OMAHA, Neb. — About 2 1/2 months ago, a man from Arizona placed a $25 bet on Oral Roberts to win the Men’s College World Series. It did not seem like the most prudent wager; Oral Roberts came into the 2023 season needing to replace its entire starting rotation, welcomed 17 new players, and hadn’t been to the MCWS since 1978. But Tom Breeze had a hunch about the Golden Eagles.
His nephew, Holden Breeze, plays third base for Oral Roberts.
“They’re really confident,” Tom Breeze said Friday morning, as about 100 people gathered on the cobblestone road outside of the downtown Omaha Hyatt to send the team off before its MCWS opener. “I think they’re walking into this thinking they can win it. They play for each other. They don’t want to let each other down.”
Before Friday afternoon, the number of Oral Roberts believers may have been limited to Summit League observers, the 32 members of the team, the coaches and the 100 or so people outside of the Hyatt.
Not anymore. Not after Blaze Brothers’ three-run homer in the top of the ninth inning rallied Oral Roberts to a 6-5 victory over TCU.
Brothers doesn’t just embrace the Golden Eagles’ Cinderella label. He embodies it — a fifth-year senior who went from junior college to Division II baseball to ORU last fall. Brothers said that one of the reasons the team has clicked so well is because many of its players have taken similar nondescript paths to Omaha.
Oral Roberts is a four seed, the lowest to make it to the MCWS in 11 years. It lost two All-America pitchers to the MLB draft in 2022, and had to replace half of its starting position players.
The disparities between the two teams playing Friday were notable. TCU, a blueblood in college baseball, spent about $34,000 per player last year. Oral Roberts spent roughly a quarter of that, about $8,700 per player, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Education.
The Golden Eagles have not been on the same stage as TCU, either, as the Horned Frogs have made six trips to Omaha since 2010.
But in 2023, Oral Roberts has been so poised in big moments this postseason, rallying from eight runs down to beat Washington in regionals; thwarting elimination twice in the Oregon super regional.
“Their fans were insane,” Brothers said of the Eugene crowd. “We were getting chirped on and it felt like we were in a football game and it was third down every pitch.”
But nothing compared to the buildup to Friday’s game in Omaha.
On the short bus ride over to the stadium Friday morning, their driver, Derrel Neufeld, could sense they were a little nervous.
“They’re going to observe a crowd that they probably have never played in front of before, that big,” Neufeld said. “But they’re very laid back. They talked amongst themselves. They’re very good as a group. And the coach is just wonderful to keep them where they need to be, as far as their heads are concerned. A good place.”
Coach Ryan Folmar did a lot of chemistry-building exercises in those first fall practices, including a swimming and diving competition that “gets a little weird sometimes,” he said. But what they really needed, he said, was just to get on the field and play together.
“One of the biggest things,” Folmar said, “is finding out how everyone is going to react when adversity hits.”
One thing is certain: When things are going well, or not-so-well, the Golden Eagles are going to express their emotions. They’re going to hug it out.
On Friday morning, as a police escort waited, the team stopped to hug some of its followers in the crowd. Not the quick hugs you give an acquaintance; long, meaningful embraces.
Around mid-season, Brothers said, one of his teammates, Dylan Wipperman, came upon an old study that helped inspire them to express their affection for each other.
“It was like, the team that touches each other the most, hugs, high fives, like pats each other on the butt, everything like that … (wins),” Brothers said. “So we pride ourselves on always picking each other up, hyping each other up, high fives, hugging, no matter what.”
Folmar said that even with all the uncertainty in his program at the beginning of the season, he fully believed they could get to Omaha, and advance. He always thought that, though.
But if the Golden Eagles keep winning, they won’t be underdogs for much longer. And at least one fan will have a substantial windfall to celebrate. Tom Breeze said the odds were so long when he placed the bet this past spring that he’d be due $12,500 if Oral Roberts hoists the national championship trophy next week.
None of the Golden Eagles are thinking that far ahead yet. They’re too busy enjoying each other.
“Years after this, we’re still going to be hanging out with each other,” Brothers said. “I guarantee it. Because this bunch of guys is unlike any other team I’ve been a part of. I’ve never clicked with guys like this before, like right off the bat. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just something special. Meant to be.”