ATHENS — Georgia fans love their baseball as any Atlanta Braves follower will tell you, but there’s also an itch building to see the UGA Bulldogs reach the College World Series.
It’s not that much of a longshot when one considers that Ole Miss, which finished 14-16 in SEC play and was eliminated in the first game of the SEC Tournament, is in the best-of-three CWS finale with Oklahoma which begins on Saturday in Omaha, Neb.
Tuning in to watch the CWS Omaha, Neb., last week, it was interesting to notice that four of the five teams left standing were from the SEC — Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Auburn.
Then there’s Oklahoma, which will join the SEC in 2025, and is also in the midst of a softball dynasty.
It has been well-documented that Georgia has let its baseball and softball facilities fall well behind the schools its fans want to compete with, and in two years UGA will begin to do something about it.
The UGA athletics board, however, put tennis on the pecking order ahead of baseball and this summer begins work on a new $26.7 million complex.
No one will argue the $68.5 million being poured into Sanford Stadium, as football is the engine that drives the revenue train.
All Georgia baseball coach Scott Stricklin and the Bulldogs’ baseball-crazy fans can do is wait on having a level playing field to compete on in the SEC.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss is seeing the $20 million it invested into its baseball facility in 2018 pay off, as is Arkansas, which recently invested $26 million into its beautiful baseball stadium and facility.
Then there’s Texas A&M, and yes, the Aggies also have a newer $24 million facility. Finally, rival Florida has finished its $65 million baseball facility.
For now, Stricklin will enter his 10th season selling top Georgia recruits on the notion of staying in-state to compete in the SEC.
“You want to play in this league and play against the absolute best,” Stricklin said during the Ingles On The Beat Show on Monday night.
“It’s unbelievably competitive every single weekend, it’s 30 straight games of juggernaut opponents, and you wouldn’t want it any other way,” said Stricklin, whose Bulldogs managed to go .500 in the league despite losing two of their top three starting pitchers before the season and having All-SEC ace Jonathan Cannon go off track after a forearm injury late in the season.
“It’s a pressure cooker, three’s stress all over the place, but that’s why these kids want to come to play in the SEC and compete in the league.”
Stricklin’s Georgia Bulldogs weren’t able to get out of regionals, falling to North Carolina in heartbreaking fashion when outgoing senior Josh McAllister was robbed of a home run in the final inning of a one-run loss.
UGA narrowly — and in a controversial fashion — missed a postseason bid in 2021.
But the season before, in 2020, Stricklin and the Bulldogs were set up for their best chance at a CWS run since the team appeared in Omaha in 2008 during the 2020 season, ranked No. 2 with a dugout full of great pitching and hitting.
Alas, the COVID global pandemic struck, canceling out spring sports and costing Georgia an up-cycle of talent.
More than that, COVID also pushed back plans for improved facilities at Foley Field that the Bulldogs desperately need to compete in hard-fought recruiting battles.
The fact UGA doesn’t waive out-of-state tuition costs -- like many of its SEC rivals -- puts Stricklin and the Bulldogs at even more of a disadvangtage.
But in another year, Georgia will break ground on a two-year plan to improve the facilities -- at the same time SEC champion Tennessee has plans to pour $56 million into its baseball stadium and facilities.
The cost of doing business and competing for championships keeps going up.
Capacity at SEC baseball stadiums
Mississippi State -- 15,586
Arkansas - 11,531
Ole Miss - 10,715
LSU - 10,326
Alabama - 8,500
S Carolina- 8,242
Florida - 7,000
Texas A&M - 6,100
Tennessee - 4,283
Auburn - 4,096
Vanderbilt - 3,802
Missouri - 3,331
Georgia - 3,291
Kentucky - 3,000