Towson University's 2013 baseball season had a storyline one would expect out of a Hollywood production.
As their program lay on the edge of oblivion, the Tigers charged ahead, winning the Colonial Athletic Association and earning a berth in the NCAA tournament. The politics surrounding the potential axing of Towson baseball went all the way to Annapolis -- and the program received funding to continue for two years.
Towson baseball is now as solid as every other school sport, head coach Mike Gottlieb said. Gottlieb, now in his 26th season as the Tigers' head coach, said that even during the controversy, he didn't feel that the program was truly finished.
"For whatever reason, I had a fool's optimism that things would work out," Gottlieb said. "I don't know that I had any reason for that, but that's how I felt. I never talked to anyone about another college coaching job. I have a couple of friends in the scouting profession, and I said to them that if something was available, could they let me know -- but I never actively, once, called someone who had the power to give me a job and asked for one."
The Tigers will now look to defend their CAA championship title this season. One of the positives for the team is that most of last year's roster has returned in 2014.
"Every one of our nine starting players returned," Gottlieb said. "That doesn't happen very often. We've moved a few people around -- Zach Fisher's now behind the plate, and for most of our early games, we've had a freshman at third base -- but everyone else is a guy who's been out there already."
But because of some key injuries on the mound, including Paul Beers and Kevin Ross, the pitching will require some fresh talent to play well in order to stay consistent.
"So far, if you look at the numbers, we've gotten good starting pitching," Gottlieb said. "Our bullpen has been, at times, pretty good, and at other times, it's been shaky. We need to be more pretty good than shaky."
Towson, 9-3 as of March 13, will not play its home opener until March 18, because of the typically fickle weather conditions in Maryland. The Tigers' season started at a tournament in Winston-Salem, N.C., at Wake Forest University Feb. 15-17, and their nonconference schedule also included trips to California and Texas. Though one would expect that spending that much time traveling would wear on the players, Gottlieb said it's quite the contrary.
"I think they look at it as a vacation," he said. "It's not too tough to get on the bus on a Thursday morning when the moon's still out and it's 25 degrees, and in about 6.5 hours, we're taking a different bus to look at UCLA's field and it's in the mid-70s. I like to think that if there is an educational aspect to college athletics, it's experiencing what else is around the country.
"The negative here is that it's tough to win on the road. Everybody has a better record at home than on the road. But, when you're in our part of the country, if you want to have a competitive program, that's what you have to do."
Though it may be easier to win at home, it's not always easier to play at home in March, when cold temperatures continue to persist. Gottlieb said he and his team weren't eager to play in the cold, because getting the games going could often pose the biggest issue.
"As a coach, if you're scheduled to play at home and you've got someone traveling many hours to come here and the weather is iffy and you've got to decide to play or not play -- that's a headache," Gottlieb said. "And the school that's coming here is going to want to play; they reserved the weekend to do it. Obviously, things will be out of your control weather-wise, but that's a headache no one really wants."
Towson will host Monmouth University at John B. Schuerholz Park March 18. Conference play won't begin until March 28 against Hofstra University -- but Gottlieb said the Tigers would have big plans once that got started.
"After you've [won the league title] once, you want to do it again," Gottlieb said. "Not that it's easy. It's never easy. But that's the goal."