USF struck gold when it hired Lelo Prado. If you don’t agree, you must not have been at Red McEwen Field on Tuesday night.
The Florida Gators were in town, and I felt like I was covering a major league game.Just to put the atmosphere into perspective, about two dozen fans were waiting outside the gate before it opened at 5 p.m.
The early arrivals were just a sign of what was to come. By 6 – still an hour from game time – there were more people in the seats than most games last season, and 30 minutes later people were still piling in, but there was nowhere to sit.
The Bulls were half an inning away from beating Florida, but what stood out most was a crowd more than twice the size than that of Monday night’s women’s basketball game, where Jessica Dickson became USF’s all-time leading scorer.
To be exact, 2,426 fans showed up to watch the Bulls nearly knock off the Gators, and a crowd that size can be attributed to Prado and the amount of work he has put into building USF’s fan base.
“(We) have all these coaches stepping it up and advertising,” sophomore Addison Maruszak said after the 10-5 loss. “We have flyers that we go around and give out to people – the players. I’ve never done that before in my life.”
Players passing out fliers – hey, do whatever you can to fill the bleachers.
Such a large crowd can’t be expected every game, but as long as the Bulls are coached by Prado, there’s always going to be potential for a packed house. After all, USF has Tino Martinez coaching first base.
“That’s the key – to get more people out here like that,” Maruszak said. “That’s awesome, seeing people all the way down the line, packed in the stands and people in their trucks behind the outfield – that’s almost like a dream come true in college baseball.”
A dream come true is right. That dream is part of a growing Athletic Department, and Prado is sure to be right behind Jim Leavitt in making USF a highly respectable Division I institution.
The Gators would’ve been a big draw even during a disappointing season for USF last year, but I can guarantee you one thing: If it wasn’t for all the additions in the New Prado Era – a semi-renovated stadium, a new attitude from the players and most importantly, a pretty good team out on the field – there wouldn’t have been hundreds of fans left without a seat.
As impressive as the crowd was, the seven runs the Bulls gave up in the ninth inning were equally unimpressive, but at 9-2 USF will be fine as long as Prado’s the skipper.
Forget about their sixth-place spot in the Big East Preseason Poll. The Bulls deserve more credit than they were given before the season started, and they almost beat a Florida team that is just two seasons removed from reaching the College World Series.
The College World Series – there’s something for USF fans to think about. A Big East championship would be nice, but that’s not Prado’s goal.
The hometown favorite took the job at USF with one goal in mind – to make it to Omaha and get the Bulls a national championship. I’m not saying that’s going to happen this year or even next year, but USF will finish this season well ahead of sixth place in the Big East, and there will be plenty of baseball to play when the regular season ends in May.
It’s a perfect situation for Prado to be back in Tampa, coaching and being close to his family. While he may feel fortunate to be coaching here, it’s USF that’s fortunate to have snagged the best possible coach out there.