In the heart of Wisconsin Badgers territory, it’s not often you’ll find folks rooting for the Michigan Wolverines.
The past few weeks here in Janesville have been an exception to the rule.
With Michigan’s baseball team making a run to the College World Series, Janesville baseball fans have had a rooting interest in keeping tabs on starting shortstop Jack Blomgren, a 2017 Craig High School graduate.
Blomgren and the Wolverines open World Series play in Omaha, Nebraska, at 1 p.m. Saturday against Texas Tech. The game will air live on ESPN.
“We’ve had lots of fans around here that weren’t necessarily fans before but have been watching the games on TV,” said Barb Bortner, Blomgren’s mother. “So it’s been exciting.”
Bortner and her husband, Jerry Blomgren, have watched the NCAA Tournament the same way as most of those fans—watching late-night games on TV.
They made several trips for home games in Ann Arbor and other tournaments during the regular season, as well as a trip to Nebraska for the Big Ten Conference Tournament. But with their youngest son, Dan, wrapping up his high school baseball career and graduating from Craig, as well as needing to be home for work, they’ve watched the NCAA Tournament from afar.
With a slew of close games recently, even the experience of watching on TV has been stressful.
At regionals in Corvallis, Oregon, for instance, the Wolverines led Creighton 7-4 in the ninth inning of a game that would have won the regional for the Wolverines. But they lost 11-7 in a game that stretched well past midnight here in Janesville.
“It’s 2 o’clock in the morning, and then you’ve got to try to wind down after all these close games,” Jerry Blomgren said. “(For the Creighton game) I went to bed in the ninth inning when they were ahead and woke up in the morning and saw they lost.
“I thought maybe it was a dream.”
Michigan trailed Creighton early in a winner-takes-all rematch the next night but wound up pulling away and earning a trip to a Super Regional at No. 1-ranked UCLA.
There, beginning last Friday, the two teams played three games that were each decided by two runs or less. Michigan won the best-of-three series opener 3-2, lost the second 5-4 in 12 innings and won the rubber match 4-2 to reach the World Series for the first time since 1984.
“It (watching on TV) can be kind of fun, too, because you hear the commentary and get a different experience,” Bortner said.
Jack has certainly had his share of airtime, especially in the Super Regional-clinching victory.
The sophomore drove in the team’s first run of the game and scored another run later, but not before there was a little drama. Blomgren appeared to be picked off first base but took off for second and slid in head first ahead of the tag to record a stolen base. However, he broke his the pinky finger on his left hand when it hit the base.
He was attended to during a brief pause in the action before returning and later scoring.
“He takes after his dad—he’s a tough one,” Bortner said. “All our kids are tough, and Jack is special that way. He’s got a lot of mental and physical toughness. But watching him cringe on TV was not pleasant for Mom watching.”
Along with Jack Blomgren showing his toughness in that instance, Michigan starting pitcher Tommy Henry battled the flu to lead the Wolverines to victory in the third game against UCLA. So the Wolverines have certainly shown their toughness in getting to Omaha.
And now Jerry, Barb and their other three children—Maddie, Nick and Dan—will hit the road, along with some other extended family, to Nebraska today to watch the World Series in person.
The World Series begins with two four-team double-elimination brackets. Arkansas and Florida State are the other two teams in Michigan’s bracket. The winner of the bracket will face whoever comes out of the other bracket—which includes Vanderbilt, Louisville, Mississippi State and Auburn—in a best-of-three championship series set to begin June 24.
“We’re very proud of him (Jack),” Jerry said. “Hopefully they do well. I think they will.”
The unexpected road trip—Michigan was the No. 3 seed in its four-team regional to start the tournament and then faced the top team in the nation—has also provided the Blomgrens time to reminisce on getting to this point.
Barb said all four kids were 7 years old or younger and would play the infield positions in their yard on Kennedy Road, sometimes even using Jerry’s construction lights to play at night.
“They’d play for hours and hours at night and on weekends before they were old enough to be in Little League,” Barb recalled. “People would slow down when they were driving by, probably saying, ‘What are those kids doing?’”
Nearly two decades later, perhaps some of those same people will tune into ESPN on Saturday afternoon and see one of those kids playing on college baseball’s biggest stage.