The NAIA World Series, like all things sports, was canceled last week due to the coronavirus.
But there is (not will be) a national champion, thanks to Lebanon’s Scott Hunt, who determined the University of Science and Arts of (Chickasha) Oklahoma Drovers won their first title with a 5-4 win over Faulkner (Ala.) before a record-crowd of 8,420 at Harris Field in Lewiston, Idaho.
Okay, the attendance figure came out of the head of Scott, older son of Cumberland University coach Woody Hunt, who has plenty of real World Series experience.
The younger Hunt, a teacher and coach at Stewarts Creek Middle School in Smyrna, found himself with too much time on his hands with the COVID-19-mandated school closure. But he found a copy of EA Sports MVP 07 NCAA Baseball for Playstation 2.
“I hadn’t played video games in a long time,” Hunt said Wednesday. “I pulled it out. It was still working.”
Instead of playing to see if Oregon State would win another College World Series in Omaha, he translated its data to 2020 NAIA baseball.
“I picked up the most recent poll and conference standings,” said Hunt, a former Lebanon High infielder who later coached the Blue Devils and other area teams. “I went by their winning percentage. I tried to calculate that out and came up with the top 45 teams and set up regionals (or Opening Round, as the NAIA calls it today).”
Using his knowledge of the NAIA (he’s made four trips to Lewiston to watch his dad’s teams and played on two other World Series teams for Cumberland), he tried to follow how the national office determines how many teams from a given conference qualify for the Opening Round and seeded them based on the rankings, which are done by raters (coaches) from around the country.
“The only downside was I couldn’t account for upsets in the conference tournaments,” Hunt said.
Scott Hunt did not cut his dad’s team any slack. Cumberland’s 9-11 record following its final game March 11 wasn’t good enough for the Phoenix to make the cut.
“I broke the news to him they didn’t make it based on the season they were having,” Hunt said. “It was kind of like real life. I was kind of bummed out they didn’t make it.”
Then it was on to the nine five-team Opening Round tournaments to whittle the field to nine to send to the virtual Lewiston.
“That didn’t take too long to simulate,” Hunt said.
Then it was on to re-seeding the remaining teams for the World Series. He took the statistics from this year’s NAIA teams and tried matching them with those in MVP 07 NCAA Baseball as best he could.
As for the teams, Southeastern (Fla.) was ranked No. 1 in what turned out to be the NAIA’s only regular-season poll, released March 11, just a day before the Series and, essentially, the season, was canceled. Science & Art was No. 2 and Georgia Gwinnett third. But playing this game doesn’t mean the so-called best team will win.”
“Just like real life, the simulation came up with some upsets,” Hunt said. “It allows for everything the game of baseball would give you — upsets, errors, coaches getting ejected from games.
He even matched the colors of the uniforms and used a small stadium which resembled the real Harris Field as the backdrop. Then as he played the Series, he gave the games the ESPN Sports Center treatment.
“When a cool play or error or a home run, if it was something worth seeing, I would run it back and video it with my phone and play it on Twitter,” he said.
That’s when it really went viral, especially when he included play-by-play comments. He even posted a public-service announcement featuring a photo of a life-size cutout figure of his dad which stands in the office of Mt. Juliet optometrist Dr. Jon Franklin (a former Bulldog player). The figure has a sign hung around the neck advising,” Woody says: Stay healthy, wash your hands”. Scott, in his Twitter PSA, asks “Hey World Series fans — remember to be safe, be kind and practice good hygiene: From your friends at the Idaho State Health Department!”
“It took off like crazy on Twitter,” said Hunt, who even threw in a lightning delay during action and urged fans to head over a pizzeria. “I heard from players and coaches to athletic directors and fans. It was pretty wild. Players from basically every team that was in it reached out.
“I met a lot of people through this. It was very cool.”
Hunt began his “Series” on March 16, posting there were big upsets in the Kingsport and Lakeland brackets. That might explain why Freed-Hardeman (with senior Bryce Lester from Lebanon playing shortstop), ranked No. 9, didn’t make it to Lewiston. But if he, or anyone else, were to play it again, the Lions might go all the way.
“It just depends on what the simulation does,” Hunt said. “You could simulate it as many times as you want and come up with different results.”
Don’t expect him to re-simulate the Series, or any other event, like March Madness.
“I don’t think so,” Hunt said. “This took a lot of time and effort. I just don’t play video games that much anymore so I’ll probably stop with this.”