As someone living in the state of Indiana, I understand that my No. 1 sporting allegiance is expected to be basketball.
It’s the whole "In 49 states it’s just a game, but this is Indiana" thing.
I get it. And I do really enjoy basketball. From the time I moved to Indiana in 1986, I have clearly understood that the game is different here. I remember the first sectional I ever covered in 1987 and seeing the crowds and the atmosphere and wishing I could have experienced something like that growing up and playing high school basketball in California. But I didn’t.
What I did develop a love for on the left coast, however, was baseball. This is my favorite time of the year. In my first job, at the Fullerton Daily News Tribune in the late 1970s and early '80s, I had a chance to cover a ton of games for the team that is now known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Back then they were just the California Angels.
I had the opportunity to cover future Hall of Fame players like Nolan Ryan and Rod Carew. But also guys like Bobby Grich, Fred Lynn, Disco Danny Ford and the late Lyman Bostock.
Baseball is in my blood. And so while my primary job responsibility for two different publications over the last 20 years has to been to cover Indiana football and basketball, I must admit I do enjoy the times when I can get out to Bart Kaufman Field in Bloomington and cover Big Ten baseball, too.
And very quickly with the 2017 season, things are beginning to get interesting.
Conference play is heating up, and there’s a buzz around Bloomington because the Hoosiers will be hosting the Big Ten Tournament for the first time, May 24 through 28.
Now the Hoosiers just have to find a way to qualify for the postseason.
The way it works in the Big Ten is that eight of the 13 teams that play baseball (Wisconsin is the one that does not) qualify for the tournament.
Two weeks into the conference season, Indiana is in sixth place with a 3-2-1 record. The Hoosiers swept Northwestern the first week of Big Ten play, and then last weekend lost the first two against Nebraska before tying the Cornhuskers on Sunday. The game was called after 11 innings because Nebraska had a flight to catch home out of Indianapolis.
But that is all the backdrop for a very interesting three-game series this weekend that could serve as a springboard for the team that comes out on top. Indiana travels to Purdue for a three-game series that begins Friday night in West Lafayette. Games on Friday and Saturday are at 6 p.m. and on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Each team has played 28 games to date, and the records are pretty close. Purdue is 15-13 overall and 3-3 in Big Ten play. Indiana is 15-11-2 overall and 3-2-1 in conference play. IU is currently in sixth place and Purdue is in eighth.
Both teams beat Ball State in non-conference play and lost to Indiana State.
Statistically they are close as well. Purdue is hitting .263 as a team and Indiana is at .261. Pitching is a little bit different with IU holding an earned run average of 4.00 and Purdue at 5.18.
The biggest difference between the teams is in the power department where Indiana has hit 29 home runs in 28 games, second in the Big Ten. Purdue is 11th in the conference with 11 home runs in 28 games.
Because of an inconsistency in the conference scheduling, this is the first time since 2011 that Indiana has even played in West Lafayette. And back then the Boilermakers came away with a series sweep. In the last five years, the two teams have met in the regular season only twice — both in Bloomington. And Indiana was 6-0 in those six games.
So it should make for an interesting weekend in West Lafayette as Indiana and Purdue square off in baseball.
Now if you’re wondering if anything is happening on the basketball front, the quick news is that new IU coach Archie Miller is expected to meet with incoming signees Al Durham and Clifton Moore this weekend to see if they’re still committed to playing for the Hoosiers.
When Tom Crean was fired, both Durham and Moore asked to be released from their letters of intent. Indiana has not done so yet but has said it will only after the recruits meet with Miller. The third recruit, Justin Smith, is also uncertain if he’ll remain committed and Miller is hoping to meet with him soon as well.