Thursday Thoughts - Diverted by The Police version

First off, before I get to my Police story, let me start with this...

Dear NCAA,

I just wanted to tell you that Eric Sorenson (don't you hate it when blow-hards refer to themselves in the third person?) of CSTV will NOT be doing any live blogging during the games of the College World Series. I don't want to end up like this guy:

http://www.courier-journal.com/blogs/bennett/blog.html

However, I have heard about a guy in the college baseball community who has no need for a credential and will be in Rosenblatt Stadium doing live blogging from his laptop for a website you've never heard of. It's rumored that he'll blog about everything he sees on and off the field during the CWS, including live score updates just like Gametracker. Now, this is just what I've heard. I don't know where he'll be sitting, and sure, it's unfair that he gets to blog while nobody in the press box can. So go ahead and search the stadium and the internet, he's out there. But where?...

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The Police in Oakland---
A good friend of mine (who is not blogging) invited me up to the Bay Area because she had an extra ticket to see The Police on Wednesday night. I jumped at the chance. Sure it would cost me a little extra to change my flight into Omaha from Los Angeles to San Francisco and I'd have to book a flight up there on Southwest (which is basically a bus service airline), but c'mon... it's the Police. I've wanted to see these guys all my life, but then they had to go and break up and Sting had that unfortunate solo career. Damn him. So this was a no-brainer since I couldn't get a seat for their L.A. show.


Police.jpg
(The Police blotter in Oakland)

The gig was held in McAfee Coliseum (where the A's play). And my seats weren't exactly front row or anything. In fact, they were too God Damn far away. To be specific, I was sitting in the second level behind home plate and the stage was wayyyyyy out beyond the fence in center field. NOW I remember why I don't go to big concerts anymore. But I give the English blokes some credit, they played 18 songs in all. Every one of them was from their vintage years, in other words before Sting got the big head and went solo to make some crappy music. They started the show with a rousing rendition "Message in a Bottle" and finished with "Roxanne." They played two encores, those being "King of Pain" and "So Lonely" and then "Every Breath You Take" to finish the show. Not a bad gig, but too bad my lame ass was an entire football field away from the stage. Oh well, that'll teach me to go to big stadium concerts again.


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The Road to Omaha---
Doesn't that phrase sound better than the non-descript "Road to the Final Four"? I think it does. I'm glad baseball has that special destination.


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Who navigated that road and why they don't deserve to be here---
Here are the eight teams that made it to the CWS and, since everyone thinks their team should've made it to Omaha instead, I'm including the Devil's advocate reasons why these eight don't really deserve to be here playing in Rosenblatt. Oh and I'll also give a little primer as to how they'll do here in middle America this week.

The Friday teams:
- Rice (54-12).
Rare it is becoming that the Owls don't live up to billing (that 2004 meltdown now getting farther and farther in the rear-view mirror). Wayne Graham's charges have now gone 35-2 since late-March and show no indication of slowing down. Gotta love the arms of Ryan Berry (a frosh All American), Joe Savery, a hopefully injury-free Ryne Tacker and of course the inclusion of Cole St. Clair. Those guys mean every game is winnable. The bats have been back on track since early struggles. Plus the simple fact that it's Graham at the helm of this steamer means they won't get out-coached. Yikes.
. Why they shouldn't be here:
What? You think beating the 5th-place team in the Big 12 in a Super Regional is impressive? And you even had to go into extra innings in one of the games. Plus, wasn't this team hitting something like .260 until it's schedule got much easier?
. How they'll do:
They'll have a knock-down-drag-out with North Carolina, but the bats will awaken enough to make the second weekend. Once there, Graham will work his magic and win his second Division I national title. Then retire?

- Louisville (46-22)
Gotta love the fact that this 3rd place team from a Northern conference hammered its way to Omaha by terrorizing the Big 12 (four wins vs. Missouri and Okie State). Sunday's 20-2 bludgeoning of the Cowboys featured the most runs and most hits in a game all season for the Cards. Hot stats all the way around, too as they are No. 5 in ERA (3.02), No. 25 in fielding (.972) and No. 7 in stolen bases (153). Can't wait to see this team play, especially Boomer Whiting (.368, 72SBs) and Isaiah Howes (.392-16-59).
. Why they shouldn't be here:
The Big 12 was obviously overrated, so beating Missouri and Okie State... pshaw! Look, the Cards couldn't even finish in the top two of a Northeast conference and probably should've traveled for the Super Regionals anyway.
. How they'll do:
Despite the glossy stats and the inspiring effort in the Super Regionals, Rice will be an entirely different monster than they've seen the last two weeks. A win? Sure, maybe in game two. Two wins? Nah.

- Mississippi State (38-20)
This team has found the post-season magic. Or maybe it's just the Ron Polk factor. He's done a lot with less here this year. The Dogs are a veteran team with lots of senior leaders (all time school hits leader Jeffery Rea, .342, and steady Brian LaNinfa, .308) that have pulled them through all the injuries and tumult of the 2007 season. If Chad Crosswhite and Justin Pigott harness their tough mentality again this week, the Dogs could (continue to) surprise.
. Why they shouldn't be here:
What... the team that has been given more post-season gifts than any other program in recent years? (once they were a 9th place finisher in the SEC and still got a bid). This team got a break with a home Super, otherwise, they wouldn't be here.
. How they'll do:
The old coach has some magic left in him, but this team obviously fed off those record crowds in the Supers. Here, they'll probably fall flat, though with all the experience and senior leadership, it won't be without a fight.

- North Carolina (53-13)
I wasn't too hot on Carolina taking its sweet time to heat up at the plate over the weekend, scoring 20 runs from the 6th inning on to beat South Carolina in the Supers. And I haven't been all that impressed with the ACC in the post-season either. But give a nod to experience, a deep staff and a dangerous lineup. Chad Flack starting to heat up is a good sign. The better Alex White and Adam Warren are, the deeper the run in Omaha. And don't forget, these guys played under the white-hot spotlight last year and came within a whisker of the big prize.
. Why they shouldn't be here:
First off, we're finding that the ACC isn't all that it's cracked up to be. So this may just be another mirage. Their easy non-ACC slate means they're sheep in wolves clothing anyway. Besides, who can cheer for a team that wears baby blue?
. How they'll do:
Seriously, if Robert Woodard throws another freaky first game like he threw against Clemson last year in Omaha (a complete-game two-hitter), this team will have a great start. I'm foreseeing a pair of great games with Rice, until the Owls finally subdue them on Thursday.

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The Saturday Teams:

- Oregon State (44-18)
Ze pesky Beavairs are back! I draw a lot of parallels with their title round mates North Carolina, both with great pitching staffs once again. Pat Casey is just impressing the hell out of me. What about you? DId you imagine a third straight trip to Omaha from this Rainbelt bully? What the Sam Hill man? I kept telling Beaver fans not to freak out when I was in Corvallis for the Arizona State series. I still believe in this team. Stutes, Paterson, Turpen and Kunz are all Omaha-experienced, which is huge. And that Super Regional performance from Jorge Reyes was sweet. Offensively, this team needs someone to step up and give them a shot in the arm.
. Why they shouldn't be here:
Man, this team had another crappy RPI and a weak offense (.285, just 38HRs). Besides, everyone was saying that their inclusion in the NCAAs was a gift anyway. And excuse me, but would this team be playing in Omaha if they had to travel to Nashville for the Super Regionals?
. How they'll do:
Although Pat Casey is a miracle-worker, this team isn't as impressive as the last two outfits. But making a statement like this third straight trip to Omaha is awesome for the program. I just don't see a run in them this time.

- Cal State Fullerton (38-23)
Talk about a fan base that didn't see this one coming. Even Coach Horton admitted he was planning on spending this week at Kevin Costner's house in Aspen (can I go instead?). But as he said in his post-game on Sunday, something happens to these kids when they put on a Titan uniform. Though they have a horse to lean on (Wes Roemer) and another emerging arm (Jeff Kaplan), is this team confident enough to make a run to the second weekend? I like how Adam Jorgensen and Bryan Harris have come along in the pen. Offensively, they're the weakest hitting team in the field (.279), but even Coach Horton pointed out that his '04 title team hit just .240 in Omaha, so you have to like their pitching and defense tilt.
. Why they shouldn't be here:
Hell, this is another 5th place team. Grab a piece of pine and sit this one out with Oregon State. And you better feel pretty lucky you got matched up with a team that you knew very well (UCLA) and not a team that had better horses on the hill (USD).
. How they'll do:
This is trite as hell I know, but Fullerton is Fullerton (Gah! I even felt dirty just writing it). They are stepping up when necessary. Name value alone could count for a win or two. But the lack of a standout No. 3 starter will probably be their downfall. Still, another great run Titans. Now, will George say "see you here next year" at the end again?

- Arizona State (48-13)
Does the song "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" come to mind with this team? Okay, how about "Sledgehammer"? This team is all about offense, hitting near a .350 average. Brett Wallace once again proved why he should've been taken well above the 42nd round coming out of high school, slugging the game-winning double on Saturday vs. Ole Miss and then slapping a double and a home run in Sunday's clinching win. Oh and don't forget about the vastly improved pitching that is catching fire here lately. Mike Leake and Josh Satow both have their moments and Brian Flores has lock-down potential. Oh, and in case you were clueless, the Devils also lead the country in fielding percentage at .978. Man, this team has it all! I can't wait to see what Pat Murphy has in store for the media this week.
. Why they shouldn't be here:
Well, ummmm... okay.... alright, I can't freakin' think of a reason why these Devil Dogs shouldn't be here. Nevermind. Forget it.
. How they'll do:
Very well. Alright, I seem to think that the Sun Devils have long been a favorite for the national title. And with their resurgent pitching, I think they're easily on the cusp of pressing for the national title. No doubt about it. But here's the rub, after Will Kline had his way with their bats on Saturday, there's an air of doubt in the ASU mindset. That's what will cost them in the end.


- UC Irvine (45-15-1)
Okay, okay... I'm just about as blown away by this team as I have been any team in the past 10-to-15 years of following college baseball. I mean, to see Scott Gorgen and Wes Etheridge shut down teams like Texas and Wichita State in the last few weeks has been incredible. Just incredible. And the defense behind them has been a serious lock-down defense. The are No. 4 in the country in fielding percentage and played the last two weekends as confidently as a team can play. Dave Serrano has this team playing at an incredibly high confidence level. That's the part that separates this team from other College World Series newbies. It's also what makes me think they'll do better than expected on college baseball's biggest stage.
. Why they shouldn't be here:
What?... Do I have to go into why a team called the "Anteaters" deserves a chance at the big brass ring? Anteaters? Isn't that something that shows up in those old Pink Panther cartoons? Plus, this team may be all hot and stuff, but they still finished in second place in the Big West. Don't give me that "UCI deserves it" stuff.
. How they'll do:
Okay, I said it on the CSTV podcast with Greg Amsinger, I'm picking the Anteaters to make the second weekend. Yes, I'm really picking the damned Anteaters to go to the championship series against Rice. I just think that any team that can beat Texas and Wichita on the road is freakin' legit. Freakin' legit. We'll see if I'm spot on or horribly wrong. Hey, at least I'm stickin' my neck out there. Where's YOUR upset pick, lame-o?

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The best teams NOT to make it to Omaha---
We were all surprised by teams like Vanderbilt, Florida State and Texas not making the field of eight this year. But that's just a continuing theme in college baseball. Here are some of the better teams that didn't make it to the promised land in recent history. At least these are my Top Five, I welcome yours too of course:

1- Texas A&M, 1989.
This was a team that was at the top of the rankings all season long and featured shortstop All American Chuck Knoblach as the marquee player. They breezed through the first three games of their home Regional to improve their season record to a mind-boggling 58-5. But the Aggies stunningly fell in two straight games to LSU on Memorial Day in the championship round. This was credited as the day LSU took the step up to super-star program status. So if you hated LSU in the 90s, blame A&M.

2- Stanford, 1998.
With a team that featured hurlers like Jeff Austin and Chad Hutchinson (and that only scratches the surface), the Cardinal entered the Regionals at 41-11-1, on top of the polls for 14 straight weeks and was a no-brainer for Omaha. But 6th-seed LMU, behind the pitching of Michael Schultz beat SU 6-2 in the first round. Then, Long Beach State, the No. 4 seed that started the season 2-10, pulled a major shocker when Jaron Madison hit just his second home run of the season, a grand slam, helping to eliminate the Cardinal 5-1.

3- Rice, 2004.
Like Stanford above they had dominating/future pro arms, only this time, a No. 1 team was vanquished in the new Regional format. Somehow, this Owls squad lost an opening round game to an 18-33 Texas Southern team (to this day I'm still shaking my head). Texas A&M eventually put the hammer down, beating the host Owls 7-5 in a second title game re-match and moving on to the Super Regionals. Keep in mind, this is the Rice team that had pitchers Jeff Nieman, Philip Humber and Wade Townsend all get drafted in the top eight picks. Remarkable.

4- Florida State, 2002.
Some may say that the Seminoles' raised-eyebrow/over-rated suspicions have been going on since this collapse. No. 1 ranked FSU had breezed through their home Regional without much fanfare to improve to a record of 59-12. But then Paul Maineiri brought his under-appreciated Notre Dame team to Dick Howser Stadium. The Irish played some of the most inspired baseball I've seen, eliminating the Noles in three games to give the Northern school its first CWS berth in 45 years. The deciding blow was a 3-1 defeat dealt by Irish pitcher Chris Niesel, a Florida native, who hand-cuffed the Seminoles in a 6-hitter.

5- USC, 1977.
The Trojans were on a 3-year dry spell of national championships after winning the title from 70-to-74. Rod Dedeaux's '77 team was on a 20-4 run and ranked right behind No. 1 Minnesota entering the Regionals (or "Districts" as they called them then). The Men of Troy easily breezed over Hawaii and Fresno State in the first two games. Cal State L.A., a perennial loser led by first-year coach Jack Deutsch (no relation to advertising/talk show maverick Donnie), had been pasted twice by the Trojans during the regular season by a combined 22-2. Coming from the loser's bracket to face USC, the Toros (who are now known as... yawn... the Eagles) then pulled off a pair of stunning one-run wins, 6-5 and 7-6, and eliminated the heavily-favored Trojans. Cal State L.A. went on to become the crowd favorite in Omaha with their "Shadow Ball" pre-game routine.

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I don't take it ALL back, but I take this part back---
The NCAA Selection Committee screwed up after all.
During the post-announcement news conference I actually gave the selection committee props and told them this was "the best job they've done on the tournament in many years." I was alluding more toward their taking more mid-majors instead of 9th place conference teams, giving credit to teams that were geographically challenged or weather-beaten and especially for telling teams they need to play better non-conference schedules.

But... and this is a big but... at the time, it didn't dawn on me that all the West coast teams were on the left side of the bracket and barely distributed evenly throughout. THAT is obviously why we're left with all the Westerners playing against each other (again) in the left bracket this week in Omaha. You guys certainly shouldn't have done this. Bad committee... you sleep outside tonight.


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Just to prove I'm a freakin' fraud---
Here's a short story about the CWS field for you.
First off, when I was in New York back in January, filming the in-studio part of the SoCal Media Day, show producer Tyler Hale came up to me about 15 minutes before we were about to begin taping and said, "Hey Eric, we want to run an on-screen feature where you pick your eight teams for Omaha. Can you come up with that real quick?"

"Oh schist!" I thought. I quickly jotted down eight teams I thought had the best chance of going to Omaha, so they could provide a screen graphic and have me make a comment about them. Here are the eight I came up with in no-time flat:
- Arizona State
- Rice
- Clemson
- Texas
- Miami
- South Carolina
- Wichita State
- Pepperdine

Looking back, I didn't do too bad. Sure, I only got ASU and Rice of course. But I came damn close on Clemson (if the committee chair wasn't MSU's A.D.), South Carolina and Wichita State. Texas would be in Omaha if they didn't have a good Big West team to go up against. I sort of missed the boat on Pepperdine. They looked good early-on but faltered down the stretch.

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Who I REALLY feel sorry for at this time of year---
The vendors on 13th street.
Not only do they have to worry about being able to renew their license, but with the regionals running late, they've had to worry about getting Oregon State merchandise all printed up and ready for sale at the pre-CWS festivities on Thursday. Can you imagine having to print up and have ready-to-sell thousands upon thousands of T-shirts and trinkets and having to wait 'til Monday night at 10pm Eastern time to get the process started? Just imagine if that OSU-Michigan series had gone to Tuesday? Good-gawd y'all!

And to begin with, I'm pretty sure the vendors are already in enough dire straights trying to find Anteater logos and caricatures.

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Hey, you know what would've been better than the ending to The Soprano's final episode?---
ANY-FREAKIN-THING!
Look, first those blowhard bastards that wrote this last episode subjected us to that horrible Journey song "Don't Stop Believin'" as Tony and his wife were at the restaurant, then the screen just goes black to end the damn show? Screw you! I know there are theories about the ending (the guy that goes to the bathroom is out for vengeance, the black kids that enter the diner are the ones who tried to kill Tony in Season One, etc.) but the only shows that deserve dubious endings like this are Friday the 13th and Halloween trilogy where the axe-wielding lunatic HAS to live for the movies to keep being made.


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Okay, I've probably made about 50 mistakes in this article. If you see anything blatant, just be kind, I'm sure I'll catch it after the fact. I'm still in Police hangover mode. Well, the good news is that at least this time my dealings with the Police don't involve "You have the right to remain silent."

G'night.

Comments

Great article, and thanks for the props to Rice. I hope your picking Rice doesn't offend the baseball gods.

One comment--I really doubt that Wayne Graham will retire anytime soon. Why??? Wayne wants a tree!

Rice has a tradition of dedicating one of the 2000+ trees on campus to a staff member on his/her 20th anniversary of service to the University. Wayne is in his 16th year with Rice, and he stated in an interview a year or so ago that he wants to stay active at least long enough to get his tree.

The person who may be blogging from the stands has every right to do that - what difference is this to the person who calls or texts his buddy. Are cell phone's going to be banned?

A comment on the Louisville Courier Journal website by starflyer put it best - they referenced the 1997 case NBA v. Motorola. The second circuit court found that Motorola was not liable for, among other things, copyright infringement when it sent game stats to users via a pager service. As the court held, the game itself is not copyrightable, and the copyrightable broadcast is not infringed by the dissemination of uncopyrightable facts.

Therefore there is nothing wrong in sending game stats to users

What? Jeff Nieman was on the 2003 Rice team that won the national championship. He then went to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He did not stay to play in 2004 like Townsend did.

Billy,

Yes, Niemann did in fact pitch for Rice in 2004.

Niemann, Townsend, and Humber all pitched Rice to the national title in 2003 as sophomores, and all pitched for Rice in 2004. Niemann got hurt, but Humber and Townsend both pitched in the 2004 regionals.

All three were then drafted as juniors in the top 8 picks in 2004.
Townsend didn't sign (I think he was drafted by the Orioles) and also didn't play for Rice in 2005 (I guess he signed with an agent), and went back into the draft in 2005 and was again picked in the top 10 pick (by the D Rays).
That's how the Rays ended up picking up Niemann and Townsend in consecutive drafts.

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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