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Tomm Roland heard the strangest thing on the radio Monday morning.
First he heard a voice say the words “Stony Brook.”
That was strange by itself. Roland is the proud holder of a doctoral degree from Stony Brook University, but now he goes months and entire years in Omaha without hearing anyone utter his school's name.
Then it got really weird: Roland heard the words “College World Series.”
This befuddled him so much that he turned up his radio's volume.
I must have heard wrong, he thought. It must be a different Stony Brook.
Then he heard it again, this time louder, this time in a sentence that included his old school's mascot.
The Stony Brook Seawolves are going to the College World Series, the voice on the radio said.
Wait a second, thought the University of Nebraska at Omaha music professor, who spent four years studying at Stony Brook University.
Stony Brook has a baseball team?
“I can't even tell you where the baseball field is on campus,” Roland said Monday.
That pretty much captures the happy insanity that is Stony Brook's entirely unfathomable trip to the CWS.
In case you didn't know — and judging by break room conversations Monday, you didn't — Stony Brook is a fine public university on the north shore of New York's Long Island.
It has achieved some measure of prominence in the Northeast for its top-rated math and science graduate programs. Alumni in the Omaha area say you can go to Stony Brook, enjoy the benefits of the north shore's charming villages and still be only an hour's drive away — give or take three traffic jams — from midtown Manhattan.
So Stony Brook is likely bigger and more interesting than you'd think, alums and former professors say.
(Kind of like how Omaha is bigger and more interesting and maybe a little different from what people on Long Island think.)
“It's really quite nice in many ways,” said Al Bracciano, an associate professor of occupational therapy at Creighton University who once taught at Stony Brook. “I just chuckle, in my mind, whenever somebody says it's in New York. It's not in New York City. Now, the people at Stony Brook would argue that it is, so you have to be cautious ... but really, it's not New York City.”
But baseball? Seawolves baseball? The Seawolves toppling mighty LSU — maybe the most prestigious program in the country — and making it to Omaha as one of college baseball's final eight teams?
You clearly have inhaled too many exhaust fumes on the Long Island Expressway.
“I'm a little overwhelmed, quite frankly, because I think I do know the magnitude of this,” Stony Brook head coach Matt Senk told the Associated Press following Sunday night's win at LSU.
State University of New York at Stony Brook professors and alumni include Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winners, the man who helped discover Lyme disease, the man who helped create the first Macintosh computer, and even the woman — Dr. Laura Schlessinger — who once had the second-most-popular talk radio show in the country, after Rush Limbaugh.
Schlessinger didn't return an email seeking comment Monday, possibly because she was hosting a midday radio program on spouses who use “spy technology to keep tabs on their partners.”
And Laurence Baxter, Stony Brook's most famous statistician, couldn't be reached to comment on the odds of Stony Brook making it to the College World Series. Baxter, unfortunately, died in 1996.
Let's just say Stony Brook's odds were long. Roughly as long as the odds that a Nebraska farmer could successfully navigate a combine through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel without being flipped off.
The Stony Brook athletics website lists exactly 14 baseball players who have been drafted in the school's entire history. To compare, LSU also had 14 players drafted ... in the years 2010 and 2011.
(It should be noted that seven members of this year's Seawolves team were selected in last week's MLB draft.)
Of Stony Brook's 14 previous draftees, exactly one ascended to the majors. You may have heard of him: Joe Nathan, longtime closer for the Twins.
It seems fitting that Nathan never actually pitched at Stony Brook. He played shortstop.
Stony Brook's minuscule amount of baseball history somehow seems like a mountain when compared with the molehill that is its fan base.
Case in point: Just a month ago, Stony Brook played its final home game of the regular season, a come-from-behind, one-run thriller against the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. It was a Sunday afternoon in mid-May. It was Senior Day. It was Stony Brook's 25th win in 28 games.
And 325 people showed up.
Ask Stony Brook alums in the Omaha area about their good old college's sports teams and you elicit mostly blank stares. This makes some sense, as Stony Brook's football stadium, for example, holds about 8,000 people, while the school itself boasts some 25,000 students.
“There's a lot of people buckled down working on graduate work,” Roland said. “It's certainly not the kind of place where everybody gets together and rallies for the football team.”
But a Cinderella CWS run has a way of bringing out even the fairest of fair weather fans.
The UNO professor still doesn't know where the Stony Brook baseball field is. Truth be told, he usually notices the CWS because of the traffic jams.
But Roland has an old Stony Brook T-shirt. Friday, he's going to don it and cheer on good ol' Stony Brook U for the first time ever. There is only one potential snag.
“I hope I have that T-shirt still around,” he said Monday. “I have to make sure I can find it.”
Contact the writer:
Stony Brook 101
What's a Stony Brook?
>> New York state college on Long Island, about an hour's drive east of Manhattan, with about 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students
>> Known for top-notch graduate programs in many math, physics and science fields
>> Named for the village of Stony Brook in Suffolk County's Town of Brookhaven, which has a population of 486,000. (On Long Island, each of its 13 towns is made up of many villages.)
What's a Seawolf?
The common nickname of a South American sea lion, a now-defunct U.S. Navy submarine and Stony Brook's official mascot.
Stony Brook's Wolfie is a fake sea creature that looks suspiciously like a normal wolf. Internet video suggests this seawolf likes the color red and appears to enjoy dressing up in golden parachute pants and dancing to early '90s rap music during basketball game timeouts.
What famous people are connected with Stony Brook?
Jorge Benach: Discovered Lyme disease
Louis Simpson: Pulitzer Prize-winning poet
Laura Schlessinger: “Dr. Laura” of talk radio fame
Joy Behar: Co-host on ABC's “The View”
Joe Nathan: Longtime closer for the Minnesota Twins who now pitches for the Texas Rangers
Rollie Massimino: School's most successful basketball coach, who went on to win a national title at Villanova