July 27, 2007

Thursday Thoughts - Going through withdrawals while on vacation

While in deep depression over the fact that the inimitable, heroic and general nice guy that is Hank Aaron will soon have his name erased from the major league record books, welcome to the mid-summer nights dreaming edition of Extra Innings.

I know. I know. It's late July now and truthfully, I'm really supposed to be reading up on my college football info so I can start writing about the upcoming pigskin season. Sure, I know. But as you guys have come to realize, I'm a college baseball junkie.

(At this time I was the tallest person in Maine)

The season has been over for a month now but I'm still jonesing for some college baseball. So that's why I'm adding this edition to my blog site. Plus, I was able to make it up to Cape Cod this past week, so I made sure to catch a couple of Cape games and see how the most prestigious college summer league is holding out. I'll get to more on that in just a bit.

First and foremost, let's touch on the biggest off-field news:

Oregon welcomes back the stitched-ball---
How big of a freak am I? Here's how big. Last week we all found out that the University of Oregon announced it was going to re-instate baseball in its athletic program, which is cool. Really cool.

But what's the first thing I do after I read the release? I go onto GoogleEarth and look at the campus to try and figure out where a new baseball stadium should be built. Yes, the overhead satellite view. The technology that ensures that you know big brother is probably watching. (I'm putting on my tin-foil hat.)

Anyway, back in May when I went to the Arizona State-Oregon State series, I made a quick trip down to Eugene just to get a look at the campus and buy a souvenir or two. I even thought about the possibility of the UO administration bringing baseball back and where would they play their games if they did.

Lo and behold, the Ducks will bring the game back to campus for the first time in nearly 30 years. And wouldn't it be cool if they put the field right next to Hayward Stadium, the now-famous track stadium where Steve Prefontaine and the Nike empire got its start? You could have all day track events at Hayward and then, when you weren't waiting for your favorite event to start, go next door to take in a few innings of the UO baseball game.

And with the Nike purse-strings behind them, could you imagine the kind of palatial stadium they could erect? Yikes, this should be fun!

Omaha fallout in the rule book---
Nothing Earth-shattering, but here are some of the new rules that the NCAA rules committee will have go into effect for the 2008 season:
- Pace of the game.
Apparently, umpires are instructed to be more diligent on emphasizing that the batter "must generally keep one foot in the batter's box during the entire at-bat" and they will also speed up conferences at the mound and the amount of time between innings. I still don't think these things would've sped up that painful Cal State Fullerton-UC Irvine game (Brian Harris, I'm looking your direction).
- Pre-game meetings.
It is now a requirement for a head coach to participate in the pre-game meeting at home plate with the umpiring crew for every first game of a weekend and non-conference game. I know that coaches like Pat Murphy at Arizona State and Mike Martin at Florida State like to send their assistants up to do the dirty work.
(and here's one I don't get...)
- Bat and helmet checks.
The rules committee took the job of inspecting the bats and helmets out of the umpires hands and into the coaches hands. So now, the coaches in the pre-game meeting must certify that all their bats and helmets are legal. Ummm, doesn't that mean that a coach can just say "Oh yeah, our bats are legal" but can still secretly alter them to their advantage? Why not, the umpires aren't going to check.
(Now, a drum roll please...)
- Hit By Pitch rule.
Guess what? After all that hubbub in Omaha, there is no rule change planned for the '08 season. The only thing is that the committee wishes the umpires will enforce the part where they must attempt to get out of the way. Again, they can only wish.

The Cape Cod League.
(or... How I spent my summer vacation)
I was fortunate enough to make it up to the Cape for some Cape Cod League games this past weekend as part of a trip around the Northeast that also included a Boston Red Sox game and some hiking up in Maine. CSTV blogging-machine Dr. Kenny Cook, the Doctor of college baseball, made the trek up from North Carolina and took in a few games as well. Always good to hang out with another college baseball addict. Oh, and get this, we also ran into the wealth of knowledge that is Jeremy Mills, the originator of that oft-used website ncaa-baseball.com (admit it, you've been on that site a million times too).

Here are the games I saw on the Cape this past weekend:
Saturday night:
Cotuit - 0
Chatham - 5
Jermaine Curtis (UCLA) and Allan Dykstra (Wake Forest) seemed unfazed by the wooden sticks, especially Dykstra, who parked a no-doubter to right-center with Curtis on base, giving Chatham the only runs it would need in the first inning of the game. Curtis peppered the ball each and every time he was at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a stolen base and made a trio of solid plays at the hot corner.

Both starting pitchers actually looked pretty good as J.B. Shuck did give up a few runs but showed great mid-90s velocity and surrendered seven hits in 6.0 innings. But even more impressive was Chatham Tom Milone (USC), who was snubbed for the Cape Cod League All-Star game so he went out and pitched like a pissed-off rattlesnake.

Most Impressive Performance(s):
P Tom Milone and 3B Jermaine Curtis, both of Chatham
Milone threw a complete game 5-hitter, with 10 strikeouts and showed more variety, velocity and verve than I had seen at any time this past season at Dedeaux Field. He's now 4-1, 3.01 with 31Ks and 6BBs. As mentioned above, Curtis was the cog in the machine on this night, getting a pair of singles and a double. His high-energy and usual vocal leadership showed well in the field too.

Biggest Bummer:
Cotuit CF Jonathan Pigott had a for sure third out of the 5th inning, but tried to one-hand a pop fly and dropped it. That allowed Jermaine Curtis to score from 2nd and also elicited this response from a high schooler near me in the stands, "That's what you get when you try to hot dog-it with one hand."

Sunday afternoon:
Hyannis - 5 13 2
Brewster - 2 4 0
Watch out for these two names next year: Bradley's Dan Brewer and Vanderbilt's Shea Robin, as both players had four hits on the day. You probably know about Mr. Robin, since he spent time as a starter on the team that was No. 1 most of the season. But Brewer's 5th inning home run blast was pretty impressive, staking the Mets to a 2-0 lead they wouldn't relinquish. Even more impressive was the fact that Brewer and Robin were doing so much damage against a pitcher the quality of Adam Warren (North Carolina). UC Riverside's Joey Gonzales also went yard as part of a three-hit day.

While I was walking around the field for pics, Brewster hurler Mike Colla (Arizona) was warming up in the bullpen and told his catcher, "Man, I wish Coach would put me in today. I feel great... look at the movement on my ball." Only problem was, Colla had pitched 8.0 innings of five-hit ball the night before to improve to 3-0 on the summer season.

Brewster's outfield fence claimed to be 325 to the corners, but I swear it looked more like Long Beach State's Blair Field, which has 348-foot corners. Must just be a visual thing.

Most Impressive Performance:
Dan Brewer, OF, Hyannis.
Simply put, this guy's been tearing up the Cape. You hear that phrase a lot, but this is fo' sure. He's hitting .339 with five dingers and a .414 on-base percentage.

(Brewer gets a high-five from UC Riverside's Joey Gonzalez after a yard call)

Biggest Bummer:
Brewster's 4-through-9 batters went a combined 1-for-18.

Biggest Bummer II:
Yonder Alonso (Miami) had a pretty quiet day. He's been doing fairly well up here too, hitting .328 to lead the Brewster Whitecaps.

Sunday night:
Wareham - 1 3 0
Orleans - 2 6 0
A huge crowd (4,560) gathered to see this one, making Orleans EASILY the best place on the Cape to watch a game. The sizable hillside on the 1st base side was completely covered with lawn chairs and blankets. Oregon State's Jason Ogata hit a screamer to left to put the Gatemen up 1-0. But single runs in the 8th and the 9th inning (helped by bonehead errors and poor pitching) allowed the Cardinals to pull out the one-run win.

As you might expect, the pitching was awesome. Each starter gave up just three hits in their stints. There were also strikeouts aplenty as Wareham starter Jeremy Bleich (Stanford) had nine Ks and Orleans starter Pat McAnaney (Virginia) had 10Ks.

Most Impressive Performance(s):
CF Ollie Linton, Orleans, and 3B Jason Ogata, Wareham.
Linton (UC Irvine) had a pair of hits and ran down a pair of impressive flyouts in Center Field. Oh, because of the field's square configuration, straightaway center is an incredible 435 feet. Yes, 435. Linton was his usual high-energy self out there.

Ogata tagged the ball each time he was up, including his aforementioned home run blast. But he also made a handful of sweet plays from his 3rd base position, one of which was a Brooks Robinsonesque nab of a grounder that he threw while tumbling into foul territory, getting the runner just in time.

Biggest Bummer:
Chris Hicks (Georgia Tech), P, Wareham.
The Gateman reliever came on and threw 12 balls in his last 13 pitches to help walk home the winning run and end the game.

Five Quick Hit Observations about the Cape Cod games I went to:
1- The crowds.
Each game we went to was incredibly well-attended. In fact, the Orleans game we saw had a crowd of 4,560. Like Omahans to the College World Series, these Cape Codeans embrace these games and come out in droves. I knew scouts were out at these games by the bundle, but I had no idea that they were followed so closely by the denizens on the Cape.

(Ollie Linton at the dish in front of a huge crowd in Orleans)

2- The wood bats.
Obviously, there is a big difference in the way the ball jumps off the bats for these games compared to aluminum games. But the big hitters are still going to get the big hits, like seeing Wake Forest strapper Allen Dykstra park one at Chatham.

3- The umpires.
I believe these are all umpires that live in the Northeast and they had their questionable decisions. My guess is that they work a lot of high school and small college games. But the players up here sure didn't like the way they called games. There were a lot of slumped shoulders and stare-downs after they were called out on strikes. Damn brats.

4- Money.
The Cape League doesn't charge for admission (not sure about ALL the home fields on that one, just the three I went to), but they make up for it in other ways. Mostly through concessions, donations and a 50-50 contest where they send guys around to syphon as much money out of people as possible. Of course, why not, this is nothing but rich people in their nice summer vacation homes up here.

5- Teammates facing off with teammates.
It's always kind of cool to see college teammates face each other in the rare instances that they do. As one example among many this summer, last week in the Cape, Tom Milone struck out USC teammate Robert Stock twice and got him to pop out once in the game between Milone's Chatham A's and Stock's Cotuit Kettleers. Who knows, the next time these two face off again may be in pro ball.

(After Milone dominated Stock, will they still be friends back on campus?)

Another thing that makes Cape Cod so cool---
No roadside billboards.
Imagine driving down the interstate and not seeing one solitary billboard for a local injury attorney or a fast food joint. Or in the case of living in Los Angeles, not a single graffiti-ravaged billboard for a local injury attorney or fast food joint. There are highway signs with all the gas, food and lodging services available at each exit posted a few miles before the exits and that's it. In fact, strange as it sounds, Maine was the same way. No billboards at all along the 95 interstate. It's kind of refreshing.

Teams that should be excited about next year---
(At least based on the goings-ons of the Cape Cod League)
- Miami.
In the three games I saw, Yonder Alonso (.328, and an incredible 29 walks), Dennis Rabin (.273, 5 HRs, .439 OB%), Mark Sobolewski, Ryan Jackson and Blake Tekotte (.252, 23BBs, 17SBs) have all played well in spots. (What? No room for the Miami bat boys too?) Now if Jim Morris and company can just find some quality pitching, this team will be big time.
- Missouri.
And no, not because I picked them to make it to the College World Series next year. As Doug Kroll pointed out in one of his Cape updates, pitchers like Aaron Crow (3-1, 0.52 and Kyle Gibson (1.13 in 40inns) are both headed to the All-Star game and are 1st and 2nd in ERA up there. Ryan Lollis and Jacob Priday are both making contributions on the Cape as well.
How about this infield? 2B Alden Carrithers (.213, but 23BBs, .390OB%, leads Cape in runs scored), SS Brandon Crawford (scored game-winning run in one game I saw) and 3B Jermaine Curtis (.321) are all playing up here this summer. Curtis has been more than bad-ass. As long as he doesn't run into more academic problems, he should emerge huge in '08.
- South Carolina.
The Cocks have three players headed to the Cape League All-Star game, led by SS Reese Havens, who is hitting .310 with Cotuit. The other big stick is James Darnell, who has hit six homers in this near-homerless league. Also, Andrew Crisp, who is hitting .295 for Chatham, wasn't selected to the All-Star game and Team USA is using the wares of super-slugger Justin Smoak.

Schedule Fever Continues---
The only other 2008 schedule I've found posted lately is for the Bruins. And once again, UCLA comes up with an interesting schedule. John Savage's charges will open by hosting Oklahoma in late February. Nice opening. Other pre-conference opponents include Cal Poly, Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton, along with mid-weekers with Pepperdine, San Diego and UC Irvine.

The most interesting weekend has to be the one listed like this:
February 29: Bethune-Cookman (at Jackie Robinson Stadium)
March 1: USC (played in Compton, CA)
March 2: Southern (at Jackie Robinson Stadium)

This rules! I love the historically black colleges are coming out to L.A. to play some games. But I'm not sure where in Compton these city rivals will play. I wonder if it's some kind of RBI (Restore Baseball in the Inner City) program or not? Again, I'm not sure what kind of facilities they'll play in down there in South Central L.A.

And lastly, it appears that the East Carolina series Coach Savage told me about has become a casualty of the late February start date. Too bad. This makes the Bruins schedule much more regional.

"What a throw from Audley. Hoh-Lee Cow!"---
One of the greatest plays in CWS history is available for viewing.
As I mentioned in the season wrap-up a couple of weeks ago, one of the great moments in College World Series history was the hometown Creighton Bluejays 12-inning classic against rival Wichita State in 1991. The seminal play in that game was WSU center fielder Jim Audley's deadly accurate throwout of Steve Bruns at the plate in the 11th inning, preserving the win. To my shock, somebody posted this play on YouTube.com recently. So, without further ado, here's that play and the unforgettable call by ESPN's Mike Patrick:


(Note that the batter was Dax Jones, who had a cup of coffee with the Giants in the bigs, the catcher is current Red Sox backstop Doug Mirabelli and the color commentator is Larry Sorenson, who was the color man for only one season, as far as I could recall.)

The most-hated list---
Okay, here are your candidates for the worst people in sports this summer. Pick one:
A- Barry Bonds for being Barry Bonds
B- That crooked NBA ref that bet on games he worked
C- The ESPN hack who came up with this "Who's Now" B.S.
D- Pac Man Jones and his multiple offenses.
E- Chris Henry and his multiple offenses.
F- Tank Johnson and his multiple offenses.
G- Michael Vick. If all this crap is true, they should feed him to the dogs.
(Is it any wonder that one in five NFL players have a rap sheet?)

I've spewed on and on enough. I'll end this here and we'll pick it up again sometime later on in the summer. If I'm not buried in college football stuff.



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