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Dan McDonnell's greatest accomplishment

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There aren't many guarantees. Not in a tournament where five of the eight national seeds were bounced in the regional round a year ago, and where a No. 4 seed (the equivalent of a No. 13-16 seed in the NCAA men's basketball tournament) won the whole thing in 2008.

Regardless of what Dan McDonnell's team does during this weekend's regional tournament at Jim Patterson Stadium, here's one thing I think we can say for sure: Louisville baseball has officially become "a thing." And not just a "here's something fun to follow now that basketball is over" thing, but a "one of the hottest and most respected programs in the entire country" thing.

Even for a Louisville youth who dedicated a solid chunk of his teenage years to the sport, Cardinal baseball may as well have not existed when I was growing up. There was no real marketing of the program, they played at dingy Old Cardinal Stadium, and they didn't win very much. In fact, when Dan McDonnell arrived on Floyd Street in 2007, UofL had made just one NCAA Tournament appearance and had never won a game in the big dance. You can fill in most of the major blanks in the story of the time between then and now.

Even with the College World Series appearances, conference championships, and regionals and super regionals at Jim Patterson Stadium, McDonnell's greatest accomplishment as a head coach might be making Louisville baseball cool. Sure, success has a tendency to breed buzz and excitement, but not always. Success doesn't guarantee something like a record crowd of 6,138 fans showing up for a regular season home game against Florida State. Success doesn't guarantee that local Little League squads are going to start making team excursions to watch you play instead of hitting up the Triple-A affiliate in the bigger stadium.

And yet, these are the things that are happening in a city that long ago ditched the ball with 108 stitches for the inflated one. Call it a long overdue baseball renaissance.

One of the first Major League Baseball cities in America, Louisville's Colonels played in the American Association from 1882-1891. The club won the pennant in 1890 and went on to play in an early version of the World Series where they tied the Brooklyn Bridegrooms three games apiece. Though irrelevant in the broad scheme of things, and absurd because it ended in a tie, the series is historically important because legend has it that during one of these games Colonels star Pete Browning used a bat made by young Bud Hillerich at his father's woodworking shop. This first bat would eventually evolve into the Louisville Slugger brand that would dominate the game at every level.

The most notable Louisvillian of all, Muhammad Ali, exuded courage throughout his career, but one of the most noble acts in the history of sport occurred in the summer of 1947 when universally respected Dodger captain - and Louisville native - Pee Wee Reese walked outside of his dugout and draped his arm around a rookie named Jackie Robinson who was being given a particularly hard time by the home crowd in Cincinnati.

Though he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984, it was this act - as well as his refusal to sign a petition started by Dodger players during Spring Training in '47 that said they would boycott the season if Robinson was brought up - is what made him one of the most revered men in the history of baseball.

Even for those who were raised during a time when the city's reputation for being basketball-obsessed was firmly in place, there's something special about baseball in Louisville that anyone who has dedicated a solid chunk of their life to the sport could tell you.

Now the city's biggest diamond show resides on South 2nd Street, and it will be on full display again when Louisville takes the field as the NCAA Tournament's No. 3 overall seed this weekend. Regardless of what happens at Jim Patterson over these next couple of weeks, McDonnell has made Cardinal baseball into an attraction larger than any of us who grew up in this city could have ever imagined.

The previous column appears in this week's issue of The Voice-Tribune