MLB draft in July.
Susac was the star of the tournament's opener with two homers in Arizona's 8-6 win over Oregon. Susac's older brother, Andrew, has played six seasons in the big leagues, helping the Giants win a World Series in 2014.
“The exposure is great,” Jones said. “You've got the high-profile guys that scouts are coming to watch. Then you have guys who aren't so high profile, but they show up, hit well against good pitching, play good defense, throw the ball well, and then it ups their stock a little bit.”
Stanford is the tournament's top seed while Oregon State is No. 2. The Cardinal and No. 7 seed Washington both bring 12-game winning streaks into the weekend.
All eight teams come into Scottsdale with NCAA Tournament aspirations, some more realistic than others. Teams like Stanford and Oregon State have no doubt they'll be in the bracket and are trying to solidify their status as Top 8 national seeds, which would earn them home-field advantage until the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, from June 16-27.
At the opposite end are, who probably have to win this weekend's tournament to keep their season going.
Arizona is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, but Wednesday's win certainly helps its cause. Susac said getting the first win in a Pac-12 Tournament — and hitting two homers in the victory — was a big moment.
“This is really fun for me,” Susac said. “I grew up the last five or six years watching the SEC Tournament and would say, ‘Man, that would be cool.’ It's really cool to have our own Pac-12 Tournament.”
Canham agreed, saying the hectic nature of a double-elimination tournament is a great place to start when preparing for the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s great for our guys to practice eliminating noise,” Canham said. “If you’re going to play in (the College World Series), there’s going to be cameras, there’s going to be noise. But in my experience, the best guys don’t notice the noise.
“So it’s good to get in that kind of environment and see what it’s like.”