When I bumped into Tim Chambers Saturday morning on the UNLV campus, the wind had not yet started to blow. The Rebels baseball coach was driving a golf cart, showing supporters around. He appeared happy, happy and hairy.
Happy, because his Rebels have been winning baseball games. Percentage-wise, they’ve won better than two of every three games they’ve played, which ain’t bad, given their massively upgraded schedule.
Hairy, because he’s now sporting a big mustache.
Chambers said he did it to support the team. The UNLV players recently started growing mustaches to express camaraderie and esprit de corps. They seem to get along well with one another, so perhaps the UNLV basketball team should consider growing mustaches next season.
The very bottom of Tim Chambers’ mustache is gray in color. If there were a few more flecks at the end of 14 innings Sunday afternoon, it probably was because UNLV left 15 men on base and lost 4-3 to San Jose State on a windswept day at Wilson Stadium.
It was the second time this season the Rebels (25-11, 13-5 Mountain West) took the first two games against the Spartans but failed to complete the sweep.
“It’s hard to beat anybody three times in a row, I don’t care who you are,” Chambers said afterward.
“When the wind’s blowing sideways like it was today, you can’t hit the ball in the air. And that’s what we did. They hit the ball on the ground, and when you put the ball in play on the ground, hit line drives in the wind, stuff happens.
“They deserved to beat us today. I thought they outplayed us.”
That’s something Chambers hasn’t often had to say as the season heads into the homestretch. Despite playing the aforementioned rugged schedule and having their body clocks messed up on a couple of trips back East, UNLV is a virtual lock to make the 64-team NCAA Tournament.
The Rebels started the weekend with a lofty Rating Percentage Index of 12. Ten of their opponents are listed as NCAA Tournament teams in the latest Baseball America projections.
As is UNLV.
Not only does Baseball America have the Rebels solidly in, but it has them in as a regional host, ahead of Arizona State.
Of course, UNLV would have to bid on the regional, and that will cost money; Chambers doesn’t know how much money, because this hosting regionals business is all sort of new to the Rebels.
He said he would get on the phone today and hope to have some answers before the Rebels head to the Valley of the Sun on Tuesday for a key game against those Sun Devils.
Even with Sunday’s loss, the Rebels are 15-2 at home. And so should it come to pass, one would assume that playing the regional on campus would give UNLV an edge on the other three teams, which might be Arizona State, UC Irvine and Seton Hall, according to projections.
“Tryin’ to figure out how it works,” Chambers said of playing baseball in the postseason.
“We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves, but (we should) be prepared to make the bid. If we continue to do what we’re doing, and we’re a one (seed), I don’t want to go out of town; I don’t want to go somewhere else. So we’ll figure out how much it’s going to cost and go from there.”
Sage Sammons, UNLV’s baseball information guy, was eavesdropping on the conversation. He said he did some research and learned the NCAA bid process for regionals opens April 18 and closes May 16.
I did a little research of my own and discovered it cost Virginia Tech around $170,000 to host the Blacksburg Regional last year.
But $60,000 of that reportedly went toward temporary bleachers to bring English Field, the ballpark there, up to the required minimum seating capacity.
As Chambers said, we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves, and the Rebels can’t afford too many more losses to middling teams such as San Jose State if they are to stay in the mix for a No. 1 seed.
“This won’t hurt us as long as we figure out a way to make it up somewhere,” he said.
UNLV could make it up in Tuesday’s game at Arizona State or another game against the Sun Devils here May 13, at Clemson May 4 and 5, or even by taking care of business against Mountain Westies New Mexico and San Diego State, two more projected tournament teams.
But regardless of how it turns out, “that we’re even talking about this is pretty neat for me, and for the kids, too,” Chambers said.
Yes, there’s still a lot of college baseball to be played, and the wind tends to blow this time of the year, and it’s capable of taking aspirations and dreams right along with it. But everything so far is pretty much going as Tim Chambers had planned, except for maybe that mustache.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.