ISU Baseball – Idaho’s Best-kept Sports Secret
- 5 May 2013 by Author 0 Comments
ISU Baseball-Idaho’s Best-Kept Sports Secret
By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 05/05/13
The best-kept sporting secret in Eastern Idaho is one that just can’t be kept any longer. It’s a vibrant, successful program that gets no headlines, no reporting, no box scores, and still finds a way to surmount the odds and succeed, on and off the field. The secret is the Idaho State University Baseball team.
The Bengal Baseball team just finished conference play for the Spring season, and won the right to represent the Northern Pacific-South Conference in post-season play with an 11-1 conference record. They clinched the title in style, by beating last year’s conference champion Utah State Aggies, in both games of a double-header last Saturday in grand fashion, and lost only the Sunday matchup, after clinching the conference crown. The Aggies, in post-season play last year, won the NCBA (National Club Baseball Association) World Series. In fact, the conference is the only one in NCBA history to have had two World Series champions; Weber State and Utah State. The team is now rank 18th in the nation.
The USU coach, Norm Doyle, said of the NCBA World Series last year, “ISU is deserving of being here.” And coming into this season, Utah State’s MVP All American, Rob Garrett, said, “ISU is the most underrated team in the conference, and they’re the ones I fear the most.” After winning the conference championship over the weekend, Garrett’s fears seem well justified.
Title IX, which mandated that any educational institution receiving federal funding must spend equally for men’s and women’s sports, forced the elimination of many NCAA college baseball teams across the country. As a result, most universities that had to eliminate their NCAA baseball teams, converted their teams to clubs. The NCBA was formed in 2000 to continue the legacy of quality baseball at schools that could no longer provide full varsity financial support.
The teams still are sponsored by the their respective universities, wear their sponsoring university’s colors and name, but are mostly self-funded by the participants and the coaches. Student athletes for the Bengal team pay for the privilege of playing baseball for Idaho State, about $500 combined for the Fall and Spring seasons. No scholarship, no team buses or air transportation, and no press coverage. They play for the love of the game. If you like watching superb athletes competing on raw emotion and skill, with none of the perquisites afforded varsity programs, then this game, and this team, is for you!
There are currently 123 member schools in Division I NCBA, and a cursory review of the NCBA member schools is a veritable “Who’s Who” of major universities. Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, Boise State, Cal State, Clemson, Colorado, Colorado State, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Marquette, Miami, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Oregon State, Penn State, Purdue, SMU, Stanford, Syracuse, Texas A&M, Ohio State, UCLA, UCON, USC, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin are just a few of the NCBA member schools. When Division II members are added in, there are 40 more NCBA schools than there are NCAA schools. Member teams pay $1,500 per year to participate in the NCBA.
Bob Hunt, a local State Farm Insurance agent, is in his fifth year as head coach building a superbly competitive and quality program. He had just four wins his first season, with two returning players, and has built it into a conference champion team with some superb baseball players and his outstanding assistant coaches Treavor Williams and Gary Anderson.
The past two years the Bengals have been conference runners-up, just shy of qualifying for regional post-season play. This was their breakout year.
The Bengals dominate the conference statistical leaders lists. They have two of the top five pitchers, the top home run slugger, four of the top five in RBIs (runs batted in), and the top five hitters by hitting-average in the conference.
The Bengals have had eight players named First Team All Conference for the past two years, and have had two All Americans in the past two years out of 3,000 players nationwide in the NCBA. Nate Mortenson from Rexburg, was named All American last year, and has a brother, Clayton, who plays for Boston Red Sox, after being drafted by the Colorado Rockies two years ago.
Even with two All Americans on the team, Hunt makes sure everyone on the team plays. As he explains it, “When I’ve got 18 players who come out to bust their butt in practice for two hours everyday, I’m going to play all of them. They all deserve, and have earned, the right to play.” On Saturday against Utah State, the team beat the Aggies 14-1 in game one, and in game two, with nearly all new players, the Bengals pulled off a 5-4 victory in extra innings.
To keep expenses as low as possible, the coach does all of the laundry and uniform and equipment repairs himself, and has gone through two washing machines in five years doing so. For road games they have to take his Ford Excursion with an equipment trailer, and three other private vehicles, just to get the team to each playing venue.
To make matters even worse, from an expense standpoint, the City of Pocatello charges the ISU team to use Halliwell field, even with the massive amount of time they put into maintenance, mowing, watering, upkeep, and cleaning of the field. They’re charged a $50 usage fee for home games, while the high school and American Legion programs are not charged. The team also pays for the umpires and refs for each game. Hunt figures if he charged the city even minimum wage for all of the man-hours that his team puts into the Halliwell Park field, the city would owe them $2,500 per year!
Hunt says that even though the team gets no support from the local media, that there are some local supporters and businesses that have been instrumental in the team’s success. He singles out Sandlot, a Westood Mall business, and the owners, Mike and Lisa Wise, as significant. “We are the great team that we are in part due to everything they do to help the team, the players, and us coaches,” Hunt explained.
Having wrapped up the conference championship, play resumes for the Bengals at regionals in La Grande, Oregon, May 10-12, where the top four teams from the four conferences in the region will compete for the chance to play in the NCBA World Series in Tampa Bay, Florida, the last week in May. Nationally, teams from 25 conferences in 8 regions are seeking the national title.
Over the weekend at the Utah State games, an elderly gentleman who moved here from the Boston area a few years ago lingered long enough after the game to visit with the coach and the team. He said, “I didn’t know we have baseball of this caliber in this area. I just had no idea. You can’t imagine how happy I am to find out that we do,” he said.
There are undoubtedly many in the region who likewise have no idea that Idaho State has an absolutely superb baseball team, playing outstanding ball. Since there is such a dearth of reporting on the team, you can stay abreast of their schedules and successes by visiting their website, ISUBengalBaseball.com.
This is one area secret that needs to be let out of the bag. If you’re a Bengal supporter, or if you love baseball, this is a team that has more than earned our respect and our support!
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.