Since the hire of Steve Bieser prior to the 2017 season, Missouri baseball hasn’t finished above .500 in the SEC. But in six seasons with Bieser at the helm, the Tigers have finished above .500 overall in five of them, including the canceled 2020 season.
Falling one game short of an SEC Tournament bid in 2022, Missouri hasn’t reached an NCAA regional since 2012, when the Tigers were crowned Big 12 Tournament champions in their final season in the conference.
But as MU baseball trends toward a brighter future with the 20th-ranked 2021 recruiting class according to Perfect Game, former MU first baseman Peter Zimmermann believes Missouri’s administration should invest more into the program.
“I don’t think people realize just how much more money is put into the programs at other SEC schools and how much of a disadvantage that often puts the team (at) at Mizzou,” Zimmermann said.
“Now, I’m not trying to sit here and create excuses; the results do need to be better. But I do know that with a better investment comes a better product, and Coach Bieser is a great coach, and that staff does a great job.”
Even through the adversity of losing pitching coach Brian DeLunas, the 2022 staff pieced together a better product than in recent years, Zimmermann acknowledged. But, he added, more funding from the administration is also needed, as even the lack of chartering has hindered the program’s record in the past.
“I remember we played Texas A&M in ’19, and we had a travel curfew that ended up in a tie,” Zimmermann said. “Everybody on their team was actually injured; they had no pitching left. And we were going to win that game. So they kind of stalled the game and forced it into a travel curfew tie.
“And if we had the luxury of chartering like other sports at Mizzou and like most of the SEC teams do, that doesn’t happen. We win that game, and that win changes us from being a first team out to probably the last team in, and I don’t think people realize that all the time (and) how unfortunate that is.”
Along with travel constraints, Missouri is behind the times with a grass outfield, Zimmermann believes. As more than half of the SEC programs play on turf outfields, Zimmermann sees the grass as just another worry for Bieser and his staff.
Facility upgrades are happening across the SEC landscape, too, with Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky all receiving renovations from full turf fields to new indoor facilities in the past couple of years.
“(MU) football is building their brand new indoor (facility), so there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to turn Devine (Pavilion) into a great facility for baseball and softball,” Zimmermann said. “That’d be fantastic, if they actually renovated that a little bit and made us more based out of it. And I know there are talks to do that, and they may be doing that.”
Zimmermann sees the program trending in the right direction with whom Bieser and the staff are recruiting, but with MU as the most northern SEC program, he believes better facilities not only improve quality of play but will be more desirable to recruits.
“I think that you’re gonna see a regional-, super-regional-, world-series-level team,” Zimmermann said. “They do have to have a great coaching staff in place.”
Zimmermann recognizes baseball isn’t the most popular sport at Missouri, but as college baseball viewership and coverage grows across the country, he believes athletic director Desireé Reed-Francois can make the program “elite.”
“You saw what the crowds can look like against KU, and I guarantee if you go look at the crowds that Tennessee had a couple of years ago when we played there in ’19, the crowds weren’t the biggest. Now they’re gigantic,” Zimmermann said. “They’re obviously winning, which helps with everything, but they also made significant commitments to that program that I feel like they haven’t maybe done at Mizzou.”
The current baseball coaching staff is postseason-tested, with Bieser making an NCAA regional with Southeast Missouri State in 2016, along with hitting coach Jason Hagerty playing in the College World Series with Miami.
While he believes the staff doesn’t see behind-the-times amenities as a reason to not succeed, Zimmermann wants the administration to better the facilities to improve a program lagging in the SEC.
“Just look around the landscape at the SEC and see what everybody else has and say, ‘we don’t need to go build an $80 million stadium, but we need to do better for our baseball program,’” Zimmermann said.