By Dalton Ray–
Year in and year out, the University of Louisville displays some of the student-athletes in their conference. Occasionally, U of L produces some of the nation’s best. Louisville bolstered many of the country’s elite in 2016-2017, including football’s Lamar Jackson, men’s basketball’s Donovan Mitchell, swimming’s Mallory Comeford and lacrosse’s Hannah Koloski.
The fifth member, and perhaps the best, is baseball’s Brendan McKay. The junior’s accolades run a mile long, but the one that stands out the most to him is winning the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year as a freshman and sophomore.
“It’s pretty neat to be able to win that twice, let alone be able to pitch and hit at a school like Louisville, where you have top level guys on both sides,” McKay said.
The two-way star is on pace to be the only three-time winner in history. This season, McKay is batting .394, fourth best in the ACC, with 13 home runs and 40 RBIs. As a pitcher, McKay has a 2.15 ERA, fourth best in the ACC, with 95 strikeouts, second best in the ACC.
In McKay’s career, he is batting .341 with 25 home runs, 200 hits and 120 RBIs. On the mound, McKay is third all-time with 27 wins and second all-time with 340 strikeouts with a career ERA of 2.07.
In short: McKay is a once in every 10 year type of player. McKay, at his sport, is light years ahead of Jackson and Mitchell. The potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 MLB Draft is comparable to Anthony Davis when he played at Kentucky. McKay is a game changer at the plate, on the mound and in the field.
The biggest two difference between McKay and the campus’ two biggest stars in Jackson and Mitchell is you don’t have to pay to see McKay play. Thirty-three of the 34 home baseball games are free entry, yet the majority of the Cardinal fan base hasn’t seen McKay live.
Jackson won the Heisman trophy and fans couldn’t get enough of him, driving up the cost of the average ticket. Mitchell, a top-five player in the ACC and maybe a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, is a fan favorite. Cardinal fans across the state couldn’t get in their seats fast enough to watch these two play.
Yet when it comes to watching potentially the greatest Louisville baseball player of all-time, the stadium is half filled with the same usual suspects. This could easily be attributed to declining fan interest of baseball mixed with the nation’s love of football and Louisville’s love of basketball, but still.
The main issue is most Louisville fans are pseudo-fans when it comes to baseball. Card fans are quick to share a link on Facebook or retweet the final score on Twitter, but likely won’t fill in Jim Patterson Stadium when baseball takes on under-.500 Toledo. Yet 50,000 will come to watch Jackson play two and a half quarters against Division II Murray State. Or 20,000 will get to their seats 15 minutes late to watch Mitchell play 21 minutes against Southern Illinois.
If Cardinal fans are as great as they claim to be, Patterson Stadium would be filled for every three-game weekend home stand to watch one of the nation’s best college baseball players represent their favorite school. Alas, it’s not.
The good news for Cardinal fans is they still have a chance to watch McKay play in person. Louisville has four more free home games, May 9 and May 18-20. After that, Louisville Slugger Field is the host of the ACC conference tournament. Even better, the Cards will likely host the NCAA Regionals again. If the second-ranked Cards keep their pace, they may even host another NCAA Super Regional.
This means all the Louisville fans that claim to be “Louisville First Cards Forever,” but haven’t seen one of the university’s best student-athletes since the turn of the century play in person, still have a chance to watch McKay in a Louisville uniform.
Photo by Dalton Ray / The Louisville Cardinal