Bob Lauterhahn never imagined he’d go more than a year without attending a baseball game.
For four decades, Lauterhahn experienced college baseball from the field and the dugout. He wore an assistant coach’s uniform all 40 of those years, with Division III William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, helping the Pioneers win two national championships.
A year and a half ago, Lauterhahn, 68, retired and moved with wife Gerrie to Little River in Horry County, just outside of Myrtle Beach. The couple thought they’d be able to catch quite a few baseball games in retirement. The COVID-19 pandemic had other ideas.
On Saturday afternoon, a unique NCAA super regional pairing between Dallas Baptist and Virginia in Columbia provided an opportunity to end that dry spell. As fate would have it, one of Virginia’s top players, freshman outfielder Kyle Teel, is the son of a player Lauterhahn once coached at William Paterson.
“We just looked at each and said, ‘It’s a no-brainer. We gotta go,’ ” Gerrie Lauterhahn said from the Founders Park parking lot around 10:30 a.m., fresh off a three-hour drive.
Both wearing bright orange William Paterson colors — conveniently the same shade of orange the Cavaliers wore Saturday — the Lauterhahns were among 1,566 fans who attended the first game of a rare neutral-site super regional. Due to COVID-19 precautions, the NCAA approved only 20 hosting sites for the entire NCAA tournament in May. After DBU and Virginia advanced out of their respective regionals as No. 3 seeds, the NCAA placed them in Columbia.
Whatever the circumstances, the joy in the Lauterhahns’ eyes was evident as they prepared to attend their first baseball game since Bob’s retirement 18 months ago. Teel’s father, Garett Teel, was one of the best players Lauterhahn coached with the Pioneers, selected by the Dodgers in the 12th round of the 1989 MLB Draft.
“He was extremely energetic from the time he walked in the door from the time we recruited him,” Lauterhahn told The State. “And from just watching Kyle on television, he’s the same way. I had seen Kyle play back in high school. And they’re carbon copies of themselves. Garett was a leader. I can see Kyle’s become a leader, too.”
Although Saturday’s crowd paled in comparison’s to last Saturday’s Old Dominion-South Carolina matchup that drew more than 7,300 fans, Teel’s Cavaliers and the DBU Patriots put on a show for both clusters of traveling fans. With the ball flying out of the yard in the humid, 85-degree heat, Virginia and DBU combined for five home runs in a back-and-forth game. Dallas Baptist led 6-5 heading into the ninth inning before weather suspended the contest.
Chants of “U-V-A!” and “D-B-U!” rang in the air at various points of the game. Though Charlottesville, Virginia is much closer in proximity than Dallas, the Patriots were well-represented.
Chet Arnold, the father of DBU reliever Chandler Arnold, was among a large group of Patriots parents tailgating in the parking lot prior to Saturday’s noon start. He drove from his home in Forney, Texas, heading out at 5 p.m. Friday and driving through the night, a trip that he said required “some dedication and a little bit of craziness.” Arnold said his son had wanted to play for the Patriots since practicing at the DBU facility as a 13-year-old.
While not well-known to the casual fan, the Dallas Baptist program has grown into baseball power in head coach Dan Heefner’s 18 years at the helm, making nine regional appearances and two super regional appearances since 2011.
“I think that the best way to describe DBU in baseball is, it’s like Gonzaga in basketball,” Arnold told The State. “Gonzaga used to be considered a Cinderella team. And I think of DBU in the same way.”
Troy Town, the father of DBU leadoff hitter River Town, made the drive to Columbia, as well, bringing along River’s 79-year-old grandmother — who watched River play as a Patriot for the very first time. Much to his grandma’s delight, Town delivered the first hit of the game for either team and scored the game’s first run.
“It’s kind of unfortunate for us that we aren’t going to get to play in front of a sellout crowd today. We were able to experience that last weekend when we played at TCU,” Troy Town said. “But it’s still just a beautiful stadium, phenomenal facilities. It’s going to be a great opportunity and a good time.”
No, Founders Park was not as electric as it could’ve been had the hometown Gamecocks advanced beyond regionals. But the park provided an opportunity for parents like Arnold and Town to watch their sons chase a dream, for a college baseball lifer like Lauterhahn to experience the game again.
“One of my friends joked with me yesterday,” Lauterhahn said. “He said, ‘You’re gonna go to a game and not yell at an umpire?’ ”
Empty seats aside, there was still plenty of yelling to go around.
Columbia NCAA Super Regional schedule
Who: Dallas Baptist vs. Virginia
When: Sunday at noon; Monday at 1 p.m. (if necessary)
Where: Founders Park
Watch: Sunday on ESPN2; Monday on ESPNU