In late April I was able to attend a Utah Jazz game as they hosted the Phoenix Suns in a game that would secure their eighth place seed in the NBA Playoffs. It wasn’t a typical game for me however. Rather then the usual nosebleeds that I deal with, I had a media pass. I was free to make my way through media booths and locker rooms, and during the game, I sat at the press table.
Sitting at the press table may seem glamorous, but to a sports fan it can be the contrary. I couldn’t wear my Stockton jersey and I could forget about cheering on Derrek Favors’ blocks. Strictly professional.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m getting at though. I love what I do and I wouldn’t choose any other career path. But being “professional” at the loudest Jazz game I had been to in years taught me to never take advantage of being a fan.
I’ve noticed this on the college level too. Despite being just shy of a post-season NCAA Tournament bid, the UVU men’s baseball team preformed an outstanding season, a season that would give Utah Valley some of the largest national recognition that it’s ever seen.
The Wolverines went 47-12 overall in the season and had a perfect Great West Conference record at 28-0. They beat nationally ranked teams and continued through the GWC Tournament edging tough games against teams like Houston Baptist to eventually be named the GWC Champions. Now first basemen Goose Kallunki is a semi-finalist for the Golden Spike Award that is awarded to the nations top amateur baseball player of that year.
During all of UVU’s baseball success this past season, I saw that the Wolverines are not taking advantage of their privilege to be fans. In fact, they’re celebrating it.
“It was so much fun to play in front of our fans this year,” Kallunki said. “It was unlike anything else I have ever done in my life.”
I decided to write this column while UVU was competing against Houston Baptist in the GWC Tournament. It was a freezing night and I was sitting in the press box with the window open. I thought my fingers would fall off, but as I looked out to the window in the ninth inning, I saw the Wolverines home crowd enduring and wanting to see the outcome of this match up.
Utah Valley saw two of their biggest home crowds in UVU baseball history this season. Their largest ever was at the match-up against BYU with an attendance of 5,456 fans. Their second larges was against Utah with 4,739 fans. I understand that being neighbors to these two universities helped to grow these numbers. However, it must be noted that the majority had an obvious UVU support.
“Our fans are absolutely unreal this year,” Kallunki said. “It was extremely loud for us. When I hit that home run against BYU the place absolutely erupted and it was definitely a pro-UVU crowd.”
But it wasn’t just the larger scale games that brought out Utah Valley’s dedicated fans. Coach Eric Madsen noted that he was even impressed with the fan support on games that were not so highly profiled.
“Our fans have been terrific,” Madsen said. “Even some of the games that were against teams from out of the area we had a great crowd which in the past we probably haven’t had.”
It can be a daunting fact that UVU will only gain large national attention when our athletic programs are not only winning games, but also winning games against nationally ranked teams. Utah Valley’s baseball program has shown that they have what it takes to do that, and it’s an even better thought that the Wolverine fan-base is by theirs and every other programs side.
“I couldn’t be happier about the support we received from the fans,” Madsen said. “It was an incredible year for that for sure.”