Thursday Thoughts, The Hall of Fame edition

Whaddya' know, I'm in the Hall of Fame...

... voting committee, that is.

As a wee tyke who grew up on the game of college baseball and skinning my knees on Rosenblatt Stadium concrete, I admit, it's a really cool honor to say the least. It's just kind of weird how it all came about.

The short story is, when I was at the SoCal Media Day I met a very nice man named John Askins, who is the head honcho of the College Baseball Foundation and Hall of Fame in Lubbock. Then, when I went to Houston for the College Classic at (corporate name goes here) Park, we hooked up again and he did a short interview with me about my college baseball affiliation, origins and whatnot for the College Baseball Foundation website.

Well, turns out that when I told him one of my life's first memories from growing up in Omaha was seeing Dave Winfield mow down 15 USC batters (yes, he was a pitcher then), only to get pulled from the game and see his teammates blow a 7-0 lead in the 9th. Well I guess that story impressed him so much so, that a few days later he asked me if I wanted to become a voting member of the Hall of Fame committee.

Beauty, eh?! (Guess they've decided to lower their standards for voting members. Ha.)

So I've got my first voting assignment due tomorrow. They're asking for us to vote for five coaches (from a list of 12) and 10 players (from a list of 26). It's not a bunch of easy choices, that's for sure. But here are a few of the obvious ones I know I'm voting for:

Coaches:
- Jerry Kindall, Arizona
(Still LOVE his work as a color commentator with Fox. Always insightful.)
- John Winkin, Maine
(Any coach that can take a team way up in the Northeast to three 3rd-place finishes in Omaha has done the Lord's work in my book.)
- Dick Siebert, Minnesota
(Or, as he's named in my 1973 College World Series program, Dick "Chief" Siebert.)
- Jim Brock, Arizona State
(Might as well have bought a house in Omaha for all the times he led the Sun Devils there)

Players:
- Pete Incaviglia, Oklahoma State
(The definition of a no-brainer choice.)
- Derek Tatsuno, Hawaii
(The Tsunami! Most dominant college pitcher ever?)
- Ben McDonald, LSU
(Despite a pair of CWS nightmares, he's at least proof that Skip Bertman teams weren't just Gorilla Ball.)
- Jim Abbott, Michigan
(In the words of Collegiate Baseball's Lou Pavlovich, a remarkable story.)
- Fred Lynn, USC
(Part of that team that came back to beat Winfield & Co. in '73, crushing this poor kid's heart.)
- Tim Wallach, Cal State Fullerton
(The first true super-star of what became a dominant Titan program.)


So I've got one more coach to add, which won't be an easy choice, and four more players. There's also a 12-person pre-1947 list of players/coaches to vote for, of which I need to choose five.

Some interesting notes I've gleaned from the biographies of these players and coaches:

- Jerry Kindall, who played at Minnesota, was the last player to hit for the cycle in the CWS. And get this... I didn't know he was the original source of the phrase "friendly confines" which he used to describe Wrigley Field.
- Michigan coach Ray Fisher pitched in the 1919 World Series and was later banned from baseball by Kennesaw Mountain Landis (the idiot). Commissioner Bowie Kuhn cleared him in 1982, the year he died.
- Former Texas coach Bibb Falk replaced "Black Sox" player Joe Jackson in left field after he was wrongly booted from baseball. Falk also hit .314 for his career in the bigs.
- Branch Rickey was the coach of Michigan's baseball team while he attended grad school from 1910 to 1913 and coached MLB Hall of Famer George Sisler.

One final note, there are two potential Hall of Famers on the list that you don't immediately think about for college baseball, Bob Gibson and Bobby Layne.

Gibson played at Creighton, which being an Omaha native would almost automatically put him on my ballot, ya' know. But there are no records on the hilltop to substantiate the type of career he had as a Bluejay. I do know that he also excelled for the CU basketball team as well and even had a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters.

Layne, the Hall of Fame quarterback from the Lions teams of the 50s, also went unbeaten in 28 decisions vs. Southwest Conference teams on the mound for UT in the mid-40s.

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Okay, on to some thoughts on this coming weekend in college baseball.

One word - FINALLY.

This coming weekend finally has something interesting going on in places other than in the West or in Texas. In honor of this being a weekend worthy of some interesting inter-sectional matchups, here are the 10 places I'd really like to be for games.

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Wish I Had A Ticket For---
10- Rutgers at No. 22 Georgia Tech
Why the Jackets are still ranked is a mystery to me. Great Magillicuddy! They're now 6-5 with losses to Georgia Southern, Illinois-Chicago, Georgia State and Western Carolina. (Meanwhile San Diego is still unranked in the NCBWA poll?). Rutgers should contend in the Big East with SS Todd Frazier, so this is a series worth watching. But let's face it, RU needs this one a bit more solely for the fact that they need as many out-of-conference RPI points as possible.

9- No. 29 Louisiana-Lafayette at Southern Mississippi
This is a beauty of a southern mid-major thing. Both of these teams should be in the fight for at-large bids come June. USM has gotten off to a 7-1 start, which is the best start for coach Corky Palmer in his 10 years on the job. UL-L is 9-0, the best start since 1994 for the Peppers.

8- Stetson Invitational, DeLand, Florida.
Wish I was there, and not because Melching Field is one of my favorite mid-major stadiums either. This Snowbird Invitational features No. 13 Nebraska, Notre Dame and Iowa. Stetson owns series wins over LSU and Louisville, so they'll be tough to beat here. NU's pitching staff will eventually be really good, but are still vulnerable in this early season.

7- Southern California at Georgia
Last February I happened to catch the opening game of the Dogs series at SC and came away impressed with Coach Perno's charges, after they polished of a 3-2 win over Trojan stud Ian Kennedy. This year, the Dogs have been rather hither and yon, losing all three vs. Oregon State and getting shutout vs. Purdue last Saturday, 5-0. But they also just rallied to beat Winthrop on Tuesday, 7-6, scoring five runs in the last two innings to knock off the Eagles. USC is young, but still appear to be on the track to getting the program back to its winning ways. This will be the first true road series for SC. Should be fun.

6- Keith LeClair Classic, Greenville, North Carolina
No. 12 Pepperdine takes its 11-3 mark into games with East Carolina - which could use a marquee win to legitimize giving Duke its first loss - Western Carolina and a great Sunday matchup with North Carolina State. I wish that game could have Barry Enright going fastball-to-fastball with the Pack's Andrew Brackman. But Enright will apparently keep his Friday slot.

5- No. 10 Arizona State at No. 23 Auburn
As you have seen many times before, Pat Murphy insists on playing tough opponents on the road and this is one of those scenarios. The Tigers go in 11-1 and ASU is 11-3. Couple of things to look at - Auburn is hitting .312 and the team ERA is a miniscule 2.51. The Sun Devils are hitting .374 and have an ERA of 3.35. Then, taking these numbers into consideration, look at their schedules. ASU should win.

4- Domino's Pizza Classic, College Station, Texas
Oregon State and Texas A&M will tussle on both Friday and Monday, bracketing the weekend's action. New Mexico and St. Louis join in on the fun. You have to figure that Aggie student section will be packed for these games and will have a blast with the OSU nickname too. But the Beavers have become road warriors, so this will another character-building trip. A&M's Blake Stouffer and OSU's Darwin Barney are great leadoff hitters.

3- Dairy Queen Classic, Minneapolis
I still vow to get up to this tournament someday soon. With Ole Miss, Arkansas, The Citadel and host Minnesota, this wouldn't be a bad year to make it up there. Gophers will (apparently) have to face UA's Nick Schmidt on Sunday, providing possibly their best challenge of the season. Friday's Rebels-Hogs game should be a good preview to the SEC donnybrooks. Both teams need to play better than last week's listless performances against Wright State and Illinois State.

2- No. 6 Rice at No. 9 Fullerton
If this turns out anything close to last year's ho-down in Houston, it'll be a killer series. I look forward to seeing what Wes Roemer can do on Friday, as he's already matched last year's loss total (2), but is still on a 36-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. Rice frosh Ryan Berry could use a good bounce-back game on Saturday. But watch out for the Titans' no-name offense, despite a .298 average, it's been clutch against some of the best teams in the country.

1- No. 4 Clemson vs./at No. 2 South Carolina
Other than the fact that this will only be two games, instead of three, I love love love this matchup. Should be a beauty. Bummer that SS extraordinaire Stan Widmann, the steal wheels of Clemson, won't be in the lineup due to injury. But you still have to love the Brad Chalk-Tyler Harbin-Doug Hogan (wither Andy D'Allesio?) bats going up against the Phil Disher-Cheyne Hurst-Lonnie Chisenhall (wither Justin Smoak and Reese Havens?) bats. Good luck pitchers. You're going to need it. Because it's only two games, instead of three (Why?), I'll go ahead and make the no-brainer pick of an even 1-1 finish.


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Teams that shouldn't be ranked at this time---
I know the polls don't mean a whole lot in college baseball (although I'm pretty convinced they have a "top of mind" influence on team seedings and Top 8 national seedings when the NCAA Tournament Committee gets together), but you have to wonder what the voters and rankings-makers are thinking on some of these teams.
- Georgia Tech (6-5)
See above.
- Oklahoma State (7-3)
Their only four games against teams with a pulse are at Florida Atlantic and three at Cal State Northridge. The Pokes are 1-3 in those games.
- Tulane (6-4)
Two losses to Southeastern Louisiana and I saw them get beat two-of-three out at USC. This team has some talent, but they're not there yet.
- Alabama (9-2)
This pick falls under the "play somebody before we rank you" category. Especially after a Friday loss to Villanova. Nebraska comes calling next weekend. Thankfully.
- UCLA (7-7)
I know, the Bruins have played a gallows-like slate, but they need to be over .500 to be in here. At least by one game. They are in the Baseball America poll at the current moment.
- Miami (6-5)
Look, if the Bruins shouldn't be ranked, neither should the Canes, who beat UCLA in three straight, but mostly in nip-and-tuck fashion. Besides, they've fallen victim to teams called Elon and Mercer.
- TCU (7-4)
The Frogs looked like the real deal after sweeping Oral Roberts, but they've gone 1-4 since then. But we'll give them a pass because the one win was vs. N.C. State.


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Most anticipated debut---
Maine (35-22-1 in 2006).
The Black Bears will open with Pennsylvania in a game to be played in Palm Beach, Florida on Saturday. They'll also play Villanova, Mount St. Mary's and Florida Atlantic in the next few days as part of an 11-day, 10-game season-opening stretch, all in South Florida. The Black Bears are favorites in the American East Conference and have become the most consistent program in the Northeast. They return back-to-back Freshmen All-Americans in SS Curt Smith and 3B Kevin McAvoy, along with pitching staff ace Greg Norton, an All AmEast selection in 2005, who returns after sitting out last season with injuries. Get your wins while you can UMaine, your next road trip will be four games at Arizona State March 16-18.


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Best midweek win---
Wichita State - 4
Oklahoma - 5
The Sooners improve to 3-2 over WSU since Gene Stephenson's flip-flop job on taking the OU gig the previous summer. It also stymied the Shockers' eight-game win streak it built up while on the islands in the process. LF Joe Dunigan supplied the big dagger for the Sooners, blasting a 2-run shot in the 7th inning to provide the winning runs. Despite the win, the jury is still out on OU, as they've suffered losses to Texas State, Pan American and Western Kentucky. This win may provide some semblance of confidence as the Big Red welcomes in west coast sleeper UC-Riverside to Mitchell Park this weekend.


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As if things couldn't get any worse---
Arizona State - 22
Arizona - 8
Man, nothing, and I mean nothing could go right for the Wildcats when they hosted ASU on Tuesday. They gave up eight runs in the 1st inning alone and never recovered against the free-swinging Devils. Then, pouring iodine in the flesh wound, ASU built an 18-1 lead going into the bottom of the 4th when 'Zona got two lead-off singles. But a sharp liner by John Gaston ignited a Sun Devil triple-play to end the inning. Yep, a 4-3-6 triple play. Ouch. For the game, ASU's Brett Wallace went 3-for-4 with seven RBI. Catcher Kiel Roling went a mere 3-for-6 with four ribs himself.


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Best story for the grandchildren---
Tyler Smith, Wake Forest.
Smith went up to the dish for the first time this season on Tuesday as a 10th-inning pinch hitter in the Deacons' game with Charlotte. With one swing, Smith crushed a two-run home run over the wall, giving Wake a 9-7 win and a story he could tell his relatives for eons. Nice work Tyler. WFU is off to a 5-3 start and face a good challenge from visiting UNC-Wilmington this weekend.


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Most painful week---
Winthrop.
This is a team always fighting for RPI points and in the past seven days or so, it's been close but no cigar. Too bad too. I've always thought that "close" losses to ranked teams should count for something. The Eagles went just 1-2 vs. Miami Univ., but then lost a pair of heartbreakers at Georgia (7-6) and at Clemson (6-4). They gave up five runs in the last two innings of the Georgia loss. And how important did they view that Clemson game? Friday starter Alex Wilson got the call to start on the hill that night. But he wasn't at his sharpest (then again, against those Tiger bats, not many teams would), giving up six runs


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Second most painful week---
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
Other than having the longest, most awkward name in Division I, the Islanders went 0-5 in the last 10 days, including a pair of one-run losses to Florida Atlantic and, on Tuesday, to Texas A&M. The FAU loss came after TAMU-CC let a 12-5 lead slip away in the 7th. The loss to the big brother Aggies occurred when the Islanders rallied to score three runs in the top of the 9th but died with a bases-loaded strikeout. The Islanders are still off to a decent 9-5 start and have New York Tech coming down as a sacrificial lamb this weekend.

Note: I forgot, the Islanders don't have the worst name, that distinction belongs to IUPU-Fort Wayne. Their official school title is a mind-numbing Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne. Good night nurse! C'mon people, how does Fort Wayne State sound?


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Weather woes---
The Stetson Invitational has already had one casualty. The Nebraska baseball team tried to leave the Cornhusker State, but a blizzard put the kaibosh to that, so now the Friday game with Iowa has been pushed back to Sunday. Summarily, the Huskers game with Stetson will now be played on Monday.

Arizona State got a rude welcome to the Dixie State for its three-gamer at Auburn this weekend, when it left the desert and ended up arriving just in time to see heavy thunderstorms, sheets of hail and tornado warnings in the Eastern Alabama area.

In their home opener today, BYU defeated Northern Colorado by a 17-2 score. But the game was played in mid-30s temperatures and, according to the BYU S.I.D. Ralph Zobell was able to be played because the grounds crew "were able to get the field ready despite two inches of snow." Gotta love those hearty folks in Provo. Oh and by the way, the Cougars are now 6-3 on the young season.

Think that's bad, get this. Gonzaga beat Air Force 3-1 in Lewiston, Idaho in the opening game of the Banana Belt Tournament on Thursday. But the game was delayed 30 minutes at the start and 15 minutes after the 1st inning due to snow and hail.


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Depressing gumbeaux---
Tulane - 8
LSU - 3
This game is just another in a sobering reality for Tiger fans this season. I like Paul Maineiri a lot and am sure he'll turn things around on Nicholson Drive eventually, but this year's team isn't world-beaters. Tulane is once again the top team in the state. Unless...

Louisiana Tech - 1
Louisiana-Lafayette - 5
The unbeaten Cajuns pull of an impressive Tuesday night win over a LaTech squad I have become sold on. The Cajuns relied on solid pitching and some wicked defense too. Buddy Glass improved to 3-0 by going into the 8th inning and scattering seven hits to improve to 3-0. Meanwhile the Ragin Cajun defense doled out four double plays and committed just a single error. With the win, UL-L is now 9-0 and off to its best start since 1994. Tech falls to 11-5 as the Dogs head to WAC play this weekend hosting Sacramento State.


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It's time to end this thing. With some good games finally on the docket, now would be a good time to get out there and see a game in your area. If you're not happy with the experience, I'll refund your ticket.*

*void where prohibited.

Have a good college baseball weekend.

G'night.

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Eric Sorenson Eric Sorenson
Eric Sorenson is CSTV.com's National Baseball Columnist, and also appears on CSTV as a baseball expert