With George Horton stepping down, Oregon has a chance to do something bold with its baseball program.
It makes sense that the Ducks should turn over every rock. They should look coast to coast for someone who has the energy to awaken a dormant program and bring excitement back to PK Park.
I don’t know where this search is going to lead, but I do have an idea of where it should start.
It should start in Corvallis.
I was there Tuesday afternoon as Oregon State prepared to host an NCAA regional for the third straight year. And again, I was struck by how different college baseball feels in Corvallis compared to Eugene.
The Beavers are all business. There’s nothing frilly, nothing pretentious — just good, tough baseball.
That’s the kind of culture Oregon wanted to create when the Ducks brought back baseball and hired Horton in 2007. They made no secret that they were coming for OSU, and they spared no expense in equipping the program to compete at the highest level.
Horton deserves credit for building a competitive program from scratch, just as he’s responsible for the regression that occurred in the years that followed. Everyone who knows him personally will wish him well. But now, 11 years into baseball’s second act, it’s time for Oregon to stop and recalibrate.
The Ducks are missing an opportunity if they’re not looking closely at what Oregon State’s done right and asking why they haven’t achieved the same success. These two programs don’t need to be carbon copies of one another — in fact, it’s better if they’re not — but the Ducks would be nuts not to study OSU’s example and ask if there are parts they can emulate.
Could the Ducks pry away Nate Yeskie, Oregon State’s longtime pitching coach? If interim coach Pat Bailey doesn’t receive a contract extension, would he entertain an offer from Oregon?
I don’t know the answers, but those are questions worth asking. Unless Pat Casey is coming out of retirement to coach the Ducks — and, c’mon, you’d sooner see Mike Parker and Jerry Allen trade places on the Civil War airwaves — the next best option is to find a coach who can compete against the program Casey built. If that happens to be someone with ties to OSU, it wouldn’t be the worst thing for a rivalry that could use a kick-start.
Beaver fans are probably chuckling right now, because they’ve heard this all before. Right or wrong, they’ll always believe Beaver envy played a part in Oregon launching a baseball program so soon after OSU won back-to-back national championships.
Let’s be honest: Recent history hasn’t given Beaver fans many opportunities to gloat. The Ducks have won 10 of the last 11 football meetings, have been a regular player in the men’s NCAA Tournament, have equaled or surpassed OSU’s success in women’s basketball.
Baseball is the one sport where Oregon hasn’t been able to buy its way to success. That has to be satisfying to Beaver fans, just as Oregon State’s baseball dominance must be a pebble in the shoe of Duck fans everywhere. For both, here’s the question I would pose.
Can baseball ever mean as much at Oregon as it does at Oregon State?
At Oregon State, there’s a ton of institutional pride wrapped up in the success of the baseball team. It’s not the same at Oregon, where baseball competes for relevance with track, softball and spring football.
The great unknown is how Oregon fans would respond to a baseball team that was regularly contending for the College World Series. My sense is that they’d embrace it — maybe not in the same way Oregon State fans embrace the Beavers, but more than the recent crowds at PK Park might suggest.
Horton’s teams didn't give Oregon much chance to find out. The more they tinkered and tweaked in hopes of landing on the right formula, the more you had to appreciate Oregon State’s tireless consistency.
That’s something the Ducks would do well to emulate. They can and should scour the country for their next baseball coach, but if they’re doing it right, they’ll come back with someone who has a plan to help them compete in their own backyard.
I know a good place to start.