Jim Abbott sees a future for Michigan baseball. While the college game has been changing and roster fluidity continues to rise, Abbott holds out hope the Wolverines will return to what they were when he pitched for them -- a team capable of winning the Big Ten and making a run to the College World Series.
“I think they’ve been hit hard by injuries the past couple years,” Abbott said. “When they had their roster a couple years ago, they won the Big Ten championship, went down and won a big game against Vanderbilt and David Price.
“Baseball is a tough sport to recruit for and to compete nationally. I know the northern climate makes it more difficult. The challenges are great but I believe the opportunity is great, too, at Michigan. The facilities are second-to-none and I think they’ll be back. I think there’s a demand to be back.”
Under Rich Maloney, Michigan has been to four NCAA tournaments in 10 seasons and played in a Super Regional in 2007. But the Wolverines haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2008 and have been under-.500 the past two seasons, including a 21-32 record this year.
This, though, is an improvement from where Michigan was when Maloney took over, having made one NCAA tournament from 1990 until Maloney’s hire before the 2003 season. Starting in 2005, Maloney took the Wolverines to four consecutive tournaments.
This, though, is a long way from when Abbott and Barry Larkin played for Michigan in the 1980s under Bud Middaugh.
“That is one of the great affiliations of my life and to have my number retired was one of the proudest days of my life,” Abbott said. “I still can’t even get over that. I’m rooting for them. Coach Maloney I think is a good coach and great with the kids.
“One thing I know is how hard it is to be a college baseball coach. I’m not providing any excuses there but a good friend of mine, Ed Sprague, is the coach of the University of Pacific and it is a fluid situation. You’re recruiting kids that may or may not go professional. Before they even get there they can turn professional at some point. Your roster is constantly in flux and then you have the vagaries of the game and trying to fill out a roster.”
Now living in Southern California, Abbott said the players he sees preparing to play college baseball now are much more prepared to play at that level then they were when he entered college in the 1980s. Part of the reason is due to location, where southern state players are capable of playing year-round.
This is not new, but it caught his attention. For the most part he thinks players in northern states, like he was out of Flint, Mich., might have similar potential but don’t have the same pedigree as those who can play in Florida or California or Arizona all year.
But he hopes Michigan can once again make a push to being nationally relevant again soon.
“Michigan is a great place and a great place to play baseball,” Abbott said. “I’m rooting for them to get back on top of the Big Ten and really become a national power.
“I think they have the capability to do that.”