Where is wake forest baseball ? From the last row of section 120 of Charles Schwab Field, you can see the Wake Forest team huddling near the dugout down below. Game time is coming soon and the Demon Deacons will officially be back in the Men’s College World Series after 24,820 days.
The last time that happened was 1955, the same year Disneyland opened in California and the first McDonald’s opened in Illinois. For the national anthem before the game that June, they stood to face an American flag with only 48 stars, since Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states.
The NBA had eight teams, including the Fort Wayne Pistons, Minneapolis Lakers and Rochester Royals. The western-most franchise in Major League Baseball was the Kansas City Athletics. In the NFL, the idea of a Super Bowl was still 12 years away. There have been 104 other schools make it to Omaha since then, from the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors to the Maine Black Bears.
Bob Koontz is 90 years old and the walk around the concourse with his daughter Beth White is a taxing feat on a hot day. They have to stop three times to rest. Perhaps staying home and watching on TV might would have been better.
No, Bob Koontz has to be here. To understand why, notice the white shirts he and his daughter are wearing. They have a Demon Deacon mascot in the middle of a diamond with the words national champs, 1955. Wake Forest won the CWS that year, including a backup catcher named Bob Koontz.
“It was,” he says 68 years and seven days later, “one of the greatest things in my life.”
Back home in Lexington, North Carolina he still has his cleats and glove from ’55. Also, a sign that hung outside the ticket office at Rosenblatt Stadium. NCAA PLAYOFFS. Gen. Adm 1.00 Students .50. He, uh, decided to make it a memento and take it from the premises that championship night. Not to worry, the statute of limitations on sign pilfering surely has run out. By the way, as evidence that celebratory larceny can cross generations, current Demon Deacon Brock Wilken lifted a Wake Forest placard last week from the super regional as a keepsake. “It’s going in my room next to my trophies,” he said. But will he still have it in the year 2091, 68 years later, like Bob Koontz?
Koontz holds up his right hand. There’s the 1955 championship ring, big as life. He still remembers the name of the downtown hotel where the Wake Forest team stayed. The Paxton. Still remembers the buzz of that grand old ballpark Rosenblatt, though he looks around the modern and packed Charles Schwab Field and says, “it was nothing like this. I was just a kid. It was something I’ll never forget.”
The particulars of his own series are a little fuzzy now. “I was the No. 2 catcher. I think I got to play in two ball games. Might have been one,” he says. But he remembers the joy well enough, and that when the team left as champions he was certain of one thing.
“I thought I’d never be back here. But here I am.”
Life has been good. He had a fulfilling career as a pilot for Piedmont Airlines. A long and happy marriage that lasted 62 years until his wife passed away last year. Raised a family. And stayed close to Wake Forest. His grandson Zach — one of Beth’s sons — pitched for the Demon Deacons. Beth mentions a family interlude with her father and sons earlier this spring.
“We were sitting around and they were talking Wake Forest baseball,” Beth says. “The boys started talking about it and said to him, `they’re doing so well, if they make it to Omaha what do you think about going?’
“The tears started coming out of his eyes.”
Friday night they took a short drive to where Rosenblatt Stadium once stood, now marked by a miniature diamond and plaques. That was where the baseball dream came true for Koontz and Beth took a picture of her father touching the list of champions that’s on display, with his fingers on the line that reads Wake Forest.
“I think this means the world to him,” she says. “We never expected to get to do this with him.”
So here he is on this glorious Saturday, with his memories and a great seat in the shade not far from the Wake Forest dugout. He’s confident in the current Demon Deacons. “I think they’re a well-balanced team,” he says.
Runs and records: What to know as No. 1-ranked Wake Forest readies for super regional
The Wake Forest baseball team hosted the program’s first regional since 2017 last weekend and is now set to play in its first super regional at home in Winston-Salem. And that’s just the beginning. It’s hard to overstate what the Demon Deacons (50-10, 22-7 ACC) have accomplished in 2023 — on the season as well as in their near-perfect performance last weekend to open what could be a deep playoff run. To help with that, here are five things you should know ahead of the super regional series between Wake Forest and Alabama this weekend, which begins on Saturday at noon on ESPN. 1.
Let’s start with last weekend’s Regional virtuoso. Wake Forest’s three straight wins last weekend in Winston-Salem — wins over George Mason (twice) and Maryland — made this 2023 team the first in program history to reach 50 wins.
It reached that mark in historic fashion, too: Wake Forest notched 16 runs per game in those three contests, and the Deacs’ +41 run differential is tied for fourth-most nationally since the start of the current NCAA format in 1999. The others on that list? Florida State in 2009 (+49), Notre Dame in 2021 (+45), Arizona State in 2003 (+42) and LSU in 2000 (+41). (LSU was the only team in the list to win a national championship after such a dominant weekend.) 2.
As Wake Forest fans will tell you: The Deacs have been doing this all year. Wake Forest earned the top seed in the college baseball playoffs after a season that saw the team earn its first ACC regular-season championship since 1963. Clemson took the league tournament title, but that didn’t dissuade the selection committee from properly rating the Deacs, who are home to two-time ACC pitcher of the year Rhett Lowder and two 20-plus home-run hitters (Brock Wilken and Nick Kurtz).
It’s worth noting, too, that the hype began early in 2023: Wake Forest made a regional and finished 41-19-1 last year — and Top 10 wins over Coastal Carolina (an 11-1 win in seven innings) and Louisville only added to that lore. The team boasted its all-time best total attendance this year: 54,721.
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