CORVALLIS — It was a charmed ride last weekend for the Oregon State baseball team, with late-game heroics, timely plays, and as coach Pat Casey likes to preach, a demonstration that a lot of little things can add up to big victories.
But if Casey is being honest, he knew this season — which will now include hosting a super regional this weekend in Corvallis — had a chance to be special even as the smoke was still clearing from last year's season-ending loss to LSU at a regional in Baton Rouge, La.
Oregon State (48-10)
vs. Kansas State (44-17)
The day after the Beavers' season ended, Major League Baseball began its draft, a series of days when college juniors become eligible to be poached by big league clubs. It's a process that results in many elite college programs having their cupboards stripped of talent.
Casey held his breath and his solid core of juniors waited for their calls.
Shortstop Tyler Smith, coming off a season of hitting .343, never got his call. First baseman Danny Hayes, who said he always dreamed of getting drafted, had to keep dreaming. Same thing for utility player Ryan Barnes and pitcher Tony Bryant — crickets.
Only pitcher Matt Boyd was drafted, in the 13th round by the Cincinnati Reds. He had some casual conversations with Casey about the decision, but Casey told him it was his life, and only he could make the decision.
In the following days, Boyd called around to some of his teammates. Smith said his conversations with Boyd were not about Cincinnati, but another city.
"Omaha,'' Smith said, referring to the city of the College World Series. "We were talking throughout the summer and that's all he wanted to talk about. Omaha. He wanted to come back. And that was huge for us. He set the example.''
From there, everything seemed to fall in line.
Smith said he took his disappointment at not getting drafted and turned it into fuel.
"I was hoping for it, but when my name didn't get called, I used it as motivation. I knew I had a chance to lead this team to something bigger.''
Hayes, who had professional talent but was slowed by a shoulder injury that sidelined him for a month last year, merely shrugged his shoulders in describing how he felt about being undrafted.
"You dream about it, but it didn't happen,'' Hayes said. "So, I you just come back to school.''
From the first day of practice, Hayes said it was apparent this was a special group. There was a blend of senior experience and youthful talent, a combination that not many teams vying for Omaha possess.
"I think it's definitely unique,'' Smith said. "Because you look at teams in the SEC, and every junior who has a big year gets drafted. So for this team, I think what helps separate us is our leadership. That's big for us.''
"These freshmen come in and they look up to the seniors,'' Casey said. "It's like that older brother, who can tell them 'No, no, dad is going to get mad about that.' So we knew we were going to have great leadership when all of them came back. And I think that says something about our university and our program that guys who get drafted want to come back.''
It has turned out to be a win-win for Boyd and the Beavers. Boyd has helped carry a Beavers staff that ranks second in the nation in ERA, going 10-3 with a 2.20 ERA, which has undoubtedly improved his draft stock.
"Best kid I've ever coached,'' Casey said. "He is just the nicest kid you will ever meet. He should have been on the Andy Griffith Show — he wouldn't even have to act. Just the greatest kid in the world. But you know what, it was also huge for Smitty and Hayes to come back with the attitude they came back with. OSU is a great place, a great environment.''
There's a lot of that feel-good stuff around this Beavers baseball team.
"Every single guy on this team, we love each other like brothers,'' Hayes said. "We are a family, and that's going to help us out as we go along. We don't have any individuals, everyone is for the team. All we care about is getting that W.''
The draft, and the dreams can wait. There's a date with Omaha these seniors have to settle.