Thursday Thoughts: The What-You-Didn't-Get-To-Go-To-A-College-Baseball-Game-Recently? Edition

I know this is blasphemy in the Western and Southern parts of the country and in the South in particular, but I'm sorry folks, I find MANY upsides to this whole condensing of the baseball season thing. One big advantage is the fact that a select few teams have decided to sacrifice three of their 56 games in the spring to make a little fall baseball a reality.

Believe me, that's just the tonic for a college baseball freak like me who is over-whelmed by fall college football hogging the headlines. I don't mind college football, of course, but baseball is so much cooler. Besides, at least baseball knows how to decide a national championship.

AndrewLeibl.jpg
(Because of the pushed back start date, I was able to see Long Beach State's Andrew Liebel throw heat here in November)

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Long Beach State = Best team I've seen this year---

Yes, I said it.

Okay, so Long Beach State is the only winning team I've seen so far. The Dirtbags just got done sweeping San Diego in a three-game fall exhibition series last week, 7-2, 5-2 and 6-2. The first two games were played at Blair Field in Long Beach and game three was played down at Cunningham Field last Sunday.

I made it out to the Friday night game where, surprisingly, there was a decent crowd in attendance. I expected nothing more than family and girlfriends, but there were a good bit of pro scouts and a gaggle of interested fans as well.

From the Friday game:
San Diego - 001 000 010 - 2 8 2
Long Beach - 001 200 22x - 7 11 0

Couple of notes:
- LB starter Andrew Liebel was mid-season impressive, going 5.0 innings, surrendering five hits, one run, three strikeouts and zero walks. He also looked like he was throwing freakin' fire! The scouts behind home plate said he was throwing low 90s, but it sure looked harder than that.
- Liebel is coming off of a 9-3, 2.84 season and should garner lots of pre-season attention, especially after what I saw tonight.
- USD starter Ricardo Pecina didn't look too bad either, going 4.0 innings and giving up five hits and three runs. But he also struck out six along the way. Pecina went 5-4, 3.86 and was a mid-week starter last season. Kind of wanting to see stud ace (is that redundant?) Brian Matusz, but I guess I'll see enough of him in the spring.
- Long Beach leaders Shane Peterson (1B) and Danny Espinosa (SS) had quiet nights, going a combined 1-for-8.
- The Friday night game was played in very cool (upper 50s), damp, foggy conditions. The balls weren't traveling at all, nothing close to anything hit even to the warning track.
- You can tell it was an exhibition as USD batted 10 men, using two DH's (obviously) and there were two different umpires that manned home plate during the game.
- No damn concessions?! C'mon.
As most of you know, I am very biased toward the concessions at Blair Field because it's one of the few remaining places in the country that serve beer at their games. But there wasn't anything on this night. Not even a single light on behind the counters. I wasn't ready for that.

- Players To Keep An Eye On---
USD:
3B, Victor Sanchez.
Baseball America said he'd take over third base and hit in the middle of the order for three years for the Toreros. Guess what? I believe it man. This guy didn't have any hits at the dish (making good contact), but made two unreal bare-handed plays off of Dirtbag bunts to throw out runners at first. He also fielded two other groundouts cleanly. He's a stud.

VictorSanchez.jpg
(Frosh 3B Victor Sanchez was a blur on the field for USD)


Long Beach:
DH Rylan Sandoval.
Last year's California J.C. player of the year had a great showdown in the 7th inning when he came in as a pinch hitter and faced off with USD's highly touted frosh Nick Ousman. On the very first pitch Sandoval ripped a screaming RBI single to left. Then, in Sunday's third game, he followed that up with a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning.

RylanSandoval.jpg
(Expect big things from Rylan Sandoval in '08)

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The best coach-journalist conversation ever?---

While the teams were warming up for this fall series game, the p.a. at Blair Field was uncharacteristically playing entirely country music for a half-hour solid. So when I went by the USD dugout, I leaned over the railing and said to USD head coach Rich Hill, who I know as a long-time rock-n-roll fan, "Did you request this music Coach?"

He turned around and laughed and said, "Heyyyyyy. No I didn't, man."

Then, a Long Beach assistant came over to talk some lineup changes to him, but he told the Dirtbag assistant to hold on. "Hang on Eric, I was thinking about you the other day."

"Huh?"

"Yeah. I bought my son Guitar Hero III a couple months ago. And he's gotten real good at it. But do you know what his favorite song to play is?... 'Los Angeles' by X"

I said, "No way! What a great song. You know what coach, I think you're doing a great job raising your son." That got a few good laughs. Though I don't know if the Long Beach assistant understood our conversation.


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Is it time to change my picks for Omaha?---

To review, here were my post-'07-CWS picks for the '08 CWS:
- Arizona State
- Missouri
- Texas
- UCLA
- Ohio State
- South Carolina
- Virginia
- San Diego

Now, after the three-game sweep of the Toreros, is it time to consider Long Beach? Well, I don't know if you can judge the Beach on a three-game fall series, but it did bring to mind that with Liebel, Vance Worley and Manny McElroy back as the three weekend starters (all three hindered off-and-on by injuries in '07), and the addition of relief ace Bryan Shaw`(6-2, 2.39), and Team USA member Danny Espinosa primed to become the next high-draftee infielder, we could have Dirtbag sightings in The O again.

I'd also like to give Michigan a much longer look at this thing too. They return nearly everyone of note - including Zach Putnam, who nearly no-hit Oregon State in the Supers - and should control the Big 10 baring a massive faceplant. The new improvements to Fisher Stadium are being completed as well, so a home stadium advantage in the post-season is within reach. The Big 10 as a whole will be massively improved this year as well - as much as the national media wants to ignore them.

Ohio State, I still like what you guys have coming back, but your trip to Omaha is on pink-slip notice if Michigan lives up to billing. Same goes for San Diego if another west coast team like the Beach rises up. 'Coz you know that western funnel factor the NCAA committee likes to put into effect.

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Alternatives to Omaha?... C'mon---

According to the Omaha World Herald, if Omaha's head honchos drop the ball on that whole stadium issue and don't placate the NCAA (you know because they're holding the city hostage like pro teams do when they want a new stadium), cities like Orlando, Oklahoma City and Indianapolis are ready to jump on the opportunity to be the new host. That's unfathomable, I know.

So lets grab our bats and beat on the down side to each city:

- Orlando.
Have you ever been to Florida in mid-June? The average high is 93 degrees (that's just the average, mind you) and the humidity is usually 70% or higher. Plus, you don't want to spend your College World Series week dodging tourists wearing Mickey Mouse ears everywhere you go. The biggest bugaboo? The crush for hotel rooms won't be pleasant.

- Oklahoma City.
First off, they sure as hell can't hold the thing in Bricktown Ballpark, because its paltry 12,000 seat stadium doesn't hold a candle to the 'Blatt's 24,000+ stage. And isn't OKC known as the "Softball Capital of the World" with the women's CWS staged there already? Sorry, we can't have our beloved game take a backseat to the girls. We've already been forced to put the word "Men's" in the name of the event.

-Indianapolis.
Look, Indy is already known as a den of thieves, having stolen the NCAA headquarters from Shawnee Mission, Kansas and the NFL Colts from Baltimore. So you know it's a soulless place. Plus, this city already hosts enough NCAA championships, including the Final Four seemingly every other year. Besides, mid-Indiana is no college baseball hotbed. There's no passion for the game there. So good luck with your 7,000 average attendance.

BricktownPark.jpg
(Unless Oklahoma or Okie State are in the CWS, this would probably be the size of the crowds at Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City if the June Classic was played there.)

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Revisiting schools that need to bring back baseball---

In light of Oregon's return to college baseball, I thought I'd go back and check out an article I wrote a couple of years ago about the schools that really should bring back our beloved sport. Ironically, Oregon was at the top of my list. Here's how it looked when I wrote the column in 2005:

1- Oregon
The Pac 10 reunited their north and south divisions back in 1997, and that has been a boon to the three northwest schools, Oregon State in particular. But Oregon, having dropped baseball in 1981, would seem like a logical addition. Let’s face it, nobody gets more corporate money than this athletic department from famous alum Phil Knight and his Nike empire (Did you SEE the picture of the football locker room in Sports Illustrated? Good God that’s posh!). Surely he can slip a few million into baseball too. And considering what we’ve seen from football, can you imagine how imaginative the baseball uniforms would look? On the practical side Oregon State needs a travel partner anyway.

2- Tulsa
Let’s face it, Tulsa is located in one of the hotbeds of college baseball. It dropped the sport in 1980, just before Oklahoma State built up it’s winning patterns and before the emergence of nearby Arkansas, Missouri State and Oral Roberts. So interest in college baseball is at an all-time high in the area. But it’s not like the Golden Hurricane don’t already have some tradition in the sport. They participated in the College World Series in 1969 and even have a CWS MVP in former first baseman Jerry Tabb.

3- Providence
It was a little surprising that the Friars Athletic Department dropped the sport in 1999, for two reasons. One, there is no football program siphoning most of the athletic budget and posing a gender equity problem. And two, Providence had six straight winning seasons prior to having the plug pulled. Plus the way the Friars closed out the ’99 season in nearly fairy tale fashion, showed that the team was competitive. The Friars entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 4 seed in the Tallahassee Regional after winning the Big East. And after eliminating The Citadel and Jacksonville, they finally succumbed in the championship round to the host Seminoles. But only after getting a standing ovation from the FSU faithful and victory lap around the field. C’mon guys, that only leaves us all wanting to see what this program was going to do next.

4- UTEP
Talk about good geography, good climate and good recruiting base, the Miners have it all. But administrators dropped the program back in 1985 and there are no signs of returning. It would also help alleviate some of the non-conference scheduling problems that teams like Texas Tech and New Mexico State have on a yearly basis. And you know there are some good little league and high school baseball teams out El Paso way. Because wasn’t that a band of El Paso youngsters that drummed the Bad News Bears so badly in the “Breaking Training” Bears movie as they were traveling toward the Astrodome?

5- Colorado
When CU dropped baseball in 1980, the athletic department was a complete mess with the perennially losing football team being one of the main problems. Since then the football team has won a national title and a number of conference titles and is a consistent money maker that has turned the athletic budget around. Colorado State and Wyoming dropped baseball in the 90s, leaving the front range of the Rockies with only has one remaining D1 baseball program, at Air Force. So a return would be helpful to the region. There has been some rumblings of reviving the program, but nothing in cement as of yet. But it would make sense for another reason - could you imagine how nice of a baseball stadium they could build with the mountains as a backdrop?

6- SMU
With the amount of high school talent that abounds in the Dallas area, it’s amazing to think that there is no Division I baseball program in a city of its size. Houston, Boston, Chicago and Atlanta have two or three at least. With nearby Texas-Arlington and TCU, the Mustangs would have good natural geographic rivals. And Dallas would be a natural stop for northern teams wanting to come down and play some pre-conference games in February and March. Whether it’s arena football or minor league baseball, its noteworthy that people in the north Texas area will support a winner. So you can come back SMU. Just make sure you win.


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A "college" World Series---

I was happy to point out to anyone who would listen that this year's Play-for-pay World Series was chock-full of ex-college stars. In the starting lineups of the Red Sox and Rockies, here were some of the notables:
Red Sox:
- Mike Lowell, Florida International
- J. D. Drew, Florida State
- Dustin Pedroia, Arizona State
- Jacoby Ellesbury, Oregon State
- Jason Varitek, Georgia Tech
Rockies:
- Brad Hawpe, LSU
- Garrett Adkins, UCLA
- Ryan Spilborghs, UC Santa Barbara
- Todd Helton, Tennessee
- Troy Tulowitzki, Long Beach State

And those are just the starters, there are also a handful more on the depth chart and in the pitching staffs of each team. Still, a good showcase for the college player on baseball's biggest stage.


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Recruiting Schmecruiting---

I've always taken these recruiting and prospect rankings with a sizable grain of salt. You have to, because there is no greater inexact science in the sporting world. As another example, take a look at LSU's No. 5-ranked class from 2005:
- OF Jared Bogany.
Frosh All American at LSU, now a part-time starter at Arizona State.
- C Robert Lara.
Started 32 games for LSU in '07, hitting just .200. Transfered to Central Florida this summer.
- P Louis Coleman.
Went 2-3, 5.59 with 4 saves in '07. Still on the roster for '08.
- INF Jason Ogata.
Transfered to Oregon State prior to '07 season. Won a national title with the Beavers.
- P Derik Olvey.
Transfered to LSU from Notre Dame when Paul Maineiri was the Irish coach. Transferred from LSU to Arizona State when Paul Maineiri became the Tiger coach.
- UT J.T. Wise.
Hit just .234 in '07 after going .299-11-40 in '06. Transferred to Oklahoma over the summer.
- P Andrew York.
Transferred to Troy.
- 1B Steven Waguespack.
Started 29 games in '07, hitting just .192. Led LSU with a .321 average in '06. Eligibility completed.
- P Jonathan Wilhite.
Pitched one inning in '07. Eligibility completed.
- P Phil Lawhorn.
Never showed up at LSU. Set the single season saves record at Univ. of West Florida with 14 this past spring.
- P Darryl Shaffer.
Pitched 6.2 innings in '07. Still on the roster for '08.


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Recruiting part II---

If I'm doing my math correctly, which is always taken into question (sorry, I went to a state school), then this year should be a big year for the SEC with the unprecedented class of 2005 now becoming juniors. Those same 2005 ratings by Collegiate Baseball showed seven of the Top 12 schools were from the behemoth conference. Here was the Top 12 for 2005 in full:
1- South Carolina
SS Reese Havens, 1B Justin Smoak, P Mike Cisco, OF James Darnell
2- Arizona State
P-OF Ike Davis, P Jeff Urlaub, C Petey Paramore, 1B Brett Wallace
3- Texas
OF Jordan Danks, 1B Bradley Suttle, OF Kyle Russell, P Austin Wood
4- Vanderbilt
3B Pedro Alvarez, P Brent Jacobson, SS Ryan Flaherty, OF Nick Christiani
5- LSU
See above
6- Tennessee
SS Tony Delmonico - now at Florida State, P Josh Lindblom
7- Arizona
P Preston Guilmet, OF John Gaston
8- Mississippi
P Cody Satterwhite, P Lance Lynn
9- UCLA
P Tim Murphy, C Ryan Babineau, SS Brandon Crawford, 3B Jermaine Curtis
10- Florida
P Mark McClure, P Chase Spottswood
11- Stanford
P Jeremy Bleich, 1B Jason Castro, 3B Austin Yount
12- Alabama
P Miers Quigley, C Alex Avila, P Austin Hyatt

Notice another quirk about this Top 12 recruiting list? How about the fact that three of the SEC head coaches that signed these classes have already been run off by their administrations. And a fourth, Alabama, nearly had a head coach (Jim Wells) that retired last summer, but then came back after changing his mind. Just like in football, the SEC baseball coaching carousel is becoming soap operatic.

Let's see how these teams do this coming spring.


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How NOT to interview a coach---
During the Cal-Arizona State football game a couple weeks ago, I was excited to see that ASU baseball coach Pat Murphy was a sideline guest of Fox Sports reporter Lindsay Soto for a sideline interview. But when I got home to watch the TiVo of the game, I couldn't believe how weak that interview was. Apparently, Lindsay just likes to hear herself speak. Here's the word-for-word of the convo:

Announcer:
Let's check in on the sidelines with Lindsay Soto

Lindsay Soto:
I'm here with an interested observer, Pat Murphy, who is the head coach of the Pac 10 champion ASU Sun Devil baseball team. He's watching a few of his guys on the football team who will be playing for him in a couple of months: Mike Jones and Kyle Williams. What's it like to watch these guys play such a dangerous sport, are you a little worried?

Pat Murphy:
Well I love the sport, but I get a little scared when I watch them catch a ball, but they know what they're doing, they love it, so I think they'll stay healthy.

Lindsay Soto:
Coach (Dennis) Erickson says that you guys have a good relationship when it comes to sharing players. You sent a lot of guys to the Major Leagues, 88 players that the Sun Devils have sent to the Majors, more than any other school. And Dustin Pedroia is the big story right now. How excited are people here in Tempe about his run in the World Series?

Pat Murphy:
I tell ya', just watching him play here for three years is a privilege. And being his coach was a privilege. And these fans appreciate what he's like. He's just a ballplayer - a good old fashioned player. He could've played in any era. You know, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s. He could play in any on them. He's just a great credit to our University.

Lindsay Soto:
The first rookie ever to lead off the World Series with a home run and I tell you what, Pat Murphy is not just the coach of this baseball team, he is also a major contributor. He donated a hundred thousand dollars of his own money to make sure the sports medicine facility was built here on campus, in honor of Pat and Kevin Tillman, the latter of which is here as his guest today. Coach, thanks a lot. Guys, back up to you.

That's it. She said three times more words than Coach Murphy did. Not a single question about his upcoming team. Nothing about possibly being a pre-season No. 1. Not even anything about how wide receiver Mike Jones hit .316 last spring and runs down just about everything hit beyond the infield dirt. In the words of the fat comic book store owner on the Simpsons, worst... interview... ever.

Soto-Murphy.jpg
(Soto talking. Murph waiting.)


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Schedule fever hits the mother-lode---

Cynthia Mills and her silent partner never cease to amaze me. They are the ones behind that oft-used and never-given-enough-credit-for website "www.ncaa-baseball.com". Well in case you guys were wanting to start your spring travel planning early, they've just recently posted schedules for all 280+ Division I college baseball teams on their site.

Of course, not all the schedules are absolutely complete - a lot of the northern teams have yet to post the full slates and I'm pretty sure Jackson State plays more than just seven games this year - but most of them are there. And of course, the site offers links to every teams' and every conferences' website. So check it out when you can. Again, I use this free site like it's a drug everytime I tap on the keyboard.


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As a final note, why didn't the grand jury indict Barry Bonds BEFORE this past season? Didn't they have the exact same evidence? Thus, it might've saved the most hallowed record in sports. Thanks a lot guys.

But again, steroids is a baseball problem, not just a Barry Bonds problem.

G'night.

Comments

You don't think Vanderbilt will make it to the CWS? Looks to me like they're loaded with talent.

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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