OMAHA, Neb. — The College World Series motto is splashed all around this city: "History happens here."
Now that Oregon State has lost its opener and won a game in the loser's bracket, starting on the same path that brought the 2006 Beavers a national title, the question is, "Can history happen here again?"
These Beavers face Indiana today in an elimination game. If they win, they get a rematch with Mississippi State on Friday. If they win that, those teams meet again Saturday for the right to play in the best-of-three final.
Since the CWS expanded to eight teams in 1950, only 10 teams have gone from 0-1 to No. 1 in Omaha. In the past 14 years, only two teams have done it. Mitch Canham and Whit Merrifield, teammates on the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals, were talking about that just the other day. Canham was the catcher on that '06 OSU team; Merrifield played on the2010 South Carolina team that lost its opener and won the title.
Those are also the only teams that repeated as champions in the past 15 years.
"It's about having a short memory, I guess," Canham said. "It stems from the coaching staff. Those are the guys who start the character of the team. Really, it comes down to not being scared of any obstacles that get in front of you."
Canham's Beavers and this team share two traits: They have that resiliency. The Beavers staved off elimination twice in the super regional, then again Monday in an 11-4 win over Louisville, and they have lots of pitching. Jonah Nickerson went 2-0 with an ERA of 0.83 in 21 2/3 innings of the 2006 CWS, and — still in the bouncy bat era — just one OSU pitcher had an ERA over 5.00 in Omaha. And that includes an 11-1 loss to Miami in the opener.
This was a club that lost both of its games in Omaha in 2005 and then suffered the 10-run loss to open 2006. Canham remembers the aftermath of that Miami loss and asking himself, "Wow, is this really happening now?" Then, whether it was short memory or the power of positive thinking, the Beavers flipped the mental switch.
"Really, why are we putting so much pressure on ourselves?" Canham said. "What's the worst that can happen, we go two and out? Well, we've been there before. Let's try something new."
Nickerson recalls a reporter, after the loss to Miami, asking what he thought of his team's chances to win it all.
"I told him, 'Yeah, if there's any team that's going to come back, it's going to be us because of the depth in our pitching staff.'"
The Beavers beat Georgia 5-3 behind Nickerson, trounced Miami 8-1, and then came back-to-back shutouts of Rice to put them in the final.
"When we went 18 innings against Rice without giving up a run, I think our guys felt pretty good about what we were doing," Casey said.
In the final, North Carolina won the first game 4-3, but by that point, the Beavers had so much belief that their 11-7 win and the 3-2 clincher seemed almost predestined.
Matt Boyd, today's starter, said having such a strong link to that past makes up for the statistical improbability of pulling off the feat.
"He's battle-tested, he's been through it," Boyd said of Casey. "It's nice to have a general who's lived through the wars and been through the same scenario before."
Casey was asked if he saw any similarities between the two OSU clubs.
"Yeah, they both are going to be eliminated the next time they lose," Casey said. "I just thought they couldn't get a break in '05. I just thought that one win to kind of validate who they were and what they were about. That club was really athletically talented and gifted."
Canham, hitting .285 with the Naturals, worked out with current OSU catchers Jake Rodriguez and Nate Esposito in the winter and said many members of the 2006 team follow this year's club closely, talking and texting about then and now.
But they talk amongst themselves, not to the current team, which has to live in the present and take the proverbial one game at a time.
"All us old farts will talk about the old times," Canham said. "But these guys are well aware of Oregon State's past and what we've done. They respect what we did, and they want to carry on that tradition.
"They want to be better than any team in the country, not just the old Beavs."