Sunday Summations - The Coaches Making News Edition

If there's been one over-riding theme to this off-season, it has to be all about the coaches. Including the crazy carousel that has them shuffling around, the programs they're starting, the upgrades to stadiums they're making and the letters to the NCAA that they're writing.

This hasn't been your typical quiet off-season.

(George Horton, as he appeared during the telecast of the Cal-Oregon football game. More on this below.)

First, let's do a quick recap of this stadium issue in Omaha, that is apparently in the hands of pause to hold vomit - politicians, city committees and the iron fists of the NCAA.

- Why Do I Feel Like One Of Those Professional Cities Where If They Don't Build That New Stadium, The Team Will Leave Town?

That's what the NCAA has done with Omaha and College World Series now.
Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium is a lame duck stadium. We might as well except that fact of life now. As much as I love that stadium and it has been a part of my life for, well, ALL my life, it has fallen into the hands of the NCAA. And the NCAA wants certain things in a stadium to hold this event, and we all know that when the NCAA wants something, the NCAA usually gets it. So now, baring any real stunning turn of events, we'll soon get a new downtown stadium near the Qwest Center, nearer to hotels and restaurants and far away from any beer gardens around the park.

But the way we've gotten to this latest stage has become quite the soap opera and a political push-me/pull-you. I mean, here's the steps I've heard over the last year or so:

- The NCAA responds favorably to the proposed $25 million in renovations to Rosenblatt which will necessitate extending the CWS contract another 10 years.
- Then, Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey reasons, with that kind of money, why don't we just build a new stadium downtown.
- Omaha and the CWS Inc. devise a plan to build a new stadium with 9,000 permanent seats and 25,000 when you add in the expandable temporary seats. That way, the AAA Royals and Creighton teams can use the less-cavernous set-up when they play and then the 10 days when the Series is in town, the stadium could "expand" to 25,000.
- The NCAA comes back with "we don't want temporary seats" in its response.
- Rumors swirl during this year's College World Series that the razing of Rosenblatt is all but a done deal. The Henry Doorly Zoo peeps already plan on building a world-class panda exhibit on the site.
- Omaha and the CWS Inc. formally give the NCAA two proposals: the new stadium idea, along with the renovating Rosenblatt idea. But the new stadium price tag is now up to $50 million.
- A group called "Save Rosenblatt" gets Kevin Costner to star in a TV commercial exhorting Omahans to save the old stadium.
- The NCAA appears to like the idea of a new stadium, but says $100 million will be necessary to build it with all the whistles and bells it wants in a permanent site.
- The latest from the Omaha World Herald appears to be that we're back to the idea of a downtown ballpark with 9,000 permanent seats and "expandable" to 25,000 for the June classic.
- Either way, the NCAA once appeared happy to renovate Rosenblatt, but given longer to think about it, are now dead-set on an all-new ballpark downtown. They've also apparently changed their minds about temporary seating.

No matter what, I'm a hostage in this political struggle just like a city with a professional team. I want the College World Series to stay in Omaha for as long as I'm alive. I don't want to spend 10 days in Indianapolis (where the NCAA is located and, if they had their way, would move the CWS) with a bunch of empty seats around me as a national champion is decided in a city with no soul.

Another bummer to this whole situation. Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey has been the pawn to the NCAA from the get-go. So now we've got politicians deciding the future of college baseball. Great, just great. I hate politicians.

I don't like the feeling I'm getting on this, people. In other words, I feel a dark disturbance in the force, Luke.

Southern California Becomes The Hotbed Of Coaching Moves.

First, it was Kernan to build Cal State Bakersfield. Then it was Horton to build Oregon. Then it was Serrano to go back to Fullerton. And now it's Gillespie becoming an Anteater. What in the name of Billy Martin is going on in Southern California?


- Mike Gillespie Is An 'Eater.
I have to admit, Coach Gillespie looks nowhere near his listed age of 67. He's not even close to the Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno-looking age. But there he was, all young and sprite, standing at the podium and formally being announced as the new head coach at UC Irvine on Tuesday afternoon in the new Newkirk Pavilion at Anteater Stadium.

In his typical dry humor, the long-time former USC skipper started off the press conference with, "To Chancellor Drake and to all members in the UCI family, I want you to know that I apologize and take back all those things I've said about the University of California for the last 20 years."

Gillespie was also quick to introduce his Associate Head Coach Pat Shine, who moved on to UCI after just one highly-successful season at D-II Cal State L.A. and previously serving as John Savage's assistant at UCLA and UCI. "He's one of college baseball's bright coaches, bright stars and his future in this game is unlimited." Gillespie stated.

Coach then went on to the players who were surrounding the room in the press conference, "I'm sure you'd like me to take the 30 minutes required to introduce them all to you, except I don't know who they are yet." Which of course, got quick laughs as well.

As witnessed by the light-hearted nature of the press conference, Gillespie seems real comfortable in this move back to the college game, even eschewing any sort of prepared notes for the occasion. "I could never have predicted - even up to a couple of weeks ago - that this is where I'd be standing and this is the opportunity that I would have. This is a special place. I'm looking forward to being a part of the continuing development of this program. To not succeed, to not do well is just not in our vocabulary."

Coach Gillespie comes to Irvine after 19 seasons at USC and a one-season stint in the Yankees organization, as the manager of the short-season Staten Island Yankees. Ironically,it was there that he coached Taylor Holliday and Matt Morris, two of the key position players in UCI's run to Omaha last June. But the obvious question was, why the move back to coaching after the USC gig ended?

"It was about 13 months ago and after about three days of watching Oprah. (Laughs). There I was sitting at home, which my wife could not stand, so we made the joint decision that I probably should get a job. That's when I got the rare and unusual opportunity with the Yankees. I was actually prepared to go to work at another university prior to the time that this opportunity came up."

Alright, I couldn't help but ask the question that was in the back of my mind when I first heard Gillespie had landed the UCI gig. Did he consider this a step up from USC? (The school where his son-in-law Chad Krueter now coached).

"Wow, holy cow, that's a really loaded question (pause). I have a hard time figuring out an appropriate, politically correct way to answer that (pause). I know the guy that coaches over there really well. And I'm really, really good friends with his wife too. I just think that program is in good hands and they're going to do well." Fair enough coach.

It has been written that Coach Shine has been brought along to serve as an apprentice that will eventually take over the program when Gillespie's run is over. And you see a lot of this kind of practice lately, like Mitch Gaspard leaving Northwestern State to be Jim Wells' assistant at Alabama and will eventually take over the head coaching job.

When I asked about Shine's expected duties, Gillespie was diplomatic and didn't hedge one way or the other. "He will wear many hats. He'll be called the recruiting coordinator, he'll be our hitting coach, will be the third base coach and work with the outfielders. There's no part of the game he could not coach."

But it should also be noted that nobody was giving any credence to this theory in this press conference. Though afterward I was able to ask Coach Shine about the possibility of taking over eventually. "Well nothing's written in stone. I know that we have to have success to open up bigger opportunities. So I plan on helping to build this program as best as I can." (Just as I suspected, a politically-even answer with no possibility left unturned.)

Even though it may not be a long tenure, I like the hire of Gillespie at UCI. Much like the building of the Newkirk Pavilion and the improvements to their stadium still to come, it shows that the Anteaters are serious about staying relevant in the college baseball scene.

- George Horton Is The New Man At Oregon.
And since a lot of you out there probably didn't get the Cal-Oregon football game a couple of weeks ago, here's the interview that sideline reporter Todd Harris had with Coach Horton during the second quarter of that game:

Todd Harris:
Well baseball has returned to Eugene and this is the man that's going to guide the program. George Horton comes here from Cal State Fullerton and after a 2004 national championship, what was the draw to come from California up north?

Coach Horton:
Well, I fell in love with the leadership up here starting with President Frohmeier, Athletic Director Pat Kilkenny and senior associate Athletic Director Renee Baumgartner. I fell in love with the university, the city of Eugene and the people up here, it's a wonderful city. It's a great fit for my family first and foremost, and the opportunity to build a program from scratch and see if we can compete with what we've done at Cal State Fullerton is a challenge we want to attempt and see if we can do that.

Todd Harris:
How much pressure have you received? You know the school just north of Oregon that wears orange and black, back-to-back national championships. Are they expecting to be a match there?

Coach Horton:
Well a lot of Duck fans expect to get those Beavers, I know it's not going to be an easy challenge. Pat's done a tremendous job with what he's been able to accomplish and I think what he said to the nation is 'you don't need great weather to compete at the national level'. And hopefully we can get to that level in a pretty short order.

Todd Harris:
Now I know the folks up in Beaverton are working on what they call the most technologically advanced baseball uniform in the world. You know the Ducks football uniforms look like. Are you a little nervous about what you might see come opening day in '08?

Coach Horton:
Yeah, I get confused just having three uniforms. We're going to meet with the Nike guys on Monday and they're going to throw some stuff at us. Hopefully we can keep it a little bit on the simple side so I can remember which is the right uniform to wear each and every day we play.

Todd Harris:
Thanks for your time, good luck Coach Horton.

Coach Horton:
Thank you.

There, now I've officially rebroadcast without the expressed written consent of the University of Oregon and the NCAA, which was strictly prohibited.

The Voice Of College Football Highlights.
In my first 10 Questions column I wrote for football this season, I wrote about the passing of Bill Flemming, the sideline reporter and voice of the Sunday college football highlights show in the 70s and 80s. Flemming passed away in the off-season and I wrote a little something about him as a small tribute. The CSTVers however, never posted this picture of him that I sent along with the mention, so I'm including it here:

(This guy harkens back to the days when sideline reporting was actually important, not blond bombshells.)

This picture was taken during the 1977 Alabama-Nebraska game in Lincoln. Though I was quite the youngin' in those days, it is still one of the best college football games I've ever attended.

(Coach Ron Polk as he appeared in the 1973 College World Series program when he coached Georgia Southern to Omaha)

Polk Rock Hero.

To me, Mississippi State baseball coach Ron Polk has always been a punker. He's got that punk rock attitude that continually snubs his nose at the powers-that-be in the NCAA and never blinks twice about it. Recently, as a lot of you have heard, Coach Polk sent out his open letter to college baseball, an 18-page piece of education to people on all sides of the game, spilling his soul on the current status of baseball. All at a personal cost of over $1800 just for the mailing costs alone.

I dig that. A lot.

Sure, it was a bit of a long read (I had to put aside my fall reading of Tolstoy's "War and Peace" in the meantime), but he says some things in there that needed to be addressed. Bear with me as I present my favorite parts that are worth quoting:

- (page 2) This letter is designed to make you fully aware of the potential damage the NCAA Board of Directors may very well inflict on our kids, our coaches and our baseball programs.
- (page 3) Did you know that college baseball at the NCAA-1 level is the second largest producer of revenue for NCAA championships behind men's basketball?
- (page 3) This is all in spite of the NCAA making it so difficult for our coaches and our kids to enjoy this experience. Now, with that sentence I have either turned you off or got your attention.
- (page 4-5) Seven points that emphasis that no other sport has to deal with:
1- college baseball has the lowest scholarship percentages to pass along to their student-athletes.
2- Baseball has fewer coaches to work with our student-athletes.
3- Baseball will soon be the only sport in the NCAA that will have a roster cap.
4- Baseball will soon be the only sport that gives out partial scholarships that is being told they must provide a minimum scholarship and how many can receive scholarships.
5- Baseball will soon be the only sport in the NCAA that gives out partial scholarships that will have a no transfer rule.
6- Baseball will soon be the only sport in the NCAA that their young men will have to be eligible one semester prior to competition.
7- Baseball will soon have more severe penalties based on their APR than any other sport.
- (page 7) Would you believe I was in the media room in Omaha at the College World Series where they were having a press conference entitled "The State of College Baseball." There was not a single baseball coach involved in this press conference.
- (page 8) If the NCAA wants our boys to attend summer school, then they are going to have to provide them with the same financial benefits that football, basketball and just about all the women sports' participants receive.
- (page 9) I wish right now for everyone reading this letter that I could offer you a cup of coffee or a soft drink, so you could take a little break from this letter that is now eight pages long.
- (page 10) Those schools that are fortunate enough to be in states that have a lottery through which every boy or girl who graduates from high school with a minimum grade point average receives free tuition at the in-state school of their choice, have an advantage. If these school recruit primarily in-state kids, they have close to double the 11.7 scholarships of those in non-lottery states. It's like the Kansas City Royals with a very small payroll having to play the New York Yankees with a very large payroll.
(editors note: Georgia and Louisiana are the only two states I know that have this free-tuition-to-high-school-grads policy. There may be more out there.)
- (page 11) Can you imagine what football or basketball 's APR would be if they had a liberal transfer rule like baseball and with the majority of their players on partial scholarships?
- (page 12) At each ABCA Convention we get a report on how much money the baseball championships bring in and what the ratings were for the ESPN broadcasts... I am just waiting one time for a high level NCAA official to present himself at our convention and say, "We are thankful for all the money you provide for us at the NCAA, how can we assist you baseball coaches to make your jobs a little easier?" I will not hold my breath for that to happen. No, all we have is more fires to put out.
- (page 13) Let me finish this letter with the punishment points that we are facing: punishment that should never have been allowed if we only stood up for our coaches, our kids and our programs. Here are the four parts of the plan that will go into effect on August 1, 2008:
1- Baseball players must now be academically certified at the start of the fall term to be eligible for the spring term. No mid-year transfers.
2- Baseball scholarships must now be at least 25% of the cost of tuition and fees, room and board and books. No more than 27 players can receive aid in a given year. Squads will be capped at 35 players.
3- Baseball players who wish to transfer to another D-1 program must be in residence one year before being allowed to play.
4- Programs with a four-year average APR under 900 will be subjected to penalties, such as reduced number of games to 50.
- (page 14... referring to rule 1 above): That will just about cancel any junior college recruiting unless the player knows in advance what he will major in from the start of his freshman campaign and knows what school he will attend at the start of his junior year of eligibility.
- (page 15... referring to rule 3 above): How can you tell a boy on one-quarter of a scholarship that he cannot transfer without sitting out a year? And yes, [this rule] happens only in baseball.
- (page 15... referring to rule 2 above): We are the only sport that has been given chump change by the NCAA and now we are being told how to spend our chump change.
- (page 17) There is absolutely no reason for a roster cap, and for sure no reason for a scholarship cap... Does anyone on the NCAA Board of Directors wish to be present when I have to inform youngsters that they are no longer welcome on our baseball team?
- (page 18) It is a true fact: for some reason college baseball has been slighted for so many years in so many ways. Our defenders became our prosecutors. They did not do it on purpose, they thought they were backed against the wall.
- (page 18) The solution is simple... let the APR run its course for baseball. There was a rush to judgment. Accept that a mistake was made.

Those are just a few of the highlights of this letter. As you might expect, it was very thorough and touched on many subjects. But of course, the new APR and academic ramifications were the bulk of the letter.

I did however find it a bit troubling that Coach Polk kept referring to baseball players as "boys" but when he mentioned football players, he referred to them as "young men." Hmmm.

Still, I freakin' love Coach Polk's style man.

Recruiting 2007.
One of the things that breaks up the college baseball off-season, and the hustle-and-bustle of my college football work, is when Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America bust out with their recruiting rankings each fall.

Just like during this past season, we see a lot of new faces near the top of the rankings. Oh sure, there's still the LSU's, Florida State's, Texas' and Cal State Fullerton's of the world. But this time, we see the not-so-traditional powers like San Diego, Oregon State, Notre Dame and UCLA.

Here's the Top 10 (CB and BA):
1- LSU...............................1- San Diego
2- Florida State..................2- LSU
3- Oregon State.................3- Oregon State
4- Notre Dame...................4- North Carolina
5- UCLA.............................5- Auburn
6- Cal State Fullerton.........6- Notre Dame
7- North Carolina...............7- UCLA
8- Arizona State.................8- Cal State Fullerton
9- San Diego......................9- Texas
10- Texas ..........................10- Arkansas

As with most recruiting services, there are also a number of curious quirks:
- Florida State's class was ranked No. 2 by CB, but unranked in the top 25 by BA. The key to their class was the transfer of Tennessee All-American candidate Tony Delmonico (SS), after his father was wrongly run-off as coach of the Vols.
- The biggest disparity for ranked teams was with Arkansas and Pepperdine. Each team's recruiting class was well-respected by BA at numbers 10 and 13 respectively, but CB put them way down at 33rd and 36th respectively.
- Notre Dame! Wow. Coach Dave Schrage is ready to put last year's awful 28-28 mark to rest quickly with a No. 4-ranked class. Five players were drafted, including Matt Scioscia, a 6'3 catcher who is the son of Angels manager Mike.
- LSU got an incredible eight players that were drafted last June to come to Tigertown. That's the most draftees I've ever heard of for one school to show up on campus. Paul Maineiri is working his magic already.
- San Diego was crowned the No. 1 class in the country by BA, as three of Rich Hill's recruits were ranked in the Top 100 of BA's draft-eligible players, led by two strapping RHP's in Kyle Blair (5th round, Dodgers) and Matt Thomson (21st round, Toronto).
- Other surprises came just outside the Top 10. Ranked at No. 11 in each was a pair of teams you don't normally see in these rankings: Washington (CB) and Missouri (BA).

One more side note here. As an example of how college baseball over-recruits, Oklahoma State shows to have a recruiting class of 18 players. In the previous two years, their classes have numbered 24 and 22 in all. That's 64 in just three years. Do they have that many uniforms there? Again, Okie State was just an example. LSU had a class of 19. Florida State, Louisville, Arkansas and Pepperdine all numbered 20. Cal State Fullerton, Oregon State and Washington pulled in 16 recruits. Now you see why transferring is so rampant in our sport.

Fall Ball.
I've noticed that teams across the country are allowing for fall games between teams this year. So one of the things I'm looking forward to the most is seeing San Diego play against Long Beach State on the weekend of October 26-28. Hopefully I'll get the chance to see some of USD's outstanding frosh class and the Beach's Jacob Thompson, a high-talent pitcher who skipped his last year of high school to become a Dirtbag early.

- Friday, October 26: San Diego at Long Beach State, 6pm
- Saturday, October 27: San Diego at Long Beach State, 1pm
- Sunday, October 28: Long Beach State at San Diego, 1pm

While Covering The Pigskin.
- Nebraska.
Got to see a little bit of Nebraska's inter-squad scrimmage on the afternoon of the USC-Nebraska game. Love that stadium at Haymarket Park. What a great place to watch a game. And for what its worth, Frosh 2B Andy Cotton and OF D.J. Belfonte were a pair of wicked sticks, slapping opposite field doubles and running the bases with significant speed.

(Haymarket Park as it looked during the NU scrimmage on the same day as the USC-Nebraska football game.)

- Tulane.
While in Louisiana last weekend, I was able to make it by to see how Tulane's Turchin Stadium is recovering from Hurricane Katrina. By the looks of things, pretty damn well. Check out this picture I took on the Sunday after the LSU-Florida game:


As you see, this place is sweet. I wish I could say the same about some of the Katrina damaged areas we saw throughout the New Orleans/Chalmette area. That was a shocking/depressing thing to see. Way to go politicians.

Only drawback to the new Turchin? As I usually complain about with stadiums in this part of the country: Where is all the shade? How could they build a multi-million dollar stadium in the deep South that has so little over-hang? This place will be brutal in May and June and could use more shady seats.

Stadium Fever.
Well, actually stadium fever is gripping the Big 10 more than any other conference in college baseball. After checking in with Brian DeCaussin's BigTenHardball site shows that not only did Penn State put up a new stadium last season (and WHAT a stadium too!), but also, these teams are currently lining up improvements or altogether new digs in the near future:

- Michigan's Ray Fisher Stadium
This one looks like it will be a monster in the making and it was really, really necessary. Especially for a team that nearly made it to Omaha. Here's the live webcam site:
- Illinois
The Illini could soon be sharing a home field with an Independent League team, which would probably mean a significant amount of improvements to Illinois Field:
In the meantime, they've also just started to install Field Turf as a field upgrade:
- Minnesota.
I was really, really glad to hear that The U's Siebert Field is scheduled for a 3,000-seat makeover. It needed it. The money will have to be raised, but at least it's on the docket for one of the school's most successful athletic programs.
- Indiana.
This glorified high school field really needs it.

Schedule Fever:
Many more schools have gone ahead and added their 2008 baseball schedules to their websites, so here are a few quick comments on some of them:

- Texas A&M
Despite the season squeeze, the Domino's Pizza Classic is still intact with Arkansas, Ohio State and Louisiana Tech coming to Olsen Field. Only 17 road games the whole season.
Jim Schlossnagle is upgrading everything in Ft. Worth, including the slate. Open with Fullerton, tournament at Minnesota, vs. Ole Miss and at Wichita State. Nice job. The Frogs also will host the Mountain West tourney.
- Rice
Coach Graham never disappoints as the Owls open at Long Beach (Hmmm. Guess I know where I'll be). Good to see the Minute Maid Classic is still around with Texas, OU and Tennessee involved.
- UC Riverside
Doug Smith wants his guys to be part of the Polar Bear Club, playing at Nebraska on February 29th and at Nevada the following week. Big West slate starts with Fullerton, Long Beach and UCI back-to-back-to-back.
- San Diego
Coach Hill's surfing addiction means his team will play at Hawaii-Hilo and Hawaii in March. Plus, USD will play homies against Missouri, Oklahoma State and Oregon State (at Petco Park).
- North Carolina
The runner's up play their home games in Cary this year as the Bosh goes under the knife. But 10 of their first 12 games are roadies, including at Florida Atlantic and at Winthrop. But once again, I was hoping for a tougher slate. But no dice.
- Vanderbilt
Love the start out at the Arizona State Tournament which starts with back-to-back games with Oregon State and the Sun Devils. Other than that, the slate isn't resounding, though a mid-weeker vs. Louisville is interesting.

- The 4-Year Transfers Rankings.
Oklahoma State wins the transfer wars once again.
A year after getting Matt Mangini to transfer from North Carolina State to Stillwater, the Pokes were able to lure Washington stud 3B Matt Hague (.353-13-49) and former Frosh All American two-way star Luis Flores from Houston (.263-9-23/1-1, 6.10 but injury-filled '07 season).

Best of the rest:
2- Arizona State
Jason Franzblau, P from Winthrop (8-4, 3.13)
Jason Kipnis, OF from Kentucky (.337-6-27)
3- Tulane.
Josh Prince, infielder from Texas (.371 in 26 starts)
Matt Petiton, P from North Carolina (Louisville Slugger high school All American)
Josh Zied, P from Vanderbilt (the No. 27-rated prospect in high school in '05)
4- Southern California.
Billy Pinkerton, infielder from Fullerton (.239)
Michael Roskopf, OF from N.C. State (.316-13-42)
Daniel Cooper, P, from Rice (4.32ERA in six appearances in '06)
5- Texas.
David Hernandez, SS from Fresno State (.250)
Casey Whitmer, P from Florida State (former 35th round draft pick)
Marcus Tackett, P from Oral Roberts (3-2, 4.56)

And finally, I have no real reason to do this, but here's a picture of Gina Gershon, because she's so freakin' cool.

(Hi Gina.)

Okay, until next time. See you guys again soon.



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