Friday First Takes - Notes from the Land of Paul Bunyan

Made it.

I've been wanting to go to a Big 10 weekend for quite some time now. And here I am, in the shadows of the venerable (if not comfortable) Siebert Field in Minneapolis.

The series between the homestanding Gophers and the visiting Buckeyes was supposed to be a riveting, meaningful Big 10 weekend. Just like it always is at this time of year.

SeibertStadium.jpg
I visited my Scandanavian roots in Norseland tonight.

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But let me first throw out this caveat before I start my Friday First Takes column...

I have always wanted to come to a Big 10 baseball site and experience it first-hand. See, originally, I wanted to see the two best teams in the conference face off - Minnesota and Michigan. But because I had been on the road for four straight weeks covering the NCAA basketball post-season, I decided that I'd skip the Gophers-Wolverines series in Ann Arbor.

Good thing. That series ended up being totally negated by an unusually long winter. Damn Jack Frost. What a jerk!

So instead, I booked my flights to be up here for this weekend. Especially since, at the time of booking, the Gophers were rated at No. 17 in the RPI. And the Buckeyes were just underachieving... but still capable, with their rich stock of talent.

Well, since I booked this weekend, the U has fallen all the way to No. 41 in the RPI and OSU has buckled under the weight of season-ending injuries and heavy expectations. Damn.

None-the-less, this is still a good series to catch. And I'm glad I made the trek. Just thought I'd clarify the reasons first.


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Let me start by saying that my Big 10 blitzkrieg tour is sponsored, in part, by the honorable Brian DeCaussin, without whom this trip wouldn't be possible. I've made the mention of this website before, but Brian's Big Ten baseball site, www.bigtenhardball.blogsite.com, is one of the better sites out there in stitched-ball land and most certainly the only site that truly pimps the baseball action in the Big 10. Hands down.

I love his All-Weekend teams that he posts each Monday. Good idea. I like creative, out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to features like that.


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What I saw at Siebert Field tonight---
Ohio State - 4
Minnesota - 6
In typical Big 10 fashion, both head coaches stuck with their starters as long as possible, but the Gophers got to Cory Leubke earlier and more often to stake themselves to a 6-1 advantage after six innings, which essentially put the game out of reach. Gopher starter Tom Buske improved to 3-1 with 6.2 innings of work, allowing just two earned runs and seven hits.

Right Fielder Tijl Vanderwege (pronounced "teal") hit his second home run of the season, a just-turn-and-look two-run bomb in the 3rd inning to put the UofM out in front to stay. Light-hitting Sean Kommerstad, who came in with a .228 average, blasted his first dinger of the season, a two-run jobbie, that put the game out of reach in the 6th.

With the win, The U improves to 34-10 overall and 15-5 in the Big 10, which is two games back of league-leading Michigan (17-3). The Wolverines start a four-game set with visiting Penn State on Saturday.


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Best un-finished game of the year---
Miami - 8
Wake Forest - 8 (12th inning)
This one was stopped by darkness in Winston-Salem (or carcinogen town). But before nightfall, Wake awoke from a sleepy 8-2 deficit to score six runs in the bottom of the 9th and tie the game with the Canes. Three innings later, and with no scoring taking place, the game was called by a downpour of sun-going-down. But Wake has to be given all sorts of props for waking their bats at the right moment. Four of their runs came after the Canes recorded two outs in the inning. The big blast came from the bat of Tyler Smith, whose three-run blast to right field tied things up. The game will start at noon tomorrow in the 12th inning. Then again, who scheduled this game for 3:05pm start-time anyway?


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Well, with ASU's offense, what did you expect?---
UCLA - 14
Arizona State - 16
This is what you get when two highly-offensive teams go at it in the light air of the desert Southwest. Yikes, and awayyyy!

The usual subjects were the usual subjects. Brett Wallace and Keil Roling combined to go 5-for-10 with seven RBI and North Carolina transfer Matt Spencer went an unconscious 4-for-5 with three ribs to lead a huge come-from-behind effort by the Devils. ASU trailed 14-8 at the time of the 7th inning stretch. But a three-run bomb by Wallace helped spearhead an 8-run comeback as ASU eventually overcame the scrappy Bruins in Tempe.


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The score that knocked my toupee off---
Arkansas - 0
Alabama - 10
A win for Bama? Okay, I'll buy that. But a 10-run cruiser? Ouch... no, big freakin' ouch! Nick Schmidt lasted until the 4th inning before being run out of Dodge. As Mark Etheridge reported in Touching the Bases, it was Schmidt's shortest stint since a pre-determined three-inning showing in 20-degree weather at LaTech in February. This does NOT bode well for the Razorbacks' National Seeding hopes. The Tide's Alex Avila had a triple and a home run as part of a four-RBI night.


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Score that jumped off the page---
Gonzaga - 5
Pepperdine - 3
I'm going to be honest, I'm not shocked by this. I expected the Zags to win a game, maybe even two here. It's just that I didn't expect it to come against the Waves on Friday. And with Enright holding them down no less. The PU ace finished with 8.0 innings of two-run ball, including nine strikeouts. But when he was replaced by Jason Dominguez, the Zags zigged, gathering a bases-loaded sac fly and back to back RBI singles from Bryan Winston and Darin Holcomb. This win puts Gonzaga a full 3.5 games ahead of the Waves in 2nd place in the WCC. It will be interesting to see where this puts Pepperdine as far as post-season aspirations go.


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Stat that jumped off the page---
St. Bonaventure - 4
Charlotte - 1
Folks, Adam Mills is human after all.
Mills took just his second loss of the season, going 8.0 innings, giving up nine hits, three earned runs and striking out only four. The Bonnies, meanwhile, held the 49ers to just five hits on the day. Starter Jim Britton went seven innings, giving up all the hits. Cody Vincent got the save with two innings of hitless relief.


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I bet Alabama wishes they could play them now---
Baylor - 9
Nebraska - 2
The Huskers are in shambles. This past weekend's sweep at the hands of Coastal Carolina was punctuated by the fact that starting shortstop Ryan Wehrle (a 17th-round pick last June) was kicked off the team for rules violations. Tonight's ugly loss to a rather ordinary Baylor team means that NU drops to 10-12 in Big 12 play and 25-21 overall. Would a team with a sub-.500 record in conference play make an at-large selection to the Big Dance? Well this isn't the SEC, so my guess is no. Ace Tony Watson picks up his second loss in a row.


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Trouble here too---
Washington State - 5
Oregon State - 4
This is NOT a good sign. I already have a trip to Corvallis planned for next week, and now the Beavers are colder than the spawning salmon in the Columbia River Gorge. Maybe I should cancel the trip to Oregon next week and apply it toward a fall trek to an Oregon football game or something. Ya' think? (Well, that would mean having to stomach a game officiated by Pac 10 football officials. Nevermind)

An obviously frustrated Pat Casey said, "We're just not doing the fundamental things in the game, we don't get the bunt down, we don't hit the cutoff man, we don't hold runners, we get behind hitters. We're just not doing the things you have to do to win games."

With the loss, just the third at home for OSU all season, the Beavs drop to an unthinkable 7-9 in the Pac 10 and 35-12 overall.


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Before I forget---
Conference races, as a Nation sees them.
I always love this time of year in college baseball because the race to the regular season titles is on. And I admit, I probably haven't been paying as much attention to that facet of the game this year as I should. But my good friend in the stitch-ball, Mr. Boyd Nation, has a great column explaining all the conference races in a nutshell. Go here to check it out:

http://www.boydsworld.com/breadcrumbs/confraces2007.html

This weekend holds a huge stake in what happens in the conference tournaments and the NCAA tournament as well. And yes Boyd, I would like to regale the Big West and the Pac 10 for being the only conferences that don't have one of those useless post-season tournaments.


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Speaking of travel...

The Best Airlines---
Flying on Northwest Airlines today to get up here to Minneapolis reminded me of how bad of an airline it is. They've pretty much eliminated all the nice perks of flying to save money, like movies, free meals, even the freaking pillows have been taken off their flights! And I don't know why it is, but the very few times I have had to fly Northwest, I always get stuck in the middle seat. Between to meaty-shouldered fat guys too. Dammit.

So contrary to Northwest Airlines, here are what I'd consider...
The Best Airlines to Fly:

1- Jet Blue.
Your own TV monitor at every seat with 25 or so channels of DIRECTV. That alone makes a flight go sooooooo quick. Jet Blue also has the most legroom of just about any airline. Makes a difference for someone who is 6'2".

2- Frontier.
Just edged out by Jet Blue. But not far behind. I fly this airline to the College World Series every year now. Also has DIRECTV in every seat. Best part? A long layover in Denver affords me the chance to eat at Jimmy's in the Denver terminal. Great, great food.

3- Alaska.
Again, having your own TV at your own seat is so valuable. But Alaska has always been a comfortable airline to fly as well. Probably the best service of the top five here.

4- Midwest Airlines.
Back a few years ago, this airlines had non-stop flights from L.A. to Omaha. And amenities like four-seat rows (instead of six), all-leather seats like most first class seats and real meals with real forks and knives (pre-9/11) were excellent indicators that this airline cares.

5- American.
A couple of years ago American went out of their way to take rows of seats out to give their planes more legroom. Nice work people.

Again, if you've got a different opinion, by all means, pile on brother.


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There are a lot more games to comment on, but it's late and my Gametracker and NCAA-baseball.com site have crapped out on me tonight. So I'll just end this here.

Anyway, it's late. Even for Central Time. So I've gotta put head to pillow. I'm planning on doing a Q&A with Minnesota coach John Anderson tomorrow before the Gophers doubleheader with the Bucks. That should be interesting.

More from Siebert Field here in Norseland tomorrow.

G'night.

Comments

Can't forget about Delta changing up their image now. The commercials show a guy playing poker at his seat on the screen, and being served margarita's....Intresting...

Little correction:
www.bigtenhardball.blogspot.com

Awesome post. You should visit The Fish @ Michigan next year. Coach Maloney raised a ton to get the stadium totally renovated.

Continental isn't that bad for flights up north, little wider seats than northwest, have snacks, pillows, movie, and no pepsi.

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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