Omaha treating Seawolves like rock stars

Stony Brook's Travis Jankowski takes in the view Stony Brook's Travis Jankowski takes in the view during practice at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. (June 14, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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OMAHA, Neb. -- Stony Brook not only is on the map now, it's all over the map. Upset wins at the regional hosted by Miami and the super regional hosted by LSU put the Seawolves on ESPN's SportsCenter, had them trending on Twitter and now has landed them in Omaha, where they will meet UCLA Friday at 5 p.m. ET in the opener of the NCAA College World Series.

It was one thing to go into hostile territory as the little team that could and shock the college baseball world by showing that the America East champion could beat the big boys from the power conferences. But the Stony Brook phenomenon in Omaha is a dark horse of a different color. Now the Seawolves (52-13) are getting celebrity treatment while No. 2 overall seed UCLA (47-14) is, yawn, just another team.

After the Seawolves arrived Wednesday night and walked the streets of downtown Omaha on their way to dinner, third baseman Willie Carmona said, "If you were wearing red, people yelled at you: 'Hey, Stony Brook!' We're living the dream."

Each of the eight teams had a chance to take batting practice and work out at TD Ameritrade Park Thursday. When they were done, each team took its turn signing autographs on the stadium concourse. The lines were single file for everyone but the Seawolves, who received a rousing ovation when they arrived and were swarmed by thousands of autograph-seekers.

"We had a meeting we had to be at," Carmona said. "We didn't want to leave, but we had to. People were yelling, 'Willie, sign this, sign this!' It's crazy. I went from 80 followers on Twitter to over 600, and I have so many requests on Facebook."

When the Seawolves were in Baton Rouge, LSU fans were so impressed by their dominant performance that they encouraged them to take a victory lap and then cheered them. When the Tigers don't make it to Omaha, many of their fans still attend the World Series, and the word is out that they will be rooting for a new set of initials, SBU.

Omaha World-Herald sports columnist Tom Shatel said the locals are thrilled by what Stony Brook has done and figure to adopt the Seawolves as their team. One T-shirt vendor near the park said Stony Brook gear is leading sales to fans who have no built-in allegiance.

So the question facing SBU coach Matt Senk now is how to handle this sudden, overwhelming dose of success.

"The reaction was absolutely phenomenal, beyond my wildest expectations," Senk said Thursday. "Specifically, that autograph session was absolutely insane. To have so many people lined up to ask for our players' autographs and wish us good luck, we felt badly when we had to [leave].

"But this doesn't happen unless you play baseball the way you've been playing it. That's the way I'd like to bring them back to what's important."

So righthander Tyler Johnson (12-1, 1.94 ERA) will take the mound for Stony Brook against Bruins righthander Adam Plutko (11-3, 2.56) on Friday. UCLA coach John Savage knows his team is the favorite on paper but won't be the sentimental favorite.

"We have a ton of respect for them and their players," Savage said of the Seawolves. "We hope the stadium's filled, and if everyone's pulling for them, that's what college baseball is all about. We'll embrace it and go play."

As for whether their newfound fan support might be a distraction for Stony Brook, Carmona said, "It's only going to help us. It's going to help bring the energy . . . We know it's a great story, but if we really want to shock the world, we have to win it."

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