CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State coach Pat Casey is unimpressed with the Beavers' preseason ranking.
In what has become something of a mantra for Casey, he opened the season by saying the polls don't matter. One has the perennially ranked Beavers at No. 2, the team's highest ranking ever.
"I'll say the same thing I said last year," Casey said. "I'm not impressed at all."
About 40 miles down the road, Oregon is ranked as high as No. 6 in the national polls, and coach George Horton is saying essentially the same thing: The Ducks haven't proven anything yet.
"We'll just have to let our baseball speak for itself," Horton said.
Yep, it's college baseball season in the state of Oregon, which again has two teams grabbing a share of the national spotlight.
The Beavers and the Ducks were picked to finish first and second, respectively, in the Pac-12 Conference, which has always been strong in the sport. League teams have won 28 NCAA baseball titles, more than any other conference.
UCLA, last season's College World Series champion, was picked by the league's coaches to finish third this year.
"I like our team," Casey said. "We have to stay healthy, and we obviously have to play at a very high level in order to compete in our conference — and with the people we play out of conference. So I do like our team, but I think they would tell you we've got a long way to go."
The popularity of college baseball has seen a dramatic upswing in Oregon — despite the rain — for the past decade, building since the then-underdog Beavers became just the fifth college program to win back-to-back College World Series titles in 2006 and 2007.
Casey, who is embarking on his 20th season in Corvallis, has taken the team to the postseason for the past five years, a school record.
The Beavers went 52-13 last season, advancing to the College World Series for the fifth time in school history and fourth under Casey. Oregon State went 24-6 in the Pac-12 for the team's third conference title since Casey took over.
While the Beavers have lost key contributors in Matt Boyd, shortstop Tyler Smith and catcher Jake Rodriguez this season, they return pitchers Ben Wetzler and Andrew Moore, as well as outfielder Michael Conforto.
The Ducks jumped into the fray in 2009 when Oregon reinstated its baseball program after a 28-year hiatus. Oregon made a splash by hiring Horton, a two-time national coach of the year who led Cal State Fullerton to Omaha six times and the NCAA title in 2004.
After holding open tryouts for the team in his first season, the Ducks surprisingly went all the way to the postseason the very next year. But so far the College World Series has eluded them.
Last season Oregon won 48 games, most in school history, and finished second in the Pac-12. But the nationally seeded Ducks fell to Rice in their regional series.
"We haven't finished yet," Horton told reporters at the team's preseason media gathering. "We've had expectation years where we fumbled. The last two years we thought we had a competitive ballclub, won our share of one- and two-run games and put ourselves in position to host regionals and super regionals and had national seeds. But we've squandered opportunities, so to speak we've left the bases loaded."
The Ducks have lost a few of the stars from last season's team: First baseman Ryon Healy and pitcher Jimmie Sherfy graduated, while pitcher Cole Irvin underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery. But they return strong position players Scott Heineman and Tyler Baumgartner.
Both teams open their seasons this weekend. The Beavers play in the Husker Classic in Tempe, Ariz., while the Ducks visit Hawaii for a four-game series. The two teams will play each other five times after splitting last season's series 2-2.
Ultimately, it will be a whole combination of things that will determine either team's success. Which is why Casey doesn't have a whole lot of faith in preseason polls.
"Team chemistry's always one of the most important things. We have enough people there. We have the people if they choose to be strong leaders and they choose to have chemistry and hang with each other, that we'll have the same type of bond (as last season)," Casey said. "Winning fixes a lot of problems. When you come out and you have a lot of success early you feel good. It's when you're struggling that real leadership and chemistry comes to the top."