Fever Pitch at the Bosh: Heels Go to Omaha

Tar Heels are welcomed home.

Tar Heels are welcomed home. (Photo Sarah McCarty ’96)

Welcome-Home Photo Gallery | Additional photos at

‘I told them,
“You’re somewhat a
part of history here.”‘
– Coach Mike Fox ’78

Mike Fox ’78 will readily admit that he never thought it would take him so long to get back to Omaha. The road to the College World Series took more twists and turns than Carolina’s head baseball coach would have liked.

As a player, Fox made the trip to Omaha as Carolina’s second baseman in 1978 and was named to the College World Series all-tournament team. After grad school and a high school coaching job, Fox took over as head baseball coach at N.C. Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount in 1982.

Dick Baddour ’66 brought him back to Chapel Hill in 1998, making Fox only the third head baseball coach in Chapel Hill since 1947. In June, for the first time since 1989, he took the Heels back to Nebraska, where he had played in the only series game the school had ever won.

“That’s a great accomplishment for our kids,” he said. “I told them, ‘You’re somewhat a part of history here.’ ”

This year’s “kids” have certainly left their mark on Carolina baseball history – the 2006 squad owns the records for most home wins in a season (35) and most regular season wins (45). The team captured the ACC Coastal Division title and never lost a weekend series at home. It also hosted the first NCAA tournament regional in Chapel Hill since 1983 and in April played the 1,000th game in the soon-to-be-renovated Boshamer Stadium. And after two games in this year’s College World Series, the Heels set a new school record for most wins ever with 52. The previous record of 51 was set in 1990.

Carolina went unbeaten into the series finals and took the first of a best-of-three from Oregon State before stumbling to runner-up in its last two games. The four wins in Omaha pushed Carolina’s record for the year to 54-15.

It goes without saying that the baseball program has been on the rise, but according to Fox, it’s still fighting for respect on the national scene.

“We’re disappointed that we couldn’t bring home a national title, but I told our kids I was very proud of them. We took the program to another level this year, which is where we’ve been trying to get it.

“I didn’t want it to take eight years, but it’s raised the bar of our program. Now we’re going to aspire to get back and win it.”

With the Heels’ high-exposure appearance in the College World Series, their national standing could soon be changing. And their neighborhood is about to be improved.

Boshamer Stadium was built in 1972 and has seen few upgrades since then. It still features only one small restroom each for men and women and needs more seats, new lighting, improved practice and training facilities, a drainage system in the outfield and new sprinklers – and that’s just scratching the surface.

An ambitious fundraising drive is under way for the anticipated $13 million it will take to overhaul the stadium. The program was quietly jumpstarted by an initial $2 million pledge by former player Vaughn Bryson ’60 and his wife, Nancy ’60. It received national attention when George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, pledged $1 million.

Steinbrenner’s connections to UNC date back three decades. His daughter Julia Steinbrenner Swindal graduated from Carolina in 1981, while son-in-law Stephen Swindal earned a history degree from Chapel Hill in 1976. Their daughter, Haley, is a rising junior at UNC.

The new “Bosh” will feature a level with suites available for leasing, new television and radio booths, 4,000 new chair-back seats, a wider concourse, a Hall of Honor and new restrooms. A courtyard at the entrance to the stadium will be named for the Steinbrenners. Renovations are scheduled to begin the day after the 2007 season ends, and the plan is for construction to be complete by opening day in February 2008. More than $7 million has been pledged toward the project so far.

A corporate name on the field at Boshamer Stadium isn’t out of the question, said Russell James ’94, head of the fundraising drive.

“We need this new stadium,” Fox said. “We have to keep up with the other teams in our league and across the country. And hopefully after we build it, it’ll be a shot in the arm as far as getting more people [out to the games]. I think our fans are going to benefit greatly. . They’re the ones that will reap the big benefits.”

Constructing a solid future for the Tar Heels will take major work on Fox’s part, too. The team will lose its only senior, and pro baseball could steal away most of the team’s seven juniors. Pitchers Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard were selected in the first round of June’s Major League Baseball draft. Miller, named Baseball America‘s national player of the year, was chosen sixth overall by the Detroit Tigers, while Bard went No. 28 to the Boston Red Sox. Teammates Jay Cox (22nd round) and Robert Woodard (46th round) also were drafted.

“I ain’t thinking about next year,” Fox said laughingly, just four days before the Tar Heels kicked off postseason play with the regional in Chapel Hill. But fans shouldn’t worry about where the program’s headed. “We’ve signed a good class. We’re no dummies here. You gotta really look into the future. We’ve already got commitments from some ’07 kids and we’re evaluating ’08 kids. You can’t start early enough.

“Every day I realize how fortunate I am to be the coach here. I wanted when I got here to do what I could to take this program to another level, and I think we’ve still got a ways to go with that. I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said I didn’t get a little personal satisfaction out of it, but I still think we’ve got a long way to go.”

Fox knows the road that lies ahead. He just hopes it won’t take nearly as long to navigate it to another trip to Omaha.

“Our philosophy and our attitude is that we can be a national competitor here in baseball and we shouldn’t settle for anything other than people talking about Carolina baseball and the College World Series,” he said. “It’s taken a little bit longer than I thought. But we’re getting there.”

– Philip Jones ’06

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