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Overreaction Monday: Heller High Water for Iowa Baseball

Iowa baseball filled a void in Hawkeye fans’ hearts this spring, now it’s time for the Iowa athletic department to fill a void in Rick Heller’s wallet.

Rick Heller, photo from @UIBaseball
Rick Heller, photo from @UIBaseball

Over the last month or two, our weekly meeting on Monday mornings has evolved a bit. This started as a chance to, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, sound off about something from the previous week and do what Iowa fans tend to do best: overreact to the recent past and lose sight of the long game. With the finales of both the football season and the basketball season, this has become more of a weekly recap of the news from the past week and some bad takes on that news by yours truly.

Today, we’re taking it back to the old school. In such a slow news environment, there isn’t much to give you on that front. So what little news we do have, I’m going full Iowa fan at a night game and am here to overreact, baby.

So with that, let’s take some Heller-ball.

For those of you who managed to avoid all the buzz surrounding the Iowa baseball program the last couple months, I feel a little sorry for you. Because it was pretty fantastic. It was great to be in a time of the year where we are typically talking about things like the best restaurants in Iowa City and instead be following an Iowa sports team.

I’ll admit to being someone who primarily follows football and basketball. I know enough about wrestling to know I shouldn’t talk about it with real fans. But I’ve not followed baseball at all. But seeing the team on BTN down the stretch this year got me on the bandwagon. And if you want to criticize me for being a bandwagon fan, go ahead, and then go ahead and get out. Everyone who follows and supports the non-revenue sports at any major university should be hoping people jump on the bandwagon. You need those people to survive in a world where budget cuts mean program cuts.

And runs like Iowa had in the Big Ten Tournament get people interested in the program. Being on TV is a big part of that, but success in general breeds interest. That’s exactly what we saw. It didn’t hurt that the Hawkeyes had a guy like Jake Adams crushing baseballs into orbit at a pace never before seen in the Big Ten. Put simply, the team was talented and it was fun to watch.

How talented? Well....

That’s only about the millionth all-something or other honor for Adams. He was also named second team all-America by Collegiate Baseball, which also named OF Ben Norman and P Kyle Shimp to the freshmen All-American team. Adams was also the Big Ten Player of the Year and set both Big Ten and Iowa records for HRs with his nation-leading 29. So yeah, that was fun to watch.

Hey look at that, it was actually 7 All-American teams at the end of the day, but who’s counting?

And it wasn’t just the pundits deciding all-region and all-America teams who took notice of Iowa’s talent this year. The big league scouts also seems to like what they saw from the Hawkeyes. In last week’s MLB draft, four Iowa players were taken in total, starting with a name we should all be familiar with by now:

Seriously, that gif is pure gold.

And Adams wasn’t alone. He was joined in the 6th round by SS Mason McCoy, who went to the Baltimore Orioles. As we got into the later rounds, a pair of Iowa pitchers joined the ranks of the big leaguers as Nick Gallagher went in the 16th round to the Cleveland Indians and Ryan Erickson went in the 30th round to the Chicago White Sox.

As I said, that makes 4 Hawkeyes taken in this year’s draft. But that wasn’t all. Class of 2017 baseball recruit Brady Schanuel was also selected in the 20th round. So Rick Heller is getting some high quality talent in addition to turning that talent into MLB-caliber players.

Over the last four seasons under Heller, the Hawkeyes have had 15 players selected in the MLB draft. I’m not a mathematician, but that seems like a lot. Like almost 4 a year. And add to that the fact Adams was taken higher than any Hawkeye since ‘99 and yeah, I’d say Rick Heller is doing a hell(er) of a job.

And now it’s time to compensate him like he’s been doing a hell of a job. Today, Heller’s base pay is $162,750. That’s nothing to sneeze at. In a town like Iowa City, that’s enough to live a decent life. But it’s not anywhere close to what some of the top baseball coaches across the Big Ten and the country are pulling in. And it’s time Iowa paid Heller like he was among those top coaches.

For comparison’s sake, Ohio State pays Greg Beals a base salary of almost $400,000, more than 3 times what Heller makes. And OSU? They finished 2017 22-34 (8-16 in Big Ten play) and 11th in the conference standings. One season isn’t reason to make changes to a guy’s salary or shake up the staff, but it serves as a guidepost for Gary Barta if he wants to at least make Rick Heller a competitive offer.

OSU is paying 3x the price for half the results of Iowa.

There’s no guarantee a pay bump into the $300-400k range would even be enough. Some of the high-end jobs pay double that. TCU pays their coach more than a $1M a year and last fall, Florida made their head coach, Kevin O’Sullivan, the highest paid baseball coach in the land with a base pay $1.25M a year for a decade. It also included a $500k signing bonus and a buyout of $500k per year remaining on the deal.

I don’t think we ever see the day where Iowa is paying their baseball coach anything in that neighborhood, but it provides some context. If Rick Heller continues to have success here, someone is going to come calling. If it’s a top flight program, Iowa is going to have to pay up, and big, if they want to keep him home. Instead, I think it’s time they make the investment in the program.

And I don’t think it needs to stop with Heller. As we saw down the stretch, Hawkeye fans have the appetite to support baseball. The recent success has created the perfect opportunity for Barta to pump baseball hard. Build on that support and success to boost ticket sales and increase donations. Then reinvest those dollars into the program via coaches’ salaries and continued facility improvements.

There are obvious hurdles. Baseball isn’t on tv nearly enough. Catching the home stretch on BTN was fantastic and Barta can’t control what the network decides to air (hey, who doesn’t want to watch OSU classics for days instead of live baseball?). There are significantly more games for baseball than football so it will never have the same attendance. And the climate in Iowa isn’t changing fast enough to allow more premier non-conference matchups in Iowa City.

But Iowa can do their best to pump the program to locals and create an environment where people in the state want to bring the family over for prime weekend matchups. And when the Hawkeyes make their way back to the Big Ten Tournament, they can promote the hell(er) out of it and get people to make the road trip.

Rick Heller has done his part to set the program on the right course. He is getting top talent in Iowa City. He’s turning that talent into MLB-caliber players who are getting drafted at a rate unprecedented by Iowa Baseball standards. Now is the time to pay Heller what he’s earned, invest in the program, and seize the opportunity to make Iowa Baseball a perennial contender in the rising world of Big Ten baseball.

Speaking of getting paid, I think it’s safe to say former Hawkeye and current San Francisco 49er TE George Kittle is going to be getting paid pretty soon if he continues on his current pace.

This week, we have the perfect opportunity to overreact to some basketball news.

A couple of future Hawkeyes participated in the NBPA Top 100 camp last week. Class of 2018 commit Joe Wieskamp made the All-Star team while winning a tournament championship. Kid is going to be a stud. In the true spirit of Overreaction Monday, I’m calling him Peter Jok pre-knee injuries. @ me.

Guy second from the left looks pretty legit if you ask me...

Oh hey, look, Patrick McCaffery is good at basketball!

No, really, he’s pretty OK. I wouldn’t be mad if he played for his dad.

Apparently, it’s not just my untrained eye. Scout puts Pat at at 39 overall in the class of 2019.

The guys Iowa has in the fold over the next few years are at a new level for Hawkeye basketball. Wieskamp and McCaffery are both top 40 kids in their classes. I’m going to keep telling people: this is the window where Iowa either makes the leap to the next level or we give up hope for a while and Fran probably finds a new home. And I’m not just hanging that on the hopes of a pair of unsigned recruits who look fantastic; it’s the combination of those guys and the guys already on campus, who just happen to be young, too.

Guys like Tyler Cook, who you may have heard of. He was back on full display yesterday as the PTL kicked off. Not much has changed from Big Ten play.

He finished with 30 and 11. But that wasn’t enough to beat team Mossy-Baer (Team Culver’s), which took home the W 117-97. If Cook doing what Cook does doesn’t get you hyped, maybe we should discuss Isaiah Moss (Baer was Baer, y’all). As Iowa looks to replace Peter Jok next season, they need consistent production from Moss. It was just one game in a defense-optional summer league, but Moss looked the part yesterday.

Moss finished with 32 on 7-13 shooting from beyond the arc. That’ll do, Moss, that’ll do.

Here’s the full stat sheet, via the Press Citizen’s Matthew Bain, who is the go-to follow for updates during the PTL.

Oh, and then there’s the newcomers. The pair of near-7-footers Fran brought in to team up with Cook, Ahmad Wagner, Ryan Kriener and Cordell Pemsl (who we learned yesterday apparently played half the season on a pair of pulled groins and a strained ab - yikes!). Yeah, there’s only been a little bit of hype on them leading into the summer. Until yesterday.

The pair played down to the wire in a 98-97 game that saw them combine for 76 (you read that right) points. With that much scoring, there were plenty of highlights.

But perhaps my favorite comes from a buddy sitting courtside. We’ve known for a while that Garza is a guy who can bang down low with good footwork and old man game similar to Pemsl. We also knew he could step outside and knock it down. That alone was enough to get most excited. But we also thought he was a guy that would spend much of his career below the rim, a la Adam Woodbury.

That was not below the rim.

Here’s a look at some of Nunge’s game.

Again, it’s Overreaction Monday so I’m gonna keep ‘em comin: Jack Nunge is Jarrod Uthoff 2.0. The guy is a legit 6’10”. He can run the floor. He can get up. He can handle the rock. He can stroke it from beyond the arc. He can do anything you want out of a stretch 4 in today’s game. He won’t be 5th year Jarrod Uthoff in his first year at Iowa, but he looks to me as a true freshman very similar to Jarrod Uthoff as a redshirt sophomore. Again, @ me.

Here are the stat lines.

Iowa Basketball is going to be good this year. And the year after. And the year after that. The question now is how good. I think REALLY good.

Switching gears one more time, yesterday was Father’s Day. Of course we want to shout out to all the fathers out there. In particular, shouts to former Hawkeye Pat Angerer who become a father, again, over the weekend.

Finally, if you haven’t already, pop over and check out last week’s Free-For-All Friday. We are in the midst of voting for our second round matchups. There are some really tight races (both dinner matchups are within 1 vote) with only a couple days left to make your voice heard. Get out the vote people!

Oh, and don’t ever let us become Indiana. Ever. It can never be that bad.

Happy Monday. Go Hawks!