There are a lot of reasons for baseball fans around here to root for the Michigan Wolverines to win College Baseball’s World Series.  Even Michigan State fans are rooting for the Maize and Blue.   One of those reasons is a connection to former Tiger great Bill Freehan, but we’ll get to that.

Monday night’s 7-4 win over Vanderbilt puts Michigan one win away from the championship.  Something no Big Ten team has done in 53 years!   Ohio State did it that year.  So there’s a lot of Big Ten Pride resting on this series.  A win on Tuesday night would do it.   If Vanderbilt prevails, it will come down to a game 3.

The team is somewhat of an underdog, having lost three straight in March and May and having a rough patch in April.   But after taking two of three against a favored UCLA team, the Wolverines have shown a new focus.

There are local connections to this year’s Michigan team.  Tommy Henry spent his high school days “left-handing-them-up-to-the-plate” at Portage Northern.   Right-handed pitcher Jeff Criswell hurled for Portage Central.   Criswell’s dad, Brian, is a 1981 Battle Creek Lakeview grad and Spartan Hall of Famer.  The elder Criswell played three years at WMU and had a five year minor league career in the Oakland organization.

But perhaps one of the most interesting connections that most people have is the one to former Detroit Tiger great Bill Freehan.  In 1961, Freehan, then number 14, hit a record .585 in Big Ten Action.  Michigan missed getting to the College World Series that year, but won it all in 1962.  But by that time, Freehan had already been signed by the Tigers.   He wore number 11 as the Tiger catcher through the 60’s and retired after the 1976 season.  When Freehan took over as Wolverine’s coach in 1990, he kept number 11.   Now his grandson, Harrison Salter, who catches for Michigan wears number 11.

Sadly, Freehan watches the games on TV with his family, but nobody knows how much he can comprehend.  He’s been in hospice care for some time, suffering from the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s believed that brain injuries may be connected to memory loss, and Freehan certainly took many hits to the head as a catcher in the old days, via bats, foul balls, and runners trying to boll him over on a play at the plate.   He also stood on top of the plate, and was hit by pitches often.

Not long ago, Harrison Salter’s brother, Blaise, cut short a promising minor league career after sustaining a couple of concussions.   He didn’t want to risk ending up like his Grandpa.

Kind of hard not to root for Michigan in this one.