By Mark Nagi
As I write this article, the Tennessee Volunteers baseball team is getting ready to host Notre Dame in the Super Regionals. Win two out of three and UT will advance to the College World Series for the second straight year.
No matter what happens against the Fighting Irish (and you are likely reading this after the Super Regionals are complete, barring major weather delays), it has been a remarkable year for Tennessee baseball.
The Vols won 56 games and lost only 7 heading into the Super Regionals. Tennessee cruised to the SEC regular season and tournament championships. They were ranked number one in the nation for months.
And they became the most hated NCAA team in the country.
After a player hits a home run, they are adorned with a fur coat.
Following a sweep of the Florida Gators in Gainesville, UT players saw some Gators football helmets lying around so they wore them, took some pictures, and posted to social media.
During a big hit in the Regionals against Georgia Tech, Vols slugger Jordan Beck flipped the bird to an opposing outfielder, or to ESPN, or to the world, WHILE rounding first base, on his way to a double.
Luc Lipcius went past home plate against Missouri and touched the plate with one single finger.
After big hits and important plays, the Vols on the field and in the dugout prance and taunt and genuflect to their hearts’ content.
Game in and game out, the fans of the unwritten rules of baseball have a conniption and take to social media to voice their displeasure. They plead for someone… anyone… to beat the Vols and put them in their proper place.
Tennessee’s players follow the lead of their head coach, Tony Vitello. He was suspended for four games by the SEC after making contact with an umpire. Vitello is loud and brash and barks at umpires when ball and strike calls aren’t to his liking.
Speaking of liking, while opponents and their fans despise these Vols, UT fans have embraced their antics. Lindsey Nelson Stadium had turned into a very difficult place to play. It doesn’t have the new car smell or pretty shine of other SEC parks (for now), but that doesn’t matter very much now. UT went an impressive 37-3 at home.
UT athletics has been down for so long this feels like an outpouring of pent-up frustration more than anything else. The men’s basketball team just won the SEC tournament. The Lady Vols basketball team is a legit Final 4 contender. The men’s tennis team just finished the season in the Final 4. The football program is on the rise.
But nothing at the moment beats what Tennessee baseball is doing.
Is this what it feels like to be an Alabama football fan? To go into every game expecting to win and being shocked on the rare occasion when that doesn’t happen.
No one hated the Buzz Peterson-led basketball team or the Derek Dooley-led football team. Why? Because they were never a real threat.
This Tennessee team? Yeah. They are a real threat.
Not that I need to tell Tennessee fans this but enjoy being the most hated team in baseball.
You wouldn’t rather be the most loved loser, would you?