Michigan’s run to the College World Series finals has grabbed the attention of baseball fans nationwide.
After all, the Wolverines were one of the last four teams in for the NCAA Tournament bracket before escaping the Corvallis Regional and then eliminating No. 1 national seed UCLA in the super regionals.
From then on, Michigan cruised to the College World Series finals for the first time in nearly 60 years, knocking off No. 8 seed Texas Tech twice and shutting out perennial power Florida State en route to the program’s first final round since winning it all in 1962.
For a pair of former area greats, the magical run to TD Ameritrade Stadium in Omaha is extra sweet.
2007 Defiance High School graduate Tyler Burgoon, a three-year pitcher for the Wolverines, and 1959 Bryan High School grad Dave Roebuck both share fond memories of their time in Maize and Blue.
For Roebuck, it’s made doubly special. The former Golden Bear star athlete transferred from Wheaton College to UM in the early 1960s and his first eligible varsity season was 1962. Not coincidentally, that year was also the season Michigan went on to win the national championship as Roebuck racked up a 9-2 season, good for first-team all-Big Ten honors.
“It’s a lot bigger than it used to be,” admitted Roebuck. “I don’t even think my parents found out who won until the next day.
“I just remember how much fun we had. It seems like some of the kids these days don’t have the fun we used to.”
Roebuck, 78, played with John Kerr, the grandfather of current Michigan star Jimmy Kerr, a 33rd-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers this year. Kerr combined for 19 innings in the same day, pitching in a nine-frame win over Illinois before hurling 10 frames against Western Michgian in the regional round.
Roebuck and the Wolverines beat Texas, Holy Cross and Florida State – falling once to Texas in the double-elimination bracket – before outlasting Santa Clara 5-4 in a 15-inning thriller to bring home the national title for the Wolverines.
“It seems like it’s so much harder to get there now,” explained the former Bryan great, father of former all-state hurler and Milwaukee Brewers’ draft pick Joe Roebuck and grandfather to Bryan junior Benny Roebuck, a Kent State baseball commit. “You’ve got to do well during the season, then do reasonably well in the Big Ten Tournament, then get picked to go to the regional, win that, go to the super regional, win two out of three there and then get to the finals. It’s just harder to win than it used to be. Back then, I think all we had to do was win the regional to get (to Omaha). That year we didn’t even win the Big Ten, we got picked as an at-large team.”
That Michigan team started the year 3-6 before finishing 31-15.
“Since we won the national championship, we got to go to Hawaii and play the college champions from Japan in a five-game series,” recalled Roebuck, as the Wolverines won a series against Hosei (Japan) 3-2 before playing games against the Navy SubPac Raiders, Hickman Air Force Base, Hawaii Marines and Pearl Harbor Admirals. “That was all part of the deal. There’s lots and lots of memories.”
While the Wolverines may not travel to Hawaii after a national title win this week in the CWS finals against Vanderbilt starting Monday night, the team will see a friendly face back at home.
Tyler Burgoon pitched three seasons for the Wolverines and pitched in the NCAA Tournament regionals as a freshman for Michigan after a decorated career for Tom Held’s Defiance Bulldogs.
The 2007 Division II and Ohio Player of the Year went 11-0 as a senior with a 0.67 ERA and 122 strikeouts before becoming a three-year letterman for Michigan from 2008-10. Burgoon was a second team all-Big Ten performer in 2010 and earned the Geoff Zahn Award as the most valuable pitcher for Michigan that year.
The former Bulldog fireballer is still third all-time in saves in Michigan history with 19, racking up 10 in 2010 alone.
Burgoon went on to pitch three seasons in the minor leagues, tallying a 19-11 mark with 22 saves and 229 career strikeouts before retiring in 2013.
The 30-year-old has been a commercial real estate agent, residing in Ann Arbor since his retirement, giving him a birds-eye view of the growth of the program and its dazzling 2019 run.
“Living in Ann Arbor, I get to watch each team as they’ve come through,” explained Burgoon, who trails only Chad Billingsley, Jon Niese and Dace Kime on the career strikeout list at DHS. “Since (current Michigan head coach Erik) Bakich has come in (in 2012) and starting building this program into his model of what a Michigan team should look like, it’s been crazy. He’s put together a fantastic team. Talking with other alums, we’ve all just been very impressed by him and the guys he has on the team.
“They’re grinders. That team is just a bunch of grinders. I think that’s the way (Bakich) coaches, it’s all about mental toughness and this team has it in spades.”
The test will definitely be the hardest so far as Michigan begins a three-game series against No. 2 national seed Vanderbilt, led by sixth-round MLB draft pick Drake Fellows, fireballer Kumar Rocker – who has already thrown a no-hitter in the NCAA Tournament – and No. 4 overall MLB draft pick J.J. Bleday, the SEC Player of the Year.
With four draft picks in the top six spots of the lineup, the Commodores will take on a Michigan program representing a region of the country not always recognized on the diamond in late June.
“It’s fantastic, Michigan’s doing it for the Big Ten and for all of northern baseball, taking it to the World Series and trying to represent,” said Burgoon, as the Wolverines are just one of only four traditional ‘northern’ teams to have reached the College World Series in the new millennium (Notre Dame 2002, Kent State 2012, Indiana 2013). “Each step is validating the success before. It’s showing hey, we can step up and beat these teams.”
The last ‘northern’ team to win a national championship was Ohio State in 1966 and the last team to even make the finals was Eastern Michigan in 1976, making the run even more memorable for Burgoon, Roebuck and the Maize and Blue faithful.
“I really hope it turns into that special story,” said Burgoon before laughing and admitting, “It already is.”