The 2010-2011 school year was a magical time – UConn became the first school in NCAA history to play in a BCS bowl game and both the men’s and women’s Final Fours in the same year.
But one underrated and overlooked aspect of that fantastic athletic year involved the Huskies’ baseball team.
That team made it to the NCAA Super Regional round - a rare feat for a New England school - before losing to South Carolina, the eventual national champion. Ten players were taken in the MLB Draft that summer.
Three of those players have now tasted the big leagues.
Matt Barnes, the No. 19 pick in 2011, was the latest to get the call when the Boston Red Sox pulled him up from Triple-A Pawtucket on Monday.
Barnes had spent the entire 2014 season with Pawtucket until now, posting an 8-9 record and 3.95 ERA over 127 2/3 innings as a starter. He is expected to pitch out of the bullpen for the Red Sox.
George Springer has been the most notable UConn alum in the majors this season, as the center fielder has played in 78 games for the Astros and posted a .231 batting average with 20 home runs. Shortstop Nick Ahmed spent 19 games on the field with the Diamondbacks between the end of June and early August before being sent down to get more consistent at-bats with Triple-A Reno.
The fourth Husky in the bigs this season - which sets a program record, besting the mark of three alums in MLB set in 2003 and 1961 - is Mike Olt. A 2010 draftee, Olt, who plays both third and first base, has appeared in 75 games for the Cubs and spent 23 games playing for the Texas Rangers in 2012.
As a freshman during the 2010-2011 school year (and as someone dumb enough to brave the New England “spring” for March and April afternoon games) I had the pleasure of seeing Barnes, Springer and Ahmed play together in Storrs. Looking back on it, it’s incredible how much talent was on that rinky-dink diamond between Hilltop Apartments and Morrone Stadium. Springer raked his way to a .343 average and 77 RBIs, Ahmed hit .326 and tallied 23 stolen bases and Barnes used his fastball-curve combo to strike out 117 batters and throw three complete-game shutouts.
Frankly, that trio making it to the MLB level may well be more impressive than the big-time NBA stars, a la Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier, or football talents like Sio Moore and Darius Butler, that UConn has produced. Northeastern schools are at an inherent disadvantage in college baseball; the preseason falls in the dead of winter, and the season begins in mid-February - think of the logistical nightmares that something as simple as practice presents.
Recruiting high-level prospects under those circumstances is near impossible, but Jim Penders and his staff have done a tremendous job of both collecting respectable players and, most importantly, developing talents that are worthy of professional baseball. J.O. Christian Field isn’t much to look at, but Penders has made sure that the guys playing on it are.
And there may well be more Huskies in the majors soon enough: L.J. Mazzilli, John Andreoli, Scott Oberg, Greg Nappo and Kevin Vance are all at the Double- or Triple-A level.
Barnes, who will wear No. 68 with the Red Sox, could make his MLB debut as early as tonight when Boston takes on the Orioles at Fenway Park.