August 17, 2007

Thursday Thoughts - Barry, Bud, Bill, The 'Blatt and the King of Rock-N-Roll

Welcome to another off-season edition of Extra Innings, on this, the 30th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley.

(The King, in his much cooler, younger days of rock-n-roll)

First let me go on record and say this: I know I've bagged on Barry Bonds a couple of times here in this forum, and the colossal jerk deserves it, sure. But to be honest, I don't hate Bonds. Nope, his hat size and shoe size can grow all it wants (Doesn't everybody's head and feet get bigger in their 30s?). Nor do I begrudge him for breaking the classy Hank Aaron's hollowed record. I really put more of the blame on pro baseball in general.

The "Steroid Era" of baseball was allowed to happen. These monster freaks with tiny gonads were allowed to become monster freaks with tiny gonads. You can't blame them. If the guy you're trying to beat out for a position on the field is getting rippin' huge and starting to knock the fire out of the ball, aren't you going to do everything that's NOT against the rules of the sport to become a better player?

You've probably heard this phrase already, and it's true, steroids is a pro baseball problem not a Barry Bonds problem. Thanks to that blind Bud Selig and the players union, Bonds' record will be broken in the next 10 or 20 years by another synthetic athlete anyway.

(As was noted in Sports Illustrated about Henry Aaron, no batting gloves, no wristbands, no jewelry, no body armor, no cork, hell, not even a hint of pine tar. Just a man with a piece of wood, and no additives.)

I'll go ahead and stick to the college stuff now.

Ready to hit the road runnin'---
My interview with new Cal State Bakersfield head coach Bill Kernen.

(Sorry Coach K, this is the only picture I could find of you)

I had a chance last week to talk to one of my favorite coaches in college baseball, Bill Kernen. He's the man that was recently hired away from his assistant position at Cal State Fullerton to start up the Cal State Bakersfield baseball program. Before that, you may know him as the coach who left his highly-successful gig as Cal State Northridge's head man to pursue a profession as a playwright in New York City.

You gotta love a renaissance guy like that. In fact, other than Augie Garrido's appearance in buddy Kevin Costner's film "For the Love of the Game," Coach K is the only college baseball coach I know of that you can "IMDB" for information. Beauty.

So I've been wanting to catch up with him and see how his program building is going there in the hometown of Buck Owens. And in case you hadn't heard, the Road Runners are going to start playing in 2009 as a Division I program. Here's the Cliff's Notes version of our convo.

So what does this new gig at Cal State Bakersfield mean for your playwright career?

Coach Kernen:
Anything I've written is still being rep'd by my agency in New York City, but I'm not doing any more writing now, obviously. And I won't do any more. One thing about writing, just like coaching baseball, it takes over your life. You don't have time for anything else. I was getting to the point of selling scripts and possibly going into directing. But I got back into coaching because I missed it. I missed those relationships with players and with coaches.

I'll always have an appreciation for the arts. I just didn't think it would ever turn into something I'd do on a daily basis as a career. But the entertainment business is a very competitive business. It would take all of my attention if I wanted to still pursue the writing side of it.

When were you first approached about the Cal State Bakersfield gig?

Coach Kernen:
I first heard rumors about them starting a program back in June of 2006. So I told Coach Horton that there may be a possibility that I'd only be at Fullerton for one year. And he was fine with that. Then I talked to John Price, who is the volleyball coach there and was at Northridge when I was there, and I asked him about how things were at Bakersfield. He told me they were serious about making this a big time program. They raised six million dollars to make the move to Division I, two million of that was allocated for baseball. That's serious. You could go a lifetime and not get that kind of money at Fullerton or Long Beach.

They got in touch with me about the job last year and it came down to five guys, myself, Dan Spencer of Oregon State, Mike Roberts, the former North Carolina coach, Matt Foster at Fresno State and some other guy from the Midwest I didn't know.

Were there any other jobs you seriously considered?

Coach Kernen:
No not really. I just thought this was the ideal situation because it was like what we built at Cal State Northridge and what I helped Augie build at Cal State Fullerton. We're going to be in independent at first and eventually play in the Big West Conference. And I really think this is going to be the most exciting, most interesting story in college baseball. They're very serious about getting this program on the national map.

We're going to play our games at the home of the Bakersfield Blaze (Single-A team in the California League) for a few years, but we're building a 25 million dollar stadium on our campus that will seat 7,000 people. It will be the biggest baseball stadium in the West. So this is not a stepping stone job. The only reason I took this job is because I know this will be a nationally competitive program.

What will the next calendar year be like for you?

Coach Kernen:
Well, I've already been putting together our schedule for the last few months, even during the season at Fullerton. Everyone is getting dates all locked up for 2009 already. And of course, recruiting is job number one. It will take up most of the rest of my time. I'm trying to put together a class of freshman of about eight and then add a bunch of J.C. guys. You probably won't find more than 22-to-25 guys on my roster. That's how it's always been with my teams. None of my Northridge teams ever had more than 25 guys on them, with a couple of two-way guys in there. All those teams that keep 45 man rosters are totally insane. That's way too many.

So how busy will you be? 24-7?

Coach Kernen:
Oh yeah. In fact, I feel way behind already. I got back from Omaha and immediately went out recruiting. You know, I don't know how Oregon hasn't named a coach yet. They're talking about starting up baseball in 2009 just like us, but there's a whole lot of work ahead of them. I don't see how they haven't got somebody in there yet.

Okay, I hate to bring up bad memories, but I've always been enthralled with your 1991 Northridge team making it to within three outs of Omaha in its first year of Division I play. What happened on that last inning at the Regionals?

Coach Kernen:
Well, we went into the bottom of the 9th at Fresno State with a 5-4 lead. Their first guy hit a huge chopper that the 3rd baseman actually lost in the sun. It hit him right in the chest. Then, the next guy walked. Then, they laid down a bunt to move the runners over, but our pitcher threw the ball wide at 1st. Everybody was safe, bases loaded. Then, the next guy hit a line drive and drove in both of the winning runs. So we never actually recorded an out.

But that 9th inning is something that will stay with me forever. I know things like that happen in baseball all the time, but it's still something you never really get over. We were proud to have done what we had done, we even finished at No. 10 in the country in our first year of D-1 play, but it was still tough to take.

Ready for the Road Runners in Omaha?---
Just thought I'd mention here... Nicknames like Diablos (Cal State L.A.'s old nickname), Dirtbags, Titans, Waves and, of course, Anteaters is one of the things I've always liked about the teams in the West. You don't find your run-of-the-mill nicknames too often out there. Now, with Cal State Bakersfield looking to make a major push for a legit D-1 program with all the trimmings, don't you think the people of Omaha could fall in love with a team nicknamed the Road Runners too? Now if only UC Santa Cruz would go to Division I in baseball... How 'bout seeing the Banana Slugs in The O?

Schedule fever (continued)---
A couple more teams have joined the 2008 parade. It's interesting to see some of the ways teams are dealing with the 13 weeks of scheduling. Here's a quick hit of the newest entries.

- Arkansas.
Nobody tries harder in the SEC than the Hogs. Playing at Texas A&M in the Aggie Classic, at Arizona State and at Nebraska is another sign that Dave Van Horn doesn't want his team to get penalized at the end of the season like most of the SEC did on selection day last May. Games like those may help the Hogs get over the hump and back to Omaha too.

- LSU.
Last year, we gave Coach Maineiri a pass on the easy schedule. Wasn't his fault. Do we still do that again this year? Stetson is marginally difficult, sure. But the rest is creamed cheese. There are some mid-week games against the likes of UNO, UL-L and Southern Miss. But let's not hassle it too much, Coach Maineiri and this program needs wins before the new Alex Box opens in '09. Maybe then they'll pull in some teams with a pulse.

- Hawaii.
Two things jump out: 1- I see they have a series with Hawaii-Hilo February 15-17, a full week BEFORE they're supposed to start playing, right? And 2- Note the WAC going to 4-game weekends now. Interesting. More non-conference trips to the mainland too. Hmmm. I also notice the single home game with Rich Hill's San Diego Toreros... Coach Hill, is that YOU scheduling according to your surfing addiction again?

- Hawaii-Hilo.
As opposed to the UofH slate, notice no mention of the February 15-17 series with the Warriors. Just a 37-game schedule here (so far). My guess is the Vulcans will eventually drop down to Division II, as has been rumored before. The compressed schedule does them no favors, that's for sure, as visitors to the big island are harder and harder to come by. And do my eyes deceive me, no visit from Wichita State? Surprise.

- Pacific.
Considering their 16-win season in '07, this '08 slate may be too ambitious. There are good Northwest-heavy teams like Gonzaga, Washington, BYU and Oregon State on there. Toss in a tough opener at Houston and hosting Minnesota and that's six potential NCAA tourney teams. And that's before we talk about the improved Big West. Ouch.

- Air Force.
One of the good things the Mountain West has finally allowed the Falcons to play more home games later in the year, when the weather is better. That's a good thing. Also, in reference to Cal State Bakersfield, Coach Kernen told me that their opening weekend in '09 would have Air Force, St. Mary's and possibly Oregon in town for a 4-team tournament. But the main emphasis would be to honor the service academy.

- Nevada.
Reno is a strange place, meteorologically. I mean, here is Nevada hosting 16 of its first 20 games at Peccole Park in February and early March. Yet, just 45 minutes away is Mt. Rose ski area which usually operates well into April. How is it there aren't a bunch of snow-outs? Sadly, due to schedule compression, the rivalry series with UNLV is merely a home-and-home of mid-week games now.

- Long Beach State.
Ahhhh the Beach. They just never disappoint. Opening with Rice is sweet. Other non-conference torture tests vs. Wichita State, USC and UCLA will please the locals and keep the beer flowing. A nice 3-gamer at Hawaii and at Cal is also typical of Mike Weathers' tough slate philosophy. I dig it. Big West starts with UC-Riverside and UC-Irvine. Damn, that's pain.

- Illinois-Chicago.
At Tulane? At Baylor? At Vanderbilt? Gah! This team is out to prove that decent performance at the Long Beach Regional was no fluke. But the Flames have had some serious schedule upgrades the last few years, including wins at Georgia Tech and Tennessee last year. The Horizon in general, including Wright State's series win at Ole Miss, has been getting better anyway, so why not?

From March 18th through April 19th. That's 32 days that will decide the fate of the Coogs' season. Their easy start settles into home dates with Kansas State, Oregon State, Oral Roberts, Washington and TCU. That's where all their RPI points will come from. I also see that pre-conference Mountain West tournament was a one-year wonder as well. Which is good.

I know I already talked about the Bruin schedule for '08 in the last Extra Innings edition, but I had the chance to talk to Coach John Savage about the weekend of February 29th-to-March 2nd that sees his team play Bethune-Cookman, USC and Southern. The idea of the historically black colleges coming out to SoCal to play on this weekend was the brainstorm of Urban Youth Academy director Darryl Miller. The UCLA-SC game is going to be held at the Academy's home field in Compton. It's part of a program to get inner-city youths interested in baseball and continue to play the game. That should be a great weekend for college baseball here in L.A. Coach Savage also said the compression of the schedules for this year cost them their return trip to East Carolina. But they are slated to go to Greenville in '09, along with trips to Oklahoma and the Minute Maid Classic in Houston. Damn, those Bruins know how to make the season fun.

5 ways to improve Rosenblatt Stadium---
I've thought about it. There's no real reason to raze the 'Blatt. I've been going to games there since I was knee-high to a tadpole and there wasn't a lot of complaining about it then. People just got spoiled, that's all. But Omaha should go ahead and build the 8,000 seat stadium downtown for the Royals and Bluejays (which I'd love to see for CU's sake).

Look, the whole conversation started when they were wanting to put $25 million into Rosenblatt to begin with, so here's five suggestions that would make the Omaha icon more appealing to fans of the CWS...

1- Take out the last two rows of the lower section to make for a wider walkway.
This will also allow the fans in the first two rows of the upper section to not have to have people walking in their sight line the entire game.

2- Build a plaza area above the stands.
This will also alleviate walkway traffic problems, plus the crammed concessions area while also allowing for more standing room.

3- Build new suites below the press box and above the support pillars.
More luxury suites means more money (hint: the NCAA loves money). Besides, having to sit in those "obstructed view" seats behind the pillars is a drag. But people in an air-conditioned suite won't mind.

4- Blow up the crowded concourse below the grandstand.
Simply make more room. That area is cramped and was built when the stadium seated only 5,000 or so. Dig it out and make it roomier and more modern.

5- Parking.
First, let the REAL fans park close to the stadium. It's amazing how often the lots right around Rosenblatt, reserved for "officials and rich guests" are barely filled. Second, consider a parking structure of some sort. Sure it may bring about some congestion, but it will help alleviate the two-mile walk for some and appease some of the neighbors.

Oh, and concerning that CWS schedule change---
So they're starting the tournament on Saturday and adding another day to the whole thing, right? I gotta tell ya', and just about every national writer who covers the series will too, after three or four days, you've pretty much seen all you can see in Omaha. Hell I lived there and I'm not too proud to point that out.

Where would you want to play summer baseball?---
Just at random, here are the weather conditions for a few select locations in each of the summer leagues for Thursday, August 9th according to

- Alaska League: Anchorage - high of 68 degrees, sunny.
- California Coastal League: Santa Barbara - high of 73 degrees and sunny.
- Cape Cod League: Chatham - high of 74 degrees and partly sunny.
- Central Illinois League: Danville - high of 94 degrees, sunny.
- Clark Griffith League: Alexandria, Virginia - high of 95 degrees, scattered thunderstorms.
- Coastal Plains League: Wilmington, North Carolina - high of 101 degrees and sunny.
- Great Lakes League: Cincinnati - high of 98 degrees, sunny, 72% humidity.
- Jayhawk League: Topeka - high of 92, scattered showers.
- New England Collegiate: Burlington, Vermont - high of 79, partly cloudy.
- New York Collegiate: Niagara - high of 84, sunny.
- Northwoods League: Duluth, Minnesota - high of 88, partly cloudy.
- Pacific International: Seattle - high of 70, partly cloudy.
- Southern Collegiate: Columbia, South Carolina - high of 106 degrees, sunny and 75% humidity.
- Texas Collegiate League: Wichita Falls - high of 103, sunny and no trees.
- Valley League: Richmond, Virginia - high of 97, scattered showers.

If you're good enough, by all means, head for the Cape Cod League where great competition, big crowds and manageable weather await. If you're just under that talent level, the Alaska League is still very prestigious and it has to be an awesome place to play ball, while the New England Collegiate League is gaining in reputation, if not comfortability. And yes, those triple digit temperatures you see above are not typos.

The future of our country---
First the GOOD:
(An electric car that can go 0-60 in 4 seconds. I'm in.)

Then the BAD:
Corrupt oil companies still relying on "hostile" countries for our oil addiction.
(And making money hand over fist while charging us out the ying-yang)

And the UGLY:
OPEC oil embargo of the 70s
The Islamic Revolution in Iran
The Hostage Crisis
The Iran-Iraq War
The Gulf Wars 1 and 2
The endless Israeli-Arab conflict
$4.00+ gas I've paid before
(Do the math here people. Shouldn't the shortage and Middle East instability have cause radical changes 30 years ago?)

How do we know the best college baseball is played in North Carolina and Oregon?---
Check out who were the final two teams in the National Club Baseball championship game in Ft. Myers, Florida on May 30th:

So you see, UNC-Chapel Hill is a national power on the club team circuit as well. And though Oregon may be getting a new Division I team here in 2009, those Ducks already have a tough act to follow after its club team made it to the national title game. Boy, wouldn't want to have to be the new coach in THAT pressure cooker of a job! I can see it now, "Gah Coach, why can't you win like our club team does?!"

The best sports ad ever?---
In a world of chest-thumping, trash-talking bravado, this argument is awesome:


And finally, why Elvis was overrated---
I know it's sacrilege to say such a thing on this, the King of Rock-N-Roll's death day 30 years on. I mean Elvis sang some of the greatest songs in the history of rock-n-roll. Hands down. No argument. Especially in his younger days.

But we have to be honest here. Just like the boy bands and the myriad of cookie cutter girl singers of today (Ashlee Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears), he was more of an "entertainer" and not so much of a musician or songwriter. Granted, at least he could play guitar. Fine. I still never heard him do a wicked solo, now that I think of it.

So here are the reasons why Elvis was overrated:

1- His greatest hits were never written by him.
He lived on the writings of others, particularly the writing teams of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stroller and Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, in addition to pianist Ben Weisman, who wrote nearly 60 songs for the King. Good stuff, obviously, but not of his own.

2- He had a piece-of-crap manager.
"Colonel" Tom Parker (who wasn't a colonel), was born in the Netherlands and always feared getting caught for secretly not being a U.S. citizen, so he never allowed the King to tour the world, which would've been lucrative, possibly allowing him to forgo that damn foray into movies.

3- Elvis gave up rock-n-roll and went into movies.
After leaving the Army, Colonel Tom convinced him to become an actor and move his music to the background. Too bad. Worked wonders for his bank account, sure, but his music got worse and was particularly terrible after his "comeback."

4- That whole Gospel thing.
Look, you can't be a rock-n-roll rebel, shocking the establishment for years, and then try to appease the geriatrics by singing church songs. It makes your coolness factor hit rock bottom.

5- In a word, drugs.
When Elvis came back from making movies, his addiction became more and more obvious. The bloated one became constantly sickly looking, mumbled through his songs in concert and even rarely finished them. In essence, HE was finished. In fact, maybe it was the drugs that made him think those Al Davis-like jumpsuits were good?

Oh and one more thing, I've made it my summer project to roll down the window every time I drive down the street seeing a guy wearing ridiculously long "shorts" that hang past the knee and yell, "Hey, nice capri pants, Frenchie!"

That's it for now. More some other time.



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