AUSTIN, Texas — Bob Schuler remembers the horrible feeling in 1980 when the Boise State baseball team stood outside the Varsity Center before a road trip to Portland and was told the program would be discontinued after the season.
And that’s why he needed to be here.
Schuler, the catcher on Boise State’s team in 1980, flew down Friday from Boise and wore a blue Boise State baseball jersey and cap as he watched the program he played for 40 years earlier take the field against Texas.
“I’ve got goosebumps, I really do,” Schuler said. “I met some of the guys in the lobby of the hotel and with what the program went through and what they’ve gone through the last few years, to see them put the uniform on and be back on the field, it’s just amazing. I really do have goosebumps. I’m so jacked. I’m ready to run out there myself and play, or maybe coach first or third base.”
Schuler and the Broncos won nine of the last 10 games that year, including a double header sweep of Portland on the final day, May 9, 1980. Schuler was a senior, but remembers the empty feeling the younger players had when the program went away.
“I’ll never forget when they told us,” Schuler said. “Right before we left for a road trip. It was terrible. It was a shock to us all.”
But there Schuler stood, watching his program back in action against one of the most legendary baseball programs of all time. As painful as it was 40 years ago, it was nearly as joyful for him Friday night.
“The fact that you’re playing a top 20 team with the tradition like Texas in a hollowed stadium like this? It’s big time,” Schuler said. “About time. It’s about time.”
Earlier in the day, the Broncos went over the scouting report for Texas starter Bryce Elder and the key members of the Longhorn bullpen during a hitters meeting run by Boise State hitting/outfield coach Travis Buck.
The six-year MLB veteran with the A’s, Indians and Astros is in his first year as a college coach after running a youth training facility in Richland, Washington, following his retirement from baseball in 2014. He hopes to one day be a college head coach.
“The night before my big league debut I slept like a baby but last night and the night before I couldn’t sleep at all,” Boise State hitting/outfield coach Travis Buck said. “I was so excited and so amped up for our players. It was a weird feeling.”
Buck had the scouting report posted in the dugout and was talking with the hitters throughout the game. He had already studied and analyzed all three of Texas’ games at Rice from last weekend and talked with an assistant coach at Rice earlier in the week to prepare the scouting report.
He estimated he spent eight to 10 hours a day for several days gathering as much information as possible on the pitchers the Broncos would face in the three-game series.
Buck poured over the scouting report one more time Friday afternoon in the hotel lobby before walking to get lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant with a few other coaches. The team boarded the bus at 3:30 p.m. local time for the short trip to the stadium. It was time to play ball.
“The butterflies and nerves are there as always, but it’s exciting that it’s finally here,” Buck said. “We’re a new team but these guys are all Division I players, they all have that ability and they belong here and deserve to be here. They’ve earned that spot. Now it’s a matter of embracing the atmosphere and not getting caught up and going out and playing a game they’ve played their entire lives.”
Boise State athletic director Curt Apsey knew this day would eventually come. It still was a day he’ll never forget.
Apsey flew from Boise Friday and went straight to the stadium, arriving during Boise State’s batting practice to witness the historic night.
“I’d like to just say you know it’s been 40 years, but I wasn’t here back then so it’s like brand new to me,” Apsey said. “Just to see these guys out there in blue and orange in a storied place like this, I’m just so fired up for them.
“You do all this work up to this point and then you finally get here. I mean we’re watching the Broncos out here in our colors. It’s pretty exciting that it’s actually here.”
Apsey hired Gary Van Tol as head coach in the fall of 2017, and mostly sat back and watched as Van Tol hired a staff and went across the country to find 32 players.
“Gary and his staff have been working their tails off for the last two years to get these guys here,” Apsey said. “We waited so long for this and now it’s finally here. We brought Gary on, but the credit goes to him and his staff for putting this whole thing together. They’ve been working hard so it’s just fun to finally see the first game here.”
The history of Boise State’s baseball program can be told rather quickly. They first took the field in 1936 as Boise Junior College and lost a crosstown game to the College of Idaho. After a hiatus for the war, they returned and made two NJCAA World Series appearances in 1960 and 1961.
They played two seasons at the NAIA level in 1968 and 1969 before joining the NCAA and the Big Sky Conference in 1971. When the Big Sky dropped baseball, the Broncos joined the Northern Pacific Conference in 1975 and remained there until the program was disbanded in 1980.
In Boise State’s final season in 1980 they won nine of the last 10 games to finish 23-26. The last time the program took the field on May 9, 1980, the Broncos swept a double header against Seattle University by scores of 7-2 and 11-4.
But 40 years later, the program was back.
The game itself wasn’t one to remember Friday. The Broncos fell behind 2-0 in the first inning and had just four hits in a disappointing 7-0 loss.
Boise State struck out 16 times and didn’t put up much of a fight offensively. The Broncos trailed 4-0 until the Longhorns added three runs in the bottom of the eighth.
But the 32 players and five coaches will forever be apart of history. And maybe the best part? They get to play again on Saturday.
“I think we can compete on this level and I thought we showed it tonight (despite the score),” catcher Cory Meyer said. “I’m really excited to see what we can do moving forward.”
A lot of others are excited too.