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Mizzou Baseball 2018: The season ahead

The Tigers will start the season on the NCAA bubble and probably stay there for quite a while.

Simmons Field turfed
TR Robertson

Schedule Highlights

The 2018 schedule is pretty much what Tiger fans have come to expect, for better or worse. The Tigers begin the year against a mixed bag of opponents, the SEC schedule is tough as always, and the mid-week competition is generally mediocre at best.

For the third straight year, the season commences in Florida, where the depth of the roster will be tested with 8 games in 10 days. The highlight of the stretch is a match-up against Miami in Coral Gables, but the season opening weekend against Florida International won’t be a cake walk. Miami had a bit of a down year in 2017, while FIU had a good year for them, while both compiled an identical 31-27 record (Miami finished 43rd in RPI; FIU 86th).

From that point Mizzou plays fellow snow-birds Northeastern to round out the Florida trip, as the first of 14 games in 21 days vs. 6 teams. None of them were ranked higher than 146th in RPI (Wichita State) and range as low as 297th out of 299 (Alabama A&M). That stretch may help MU put together a winning stretch like last year’s 20-game streak, but at the end of that three week freeway is a head-on collision with LSU, last year’s College World Series runner-up.

The must-see game of that entire stretch is Wichita State, always a tough competitor, even though they had a mediocre season in 2017. The WSU game is a welcome sight on the schedule, if only because it could signal the renewal of a regional rivalry that should be a standing feature of the Tigers’ schedule. (Of the 18 non-conference D1 Baseball schools within 325 miles of Mizzou, only three are on the schedule: WSU, Missouri State, and SIU-Edwardsville). No less than thinks the Shockers could be headed to Omaha. That’s in large part due to OF Greyson Jenista, a favorite to be a first round draft pick in June, and 3B Alec Bohm, also expected to go early in draft.

The highlight of the non-conference schedule, as always, is the annual home-and-away series against the Missouri State Bears (22nd in RPI). This year there’s an extra bonus added to that series: the Tigers and Bears open their annual rivalry series with a game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on April 3rd. Considering MSU’s success in the past few years (two Super Regional appearances in the past three seasons), perhaps this game will draw a larger crowd from among the fabled “best fans in baseball”. Also worth showing up to see is the Bears’ SS Jeremy Eierman, a likely first rounder in the June draft.

As always, the toughest and most exciting games of the season will be the 10 weekends against SEC opponents. Both D1Baseball and Baseball America have 8 SEC teams in their pre-season Top 25. Neither of them have Mizzou ranked.

The SEC enters the season with eight teams ranked in the Top 25, the most of any conference, and some longtime observers of the conference believe it may be as deep as its been in years. The conference has a chance to match the record for most teams from one conference to advance to the NCAA Tournament. Equaling or breaking the record of 10 teams will be difficult, however, given the strength of the bottom third of the conference. Baseball America SEC Conference Preview

Predictions? D1Baseball and Perfect Game have Mizzou finishing 6th in the SEC, College Baseball Daily 4th. The SEC Coaches Poll has the Tigers 6th.

The toughest part of the conference schedule will be on the road this season. Mizzou plays the two 2017 College World Series finalists, Florida (ranked #1 pre-season by D1Baseball and Baseball America) and LSU (ranked 16th/17th), on the road, as well as traveling to Kentucky (ranked 8th), Auburn, and South Carolina.

Missouri lucks out this year by not facing #4 Arkansas or #10 Texas A&M, the teams picked to finish atop the SEC West in the pres-season Coaches Poll.

The two don’t-miss SEC weekends at Taylor Stadium will be against Mississippi State (ranked 12th/23rd), March 23-25 (featuring high round draft-target LHP Konnor Pilkington), and Vanderbilt (14th/18th), on April 19-21.

Alabama and Georgia also come to CoMo, but of special interest to long time Mizzou fans will be the final SEC series of the season. No one expects the Tennessee Volunteers to climb out of last place in the SEC East this season, but they will be led by their new head coach, Tony Vitello. Everyone who hoped to see #MizzouMade Tony V as head coach in Taylor Stadium will finally get to see their wishes come true. Sort of.

What’s New at Taylor Stadium?

There are some changes you’ll want to be aware of if you’re going to games at Taylor Stadium in 2018.

The Home Turf

When Steve Bieser first arrive in Columbia in the summer of 2016, he made it clear he had one big wish for his new home ballpark.

There is a strong possibility that the Tigers eventually will play on artificial turf. Bieser spoke on the advantages of artificial turf Friday and said he lobbied for Southeast Missouri State to build an artificial turf field for three years. SEMO will install artificial turf there in August.

“I know for player development, the best thing for us is artificial turf,” Bieser said. Artificial turf wears better, is unaffected by Missouri’s vast temperature ranges and reduces the amount of home games getting cancelled due to rain. Columbia Tribune, 7/2/16

During the offseason, Mizzou Baseball started a fundraising campaign to raise money for installing turf. Predictably, not everyone was a fan of the idea, but project is going forward.

The infield is now entirely turf, including the basepath cutouts and the mound, which appear to be made of the same or similar turf ,of a different color. The bullpens are also now all turf. The outfield will still be natural grass for the 2018 season, with hopes to extend the new turf during the next couple of years if funding comes through.

Simmons Field turf closeup

BreakTime Lounge

There’s a new pricing structure for gaining entry into the BreakTime Lounge in its second year at Taylor Stadium. The most intriguing part of the press release is not the pricing. It’s one unexpected word in this sentence:

Passes to the seating area, which affords fans the opportunity to purchase premium menu items and alcohol in a covered luxury seating area, are on sale now through the Mizzou Ticket Office.

Covered? That’s new, and would be a major inducement to fork over the extra bucks for a BreakTime Lounge pass, given the tendency for inclement weather at Taylor Stadium. As of just a few days ago, though, there is no visible cover over the BreakTime Lounge area.

Higher Ticket Prices

Season tickets for reserved seating has gone up from $60 to $100. Season tickets for General Admission seating is $50, up from $25. Single game tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for youth and seniors (and youthful seniors, like me).

That’s a 66% increase. The glass-half-empty side of me won’t be happy unless we see a 66% increase in wins this year. That would be 60 wins, most certainly an Omaha-worthy record.

The glass-half-full side of me is still amazed I can go to all 31 home games for only $100. That’s $3.22 per game.

Arkansas season tickets are $225. LSU season tickets range from $210 to $350, along with a $75 to $2000 donation to the scholarship fund (Mizzou Baseball season tickets don’t require a TSF donation). Even Tennessee, one of the perennial cellar dwellers of the SEC, prices their season tickets at $150.

Could it be that if Missouri wants to compete in the SEC, they need to maximize their revenue stream, including raising their ticket prices to SEC levels?

Of course, that only works if the team wins enough to get the ticket-buying public excited enough to open their wallets.

Which is exactly what this team intends on doing.

One more thing

If you haven’t read this already, you'll want to.