When Tommy White hit his third home run against Miami in the ACC Tournament at Truist Park in Charlotte, I watched the NC State crowd erupt like the Wolfpack had just won the College World Series. (Alas, they were robbed of that opportunity for the second year in a row, but that’s a sad story for another day.)
I knew then that this college baseball postseason was going to be something special.
White, aka “Tommy Tank,” hit four home runs in the ACC Tournament, giving him 27 for the season, an NCAA freshman record. His amazing tournament performance was just an appetizer for what was to come for college baseball.
A week later, the NCAA Regionals produced some of the most exciting and dramatic baseball you will see anywhere. All over the country, college teams played their hearts out to reach the Super Regionals and, ultimately, the 2022 CWS.
From Hattiesburg, Miss. to Corvallis, Ore., the first weekend of the NCAA Baseball Tournament was as thrilling and intense as its basketball counterpart. It rivaled the MLB playoffs, but with a college football atmosphere.
There were stunning walk-offs (Stanford over Texas State), dramatic rallies (Louisville over Michigan), upsets (Southern Miss over LSU) and sheer dominance (Tennessee, Texas, Auburn and Virginia Tech).
And there were runs galore with an average of 14.2 per game. Nine different teams scored more than 20 runs in a game. A day after giving up 20 to Arkansas, Oklahoma State scored 29 against Missouri State as the two teams combined for an NCAA Tournament record 44 runs. The Cowboys scored 68 runs in four games and it still wasn’t enough to win the Stillwater Regional.
There were dramatic home runs, highlight-reel bat flips, unsung heroes and, of course, controversy. Louisville won its Regional on a highly questionable call, while an umpire practically shoved East Carolina’s Bryson Worrell down the first-base line after his homer in the finals of the Greenville (N.C.) Regional.
And, of course, there were dozens of unbelievable individual performances, including another slugger hitting three home runs in one game, as Ole Miss legend Tim Elko did in the Rebels’ 22-6 beatdown of Arizona in the finals of the Coral Gables Regional.
The Super Regionals brought more thrilling action, including a dramatic walk-off (Arkansas over North Carolina), big rallies (Texas over East Carolina), dominating performances (Ole Miss shutting out Southern Miss) and big upsets (Notre Dame over No. 1 Tennessee, Auburn over No. 3 Oregon State).
The exciting Super Regionals set the stage for an intriguing College World Series featuring eight of the hottest and best overall teams in the country.
While binging on two weeks of tense drama, I began to wonder why these college stars and magical moments — plus the ones still to come — were not being memorialized on cardboard.
While multiple card manufacturers have brands focused on college football and college basketball, there are few choices when it comes to college baseball. A quick search uncovered only two series that feature college players — Panini Stars & Stripes USA Baseball and Panini Prizm Draft Picks Baseball.
New Releases: 2022 Topps Series 2
Neither set, however, focuses exclusively on college players. The Stars & Stripes set is devoted to USA Baseball and includes both college and high school stars. While draft picks features some players in college uniforms, it is devoted primarily to top MLB prospects.
With college baseball on the rise, attracting big crowds in conferences like the ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Pac 12, there would seem to be a hot market for college baseball cards. And the new NIL program, which allows college athletes to accept money for their name, image and likeness, opens the door for such a golden opportunity.
Panini and licensing company OneTeam announced a partnership last year to produce trading cards of college athletes and Fanatics and Topps announced last week that it has struck a deal with more than 100 major universities and nearly 200 athletes to produce college sports cards. Many of those will feature the official logos and trademarks from some of the nation’s top Power 5 schools.
Hopefully those deals will include more college baseball cards and sets.
Imagine seeing “Tommy Tank,” Tim Elko and such first-round prospects as Jacob Berry (LSU), Kevin Parada (Georgia Tech), Jace Jung (Texas Tech) or Drew Gilbert (Tennessee) on cards commemorating their college careers. Or how about super-slugger Ivan Melendez of Texas, who leads the nation with 32 home runs, or Oregon State left-hander Cooper Hjerpe, the nation’s best college pitcher.
Or College World Series cards commemorating the eventual 2022 national champion.
Baseball fans watching the 2022 NCAA Tournament have been treated to a highly entertaining postseason, with more to come starting this weekend in the CWS. Card companies, meanwhile, have a golden opportunity to produce new series that would be highly coveted by passionate college baseball fans.
— Jeff Owens is the editor of Sports Collectors Digest and sportscollectorsdigest.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jeffowens_jeff.
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