by Stuart Nachbar, Daytripper University Contributor *
If Professor Dumbledore came to visit me and offered to make me great in one sport, I would choose baseball. No sport is played more often in warmer weather, more accepting of the limitations of individual players, or more connected to American folklore and history.
I went to college at Rutgers in New Jersey. I never watched a game on campus when I was there. It's cold in March and April when the Scarlet Knights play their first home games, and final exams take up most of May. Whenever I wanted to watch a baseball game, I took the easy way out and watched the Yankees on TV. But let's imagine that I combined my love for baseball and my dislike of cold spring weather when I was choosing a college? Which schools might I have considered, presuming that I could get in?
Last summer, the NCAA took a fan poll of the best places to watch college baseball. Some great baseball schools in the Southeastern Conference showed up in the poll, most notably Louisiana State University, which topped the nation in home attendance in 2017. In fact, the top five schools in home attendance were all in the Southeastern Conference:
Louisiana State University
University of Mississippi
Mississippi State University
University of Arkansas
University of South Carolina
Interesting to me: none of these schools are located anywhere near a city with a major league baseball team.
I honestly don’t know if college students choose any one of the top five schools because they like to watch baseball, but I admire the loyalty of the fans. The gap between attendance at the fifth place University of South Carolina and the sixth place University of Nebraska was nearly 2,100 fans a game.
Only two of the great college baseball schools for fan attendance, Texas Christian University and the University of Miami, are located in major league cities. Those two schools make my list for excellent schools for baseball fans, although presently the quality of play of the major league teams, the Texas Rangers and Miami Marlins, leaves much to be desired.
Aside from Texas Christian and Miami, which schools are also on my list?
UC-Berkeley: the university almost dropped baseball ten years ago, but still fields a very competitive team. It’s also easy to get on the BART to watch the Oakland A’s play ball.
UCLA: The Bruins top Baseball America’s rankings as the best college team. I’m sure that UCLA students find their ways to get to Dodgers games, though there’s nothing like a BART to get you to the stadium.
UC-Irvine. The Anteasters are also a highly ranked team. The Los Angeles Angels at Anaheim are less than a half hour from campus if you can get a ride to the stadium.
University of Washington. Another PAC-12 school in a major league city, Seattle, that’s easier to navigate by mass transit than either Los Angeles or Orange County. It’s quite possible for a very bright student from California to get denied at any of the UCs above, but get into U-Dub. The school also got an Honorable Mention in the NCAA fan poll.
Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have produced major league stars Mark Texiera, Nomar Garciaparra, and Matt Wieters. SunTrust Park, home of the Atlanta Braves, is about an hour from campus by mass transit.
These schools are tough to get into, and the education can be tough to finance if you’re from out of state. Here are a couple more schools that are less selective but also more affordable:
Arizona State University: The Sun Devils are also ranked in Baseball America, and have a great history of producing talent for the major leagues. Three of the first players taken in the Major League Baseball draft since 1965 have been Sun Devils, more than any college program in the country. Chase Field, home to the Arizona Diamondbacks is less than a half hour from campus, if you can get a ride. A bonus: Arizona State has the largest honors college in the country.
University of Tampa: Tampa is one of baseball’s citadels, and not just because it has a major league team, the Rays. More major league spring training games have been played in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area than anyplace else in America and the region has contributed a considerable amount of talent to the game. I put the University of Tampa on my list over the University of South Florida because it is the more residential college in the area. Seventy-percent of this school’s 7,800 undergraduates come from outside Florida.
The words “baseball school” do not have the same meaning to college sports fans as “basketball school” or “football school.” College baseball does not get as much love per home game as either sport, even in the warm-weather states. A true baseball fan will want their major league fix from late August through October as well as in the spring, even if their college has a highly ranked team.
An independent college/transfer/graduate admissions advisor based in Central New Jersey, Stuart Nachbar writes on colleges, careers and majors at EducatedQuest.com. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.