Joe Nathan a big Stony Brook fan
Rangers closer, who played SS for the Seawolves, enjoying school's CWS run
Nathan, the most famous baseball alum of the school, watched the Seawolves' winner-take-all Game 3 of their super regional against LSU during the Rangers' long plane flight back from San Francisco on Sunday night. Nathan said it was clear his teammates were pulling for Stony Brook.
"It was really a pleasure being on the flight, and this flight we had DirecTV and [I] was able to watch the game very closely," Nathan said. "I had the whole Rangers team rooting them on. It was a pretty cool experience watching the ballgame."
Nathan's alma mater is the underdog story of the 2012 College World Series, earning a spot after winning the Coral Gables regional at Miami as a No. 4 seed. Stony Brook won three elimination games to win that regional. They then knocked off favored LSU in Baton Rouge in the super regional. Stony Brook lost the first game of the best-of-three series but came back to win the final two and advance to its first College World Series, which starts Friday in Omaha, Neb.
"I don't want to call it an upset," Nathan said. "I truly felt like these guys could come in and do something special."
Nathan, 37, is thankful for his baseball and academic education at Stony Brook. He donated $500,000 to help get Joe Nathan Field built. It opened a little more than a year ago and he attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"I was shocked by how nice it looked," said Nathan about the stadium that seats about 1,000 fans. "It's nice to know they are continuing to make it even better. Even for the beginning stages of having the field in, it looked phenomenal.
"You have to understand -- when I was there, from the dugout you couldn't see the right fielder. You could see his hat bobbing because of how bad the field was shaped and a hump in the middle. It was basically a field of dreams out there [when the new field was put in]."
When Nathan was starring for the school, it was Division III and in the process of building. He was drafted in 1995 at the end of his junior year. Nathan felt Stony Brook was headed in the right direction but admits that he didn't expect a World Series berth so soon. Nathan notes that it's pretty tremendous for such a small school. He said that LSU averages about 10,000 fans per game and that Stony Brook had about 5,600 for the entire season.
"I saw the signs that we were definitely playing at a level that we needed to step up and move to a different conference," Nathan said. "Coach [Matt] Senk and the university did a tremendous job of bringing in pretty good talent. It shows that they continued that success. They haven't missed a beat since going Division I. They had the belief, and now everybody else is getting a chance to witness what the Seawolves can do."
Nathan is the first player from Stony Brook to make the big leagues. But he likely won't be the last. Seven players from the school were drafted last week, and this year's success should reap benefits in recruiting for years to come. When Nathan came to Stony Brook, he was a 150-pound shortstop whose high school coach was Senk's college roommate, helping develop a connection that got Nathan to the New York school.
Nathan hopes to see some of the games in the World Series when his schedule allows. Will he get a chance to see them live?
"Our next off day is not until the 21st," Nathan said. "They're going to have to get deeper into this thing for me to watch them."
The final games of the double-elimination brackets will be going on then to determine who makes the championship finals. In the meantime, Nathan will be pulling for his alma mater from the Rangers clubhouse with anyone who wants to jump on the Seawolves bandwagon.
"I'm sure there's going to be guys rooting for other squads. There are many alumni, but I want to say, for the most part, we had a lot of Seawolves fans," Nathan said. "It was fun to see a bunch of big league guys get involved in the Stony Brook Seawolves that they probably didn't know it existed 48 hours before that."