Ed. note: Fuck it, let’s get even weirder.
College basketball fans might be familiar with the Coppin State Eagles. Once upon a time in the 1990s, they won nine of ten regular season MEAC titles, only missing in 1992. In 1997, they upset South Carolina in the NCAA Tournament as a 15-seed.
Coppin State baseball has no such antecedents. According to the school’s official record book, the Eagles have been playing baseball since 1984. In the 38 subsequent years, the baseball program has never once recorded a winning season, much less ever made the NCAA Tournament. Indeed, I couldn’t find a single picture of the baseball program to use.
This drought has included several runs that might be even worse than you’d expect. From 1988 to 1994, the program’s overall record was 31-186-1, a .143 winning percentage. 1998 to 2001 was even worse, clocking in at 18-148 (.108).
Playing in a Funeral Parlor
And then there was 2007. After having the baseball budget cut in half, coach Guy Robertson resigned, and all but three players transferred. The New York Times wrote an article on the program, detailing how the Eagles had a roster of eleven players and — I am not making this up — practiced in a former funeral home. To quote the NYT article, “Before the first practice of the season, [Coach Harvey] Lee had to move caskets to clear an area for workouts.” Try to wrap your head around practicing baseball inside a funeral home.
For understandable reasons, the 2007 team went 0-44, getting outscored by a total of 615-59. That’s an average loss of 14-1. (And if you’re wondering what the statistics for such a team would look like, fine, here you go.)
Things didn’t get a whole lot better for the next few years. Although they mixed in a 14-33 season in 2010, the Eagles’ overall record from 2007 to 2012 was 24-250 (.088). Leaving out 2010, that’s 10-217 (.044) over the other five seasons.
It’s no secret the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is in a lot of trouble right now. Five programs have left the MEAC in the last few years. Savannah State returned to Division II. Long-time members Bethune-Cookman and FAMU have joined the SWAC. Hampton and founding member North Carolina A&T departed for the Big South, then moved to the Colonial. Now another founding member, Howard, is rumored to be considering a move to the Colonial as well.
This has left MEAC baseball in a bind, with only four teams participating this season. The NCAA has granted them a one-year waiver, but they will need to add a fifth team before next season to keep their automatic bid. Frankly, this seems unlikely, and the 2022 MEAC Tournament champion may be the last MEAC team in the NCAA Tournament for a while.
Thanks to a stunning eight-run ninth inning against regular-season champion Delaware State, the MEAC’s representative will be the 24-28 Coppin State Eagles. They still don’t have a winning season to their program’s name, but the postseason drought is over.
Given their minnow status in Division I, the Eagles would be easy enough to cheer for anyway, but it’s more than that. Coach Sherman Reed graduated from Towson and Johns Hopkins, but has stayed a part of the program for fourteen years now. Bullpen southpaw Tim Ruffino has a 4-2 record and a 3.66 ERA. Those seem fairly pedestrian, but much like Jim Abbott, Tim Ruffino was born without a right hand.
It’s fair to say no one will expect much from the Eagles in the postseason. MEAC representatives have been known to win from time to time — Bethune-Cookman eliminated both Marist and South Florida in 2017 — but since then, conference teams have gone 0-6 in regional games with an aggregate score of 71-15.
No matter what happens in June, Coppin State overcame four decades of futility just to make it this far. This may their last appearance for a long while — and indeed, the MEAC’s last appearance, if the conference can’t expand. While it lasts, here’s hoping that the Eagles enjoy their stay, and can make a run at someone in their regional.