February 29, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - Historically Black Colleges Take Center Stage In College Baseball

JermaineCurtis.jpg
(UCLA All American 3B Jermaine Curtis is one of a small percentage of minorities in college baseball)

Let's start with one truism: Advertising works.

As much as we don't want to admit it. It does.

In the fall of 2006, Dale Matthews, who worked at the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, saw a billboard along a Los Angeles freeway advertising a football game between two historically black schools, Alcorn State and Morehouse College, who had moved their game to the Coliseum. That sparked an idea he shared with Urban Youth Director Darrell Miller, why not do the same with baseball?

Matthews and Miller went to work on getting this idea off the ground immediately.

Fast forward to this weekend, and well, here we go. Southern and Bethune-Cookman, the two most consistent programs from the SWAC and MEAC, will come to L.A. to take on SoCal denizens USC and UCLA in a weekend of college baseball action at UCLA and USC on Friday and at the Urban Youth Academy grounds in Compton. The better news about it is that there are plans to have this tournament held every year with the same format of historically black schools and local Angeleno teams.

Miller, the brother of famous roundballers Cheryl and Reggie, said it was important to get this idea off the ground for the good of college baseball. "If we want to get inner city kids involved in baseball we have to get them into college first. Since nearly 80% of the guys drafted are college baseball players. Our idea was to let them see the energy and enthusiasm of college baseball first hand."

At last check, Miller said that only 8% of college baseball players are minorities. And he knows first hand from his days of playing at Cal Poly Pomona under the legendary John Scolinos. "College baseball has a rich history with minorities. I mean, Jackie Robinson played college baseball. But the thing I like is that the sport is still very, very pure. It's maintained its integrity. Once you go to college, you have to stay for three years. By that time, most guys are well on their way to getting a degree. It's not like basketball where you can leave after one or two years. So that's an important thing to tell the inner city kids about the sport."

But Miller and Mathews' brainchild of the upcoming Urban Invitational took an even bigger turn when the Southern and USC marching bands decided to get involved in the festivities. Once getting a whiff of this, ESPN began to see that this weekend was going to be more than just college baseball. Now, the network has decided to televise both of Saturday's games between UCLA and Bethune-Cookman and USC and Southern. And the Battle of the Bands will take place between the nine-inning contests.

To see historically black colleges and universities on the air has mostly been a rare thing. In 2006, ESPNU televised North Carolina A&T-Bethune-Cookman and also the Jackson State-Alcorn State games in regular season contests in early April. Other than that, nothing before and nothing since. So this will be as big of a weekend for minorities in the sport of college baseball as any in history.

"ESPN saw that this was more than just baseball. With the bands involved and this being Black History Month, they agreed to give six hours of programming for historically black college baseball." Miller continued. "For that to be on a national network - you can't beat that kind of exposure."

Exposure that has been long, long overdue.

The Urban Invitational Baseball Tournament schedule:

Friday:
Southern at UCLA, Jackie Robinson Stadium
Bethune-Cookman at USC, Dedeaux Field.

Saturday:
Bethune-Cookman vs. UCLA, Urban Academy, Compton. (ESPN2)
Southern vs. USC, Urban Academy, Compton. (ESPN2)

Sunday:
Bethune-Cookman vs. Southern, Urban Academy, Compton.
UCLA at USC, Dedeaux Field


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CRANK UP THE CSTV LEAR JET, HERE'S WHERE I'D LIKE TO GO---
The top series/tournament sites of the weekend. Thankfully, I have been approved for full use of the company jet this weekend. (In your face, Kroll!)

1- The Urban Invitational, Compton.
(Bethune-Cookman, Southern, UCLA, USC)
As I mentioned in my "64 Things" column, easily the coolest tournament of the season. It's not often - if ever - that two historically black schools venture out West. So this will be a real treat to see the two best programs in the MEAC and SWAC take on the cross-town rivals. And the Southern band will be there? Fuggedaboutit! Save me a seat man.

2- The Houston College Classic.
(Rice, Houston, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Tennessee)
Anytime you get six college teams to play in a pro ballpark, it's great for the game. This year's tournament had to be moved to this weekend, obviously, because of the new start date. But the good news is, maybe that means it won't be a constant 45 degrees inside the heat-less stadium, like it usually is. Set your TiVos, Saturday's Texas-Rice game is going to be telecast by Fox Sports Houston.
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(Minute Maid Park will host another great field of college teams this weekend)

3- The USD Invitational
(USD, San Diego State, Cal, Fresno State, Missouri, Cal Poly)
Great field for this weekend. The Toreros built back some confidence with a mid-week win over Long Beach State, but will need to prove themselves against Cal Poly, Fresno State, Missouri and Cal, four regional-worthy teams. Keep an eye on Cal Poly as well, that double-header blitzing at Alabama was pretty impressive. Especially after opening with a 10-1 loss the day before.

4- Coca-Cola Classic, Surprise
(Arizona State, Michigan, Hawaii, Portland)
Okay Wolverines. Here's your Red Dawn. Time to build some serious brownie points on the national scene. Oh and everybody look quick, this will be ASU's only "road" games until a trip to Stanford on April 4th.

5- Wichita State at Long Beach State
While the Beach may have already started building their callous for toughness in the series win over Rice, the Shocks were having a tough time with Fordham and beating a pair of Division II teams.

6- Clemson at/vs. South Carolina
Again, this should be a three-gamer, but us rabid college baseball fans will take what we can in this case. Clemson's pitchers throw freakin' fire out there on the mound, they'll have to be careful that the bats of Smoak, Havens, Disher and the like don't measure them up early.

7- Georgia vs. Oregon State, in Portland
This is redemption weekend for one of these teams. Both finished last weekend with a 1-2 mark against some of the best teams in the country. The SEC doesn't normally venture out past the Mississippi River, but UGa could make a good showing here. Like most people I'm keeping a keen eye on Josh Fields again.

8- The Domino's Classic, College Station, Texas.
(Texas A&M, Arkansas, Louisiana Tech, Ohio State)
This weekend just became a lot more interesting with the fact that underdogs LaTech and OSU both have played pretty well so far and the Hogs and Ags have shown early vulnerability at times, especially A&M's two losses to Northern Colorado.

9- Dairy Queen Classic, Minneapolis
(Minnesota, Pepperdine, TCU, Tulane)
Another great field in the Baggie Dome. The host Gophers have the most to prove after getting knocked silly in Oxford last weekend.

10- Cal State Fullerton (3-1) at Stanford (3-2).
This one used to be a pre-cursor to Omaha, but both are in rebuilding mode. Though their standards of rebuilding are still very high. The Titans have lost six straight in Palo Alto, but will counter with the player that has their fans abuzz, Erik Komatsu, who already has a double, triple and two dingers in four games.


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BEST OFF-THE-RADAR MID-WEEK WIN---
Kent State - 4
St. John's - 9
The Johnnies improved to 5-0, their best start since 1992's 5-0 start. On Thursday they beat the expected MAC bullies with the help of Carlos Del Rosarios two-run blast in the first inning. But the road gets tougher with games against Winthrop and North Carolina awaiting this weekend in the Coca-Cola Classic.


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BEST PITCHING MATCHUP OF THE WEEKEND---
Pepperdine's Brett Hunter vs. Tulane's Shooter Hunt.
This Friday matchup should be a beauty. Both firebrands hit mid-90s on their fastballs. Hunter relies heavily on his wicked slider and gave up just four hits in 6.0 innings against Wake Forest last Saturday. Hunt has a devastating curve which the Waves will have to try to figure out. He also went 6.0 innings last week, giving up just three hits in a win over Horizon favorite Illinois-Chicago.


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YARD CALL FEVER---
Is it just me, or have you noticed that in just six days of the 2008 season, we are already seeing a huge amount of home runs and high-RBI games around college baseball? Here's a quick sampling...

- Dustin Ackley, North Carolina
Three dingers. Seven ribbies and at least three hits in all three games vs. FAU. Ackley is smacking the ball with a .522 average so far. He no man. Him a monstuh!
- Seth Williams, North Carolina
After an "off" year last year, the strapping outfielder is back, smashing three home runs at Florida Atlantic last weekend.
- Curt Smith, Maine.
The former Frosh All American went 6-for-8 with two home runs and four RBI in a DH sweep of Delaware State.
- Hank Coogan and Evan Stehle, Richmond.
Both players feasted on first-game pitching by hitting grand slams in their season-opening 23-16 win over UNC-Wilmington.
- Tyrone Hambly, Oklahoma State.
Perhaps one of my favorite players in college baseball due to his Australian roots (he's from Adelaide). Hambly worked the Midnight Oil, going 6-for-12 with two homers in the sweep of Gonzaga.
- Danny Espinosa, Long Beach State
Getting the game-winning single on Friday and a home run and double on Saturday against Rice pitching is like going 8-for-10 with four home runs against anybody else.
- Garett Green, San Diego State.
In the Aztecs' stunning 2-to-1 series win over San Diego last weekend, Green went 8-for-13 with two yard calls, along with a double and a triple. Strong work.
- Kyle Suire, Louisiana-Monroe.
The WarHawks (or Redhawks or whatever conjured-up nickname they are now) are off to a hot start thanks to Suire, who went 10-for-16 with two home runs and seven RBI in a sweep of Nicholls State.
- Albie Goulder, Louisiana Tech.
Also hit two bombs this past weekend as part of a 5-for-9 weekend sweep of McNeese State. Goulder then went 3-for-7 with four RBI and another home run in a DH sweep of UT-Arlington.
- Allen Dykstra, Wake Forest
The Deacon slugger went 5-for-10 at Pepperdine, but all were singles. Then he slammed two home runs in the mid-week loss to Appalachian State. Wait... did they really lose to Appy?
Dykstra.jpg
(Wake's Allen Dykstra has a lot to be happy about so far this season)


- Victor Sanchez, San Diego
Like Dykstra, the Freshman phenom went off in the mid-week, slapping a pair of home runs at normally homer-less Blair Field vs. Long Beach State.
- Brett Wallace and Jason Kipnis, Arizona State
Both lumberjacks were launching bombs against good pitching last weekend. Wallace hit four-run and three-run homers vs. Vanderbilt. Kipnis then added two more bombs in Thursday's 15-4 whitewashing of Michigan, one of which was a grand slam over the green montster in center field. Almost unfair people.

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THE NATIONAL TRIPLES LEADER?---
I've been looking, but I can't find another player in the country that has already hit a pair of triples like St. Bonaventure Freshman Brad Steinbach. Even more impressive, he hit the two trips in his first career game, an 8-7 win over Long Island.


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THE NATIONAL STEALS OF HOME LEADER?---
Missouri State's Ben Woodbury.
Woodbury was named Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week after going 10-for-14 in a 3-0 weekend for the Bears. But my favorite part of his weekend? His two stolen bases, including one steal of home plate against Arkansas-Little Rock. How very Jackie Robinsonesque my man.


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HE'S NO BEAR BRYANT---
I've made the statement that the CAA is going to be the big mid-major conference to watch this season. But the one team I labeled as a "darkhorse" was William & Mary. And now the Tribe is off to a 6-0 start after mid-week wins over Richmond (12-3) and Coppin State (10-1). Considering their four weekend wins were over St. Joseph's, it's not too surprising W&M is 6-0. But what is surprising is the not-so-coachlike speak of head man Frank Leoni:

"We are playing very good, unselfish baseball right now. I'm very happy with our play defensively and pitching. Thus far, both have been very good."

Wow. Usually, if a team is doing well early on in the season, a coach is quick to point out how early in the season it is and that they still have a long way to go. Dare I say, refreshing.


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EVERYONE BURNS THE BISCUITS ONCE IN A WHILE---
I've got a mea culpa:
- Superfan William Gessler pointed out to me that in my preview of the Big South Conference I had written that Winthrop had only been to two NCAA tournament appearances in the last 11 years. I even wrote that "it seems like they've been there more times than that." Sure enough, it had. The Eagles have been to the Big Dance FOUR times in that span.

As I told Bill, after writing something like 270+ preview capsules for Division I teams, I think it's inevitable that I was going to burn the biscuits on a stat or two. Bill gave me props though, so no biggie.


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I'M DOING LIKE BRIAN DOYLE MURRAY IN CADDYSHACK, WATCHING WITH INTEREST AS THE BALL RESTS ON THE CUSP---
These teams are worthy of keeping an eye on while the hoopla goes on elsewhere:

- Louisiana Tech (6-0).
Jericho Jones may officially be back, already 2-0 on the hump and hitting .478-3-9. Look out Arkansas and Texas A&M, this team could put anchovies on your Domino's Classic.
- Santa Clara (4-0).
Beating Kansas State by a 9-2 count on Sunday was a pretty impressive feat. Now comes Bay Area rival San Jose State. So far the pitching staff has recorded 45Ks and just 8BBs. Plus Evan LeBlanc (.588-1-7) and C Tommy Medica (.421) are wielding hot sticks.
- New Mexico (5-0)
Beating Eastern Michigan in four straight? No prob. But then the Lobos also took down Texas Tech, 7-3 in mid-week. The Ray Birmingham era is off to a good start. A trip to Texas State is next.
- Alabama State (2-0)
The Hornets won just 12 games last year and had a team ERA of 8.48. But they beat Western Illinois by scores of 4-3 and 6-5. I know WIU isn't exactly the bees knees here, but the Leathernecks did win 31 games last year. Nice wins ASU.
- Appalachian State (3-2).
They've already beaten N.C. State and Wake Forest in the past week. Almost as tantamount to winning a pigskin battle in the big house. The slate is pretty easy until a trip to Auburn on March 11th.


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(There were many open seats... no, sections at the Clipper game Wednesday night)
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OKAY NBA, I TRIED---
On Wednesday, I got the chance to go to an L.A. Clipper-Portland game at the Staples Center. And on top of that, it was in one of those corporate suites that was supplied by some clients of ours. Not gonna argue that!

Well, that was until we got there and realized how Bor-Ring Clipper games are. Look, I know baseball is not exactly a Samoan War Match on the excitement scale, but damn! This was a sterile environment housing bad basketball. For example, the halftime score was Portland 42-29. That's what you get with the Clippers' point-a-minute offense.

So here are five quick observations about my first NBA game:
1- Parking.
I had a choice, for $20 I could park in the big lot across the street from the stadium. No prob. Or, for just $5 a couple blocks away, I could follow two guys wearing hoodies and over-sized jeans down a dark alley that led to a small lot that fit 10 cars, one of which was a car sitting on cement blocks that looked like it hadn't moved since the L.A. riots of '92. Hmmm, decisions.

2- "Hey man, you need tickets? You got tickets? Wanna sell your tickets?"
Even though I parked right across the street, I was still approached three different times by shady characters wondering if I had tickets or needed tickets. Got a question here, do these ne'er-do-wells REALLY make money scalping tickets to a Clippers game? How much can they make? Honestly... oops, poor choice of words there.

3- Showtime!... okay, not really.
The lights went down, the spotlights went up and the Clipper starters were announced alongside a loud rendition of hip-hop music with the cheerleaders prancing around goading the audience to clap along with them. It was high-energy stuff man. That is, until the house lights were turned back on, which showed the Staples Center to be three-quarters empty and most of the people not really paying attention. (I fully expected to see cockroaches scatter instead)

4- DJ Dense.
Yes, I'm not making this up. This was the name of the dude that was playing dance and rap records and scratching the vinyl during pre-game and time outs. Yawn.

5- Halftime hoops.
With the score at a pathetic 42-29, the biggest excitement of the game was probably the halftime exhibition game between two teams made up of 8-to-10 year old kids. Fans in the stands were going wild as both teams had sharpshooters that were sinking three-pointers out there. Yes, 10-year olds hitting more outside shots than the Clippers.

The game ended up with Portland winning 82-80, despite missing four free throws in the final 20 seconds. Also, the two teams combined for 50-for-151 shooting on the night. I want those four hours of my life back people!


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TRIVIA ANSWER---
To answer last week's trivia question, the two schools who have celebrated national titles in either football, basketball, baseball or hockey in each of the last four decades are...
- Oklahoma: Football titles in '74, '75, '85 and '00. Baseball title in '94.
- Cal State Fullerton: Baseball titles in '79, '84, '95 and '04.


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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO---
Brad Beanblossom?
The Oklahoma State mainstay that played alongside guys like Pete Incaviglia and Mike Day. He had a cool name and was a great role player.


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That's enough again. This is probably the best pre-conference weekend of the whole season with a myriad of great tournaments and matchups. Get out there and see a few games if you can. And lets all mock Mother Nature with a sun dance too.

G'night.

February 25, 2008

Sunday Summations - The College Baseball Oscars Edition

Welcome to this, the Oscar night for college baseball's grand opening weekend.

(Oh crap, wasn't I supposed to put one of those little copywrited "R"s with a circle around it after writing the word "Oscar"?)

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(The Streaker of '74 behind presenter David Niven)

So before the orchestra starts playing because their acceptance speeches have gone too long, here are the winners of this weekend's gala opening for college baseball.

- Best Leading Man:
Brett Wallace, Arizona State.
He *only* went 5-for-12 on the weekend. No harm, no foul, right? Well three of his hits were Earthquaking bombs over the right field wall. He also had seven RBI in Saturday's 18-6 sinking of the Commodores.

- Best Supporting Character:
Cody Overbeck, Mississippi
The Rebel 1B went 6-for-12 with three home runs to help pace Ole Miss to a breezy three-game sweep of Minnesota this weekend.

- Best Director:
Dusty Rhodes, head coach of North Florida
Ole Dusty turned in a great directing job this weekend. His team can't go to the post-season, but that isn't going to stop them from playing with purpose, beating Mississippi State two out of three this weekend. And their wins were obliterations, to the tune of 17-9 and 11-6.

- Best Production Team:
South Carolina.
As expected, the Gamecocks blasted their way to a 2-1 series win over East Carolina. This team hit nine home runs in the three games, two each by Reese Havens, Justin Smoak and Phil Disher. And by the way, as a point of reference, those nine home runs were just one less than Arkansas-Pine Bluff hit all last season.

- Best Dramatic Series:
Rice at Long Beach State.
"High-quality" is the phrase that keeps overtaking my mind as I write about this series. The Beach won the first two games, 1-0 (10inns) and 3-2. Rice took Sunday's capper 3-1. Friday's first game was a true beauty and the best season-opening game I've ever seen.

- Best Date Movie:
Purdue.
Why best date movie? Because it's sure to be a huge tear-jerker. The Boilers went down to Waco and promptly lost three straight one-run games, 2-1, 11-10 (11inns) and 2-1. Cry if you must, that's pretty damn good baseball being played by a team with a handful of outdoor practices.

- Best Violent, Shoot-Em-Up Movie:
Miami University.
The Redhawks had to be angrily throwing things around the locker room and busting stuff to bits after coming up three outs short of pulling off a significant upset of No. 3 Vanderbilt today. The 'Dore bottom of the 9th went: single, walk, bunt single, throwing error, intentional walk and single to allow VU to score three runs and squelch the bid by a 4-3 score.

- Best Comedy:
Ole Miss.
They so dominated Minnesota in their three game sweep in Oxford - by a combined 45- 10 - it turned into a laugher.

- Best Big Screen Debut:
Jim Toman, Liberty.
The longtime South Carolina assistant took his first team to an unbeaten weekend with wins over Notre Dame (6-2), Albany (5-4) and Iowa (3-1). I'm sure many more honors are on the way.

- Best Spoof:
Michigan.
So get this, the Wolverines got some snowbird team (Villanova) that barely had a practice outdoors all pre-season long, flew them down to the deep south (Port St. Lucie, Florida) and drummed them mercilessly. Now look... they're imitating Southern and Western teams so well, they might just follow their blueprint for success all the way to Omaha too.

- Biggest Box Office Flop (The "Ishtar" Award):
San Diego.
With a team that quite possibly had the best returning rotation in the country, it was stunning to see the Toreros give up 37 runs to San Diego State in losing two of three this weekend. But unlike Ishtar, there's still plenty of time to turn everything around.

- Biggest Opening Weekend Jitters:
Florida International.
Too bad for new coach Turtle Thomas that USC came to town and decided to play like the Trojans of old, winning all three games against the Golden Panthers. But that could be an indication that USC is back and not that FIU is a poor team. Look for better from Thomas and Co.

- Best Prequel To The Post-Season:
Vanderbilt vs. Arizona State.
Okay, so ASU won by a football score over VU on Saturday. But keep in mind what Devs coach Pat Murphy said about how Vandy will make it to Omaha. I'll take his prediction over some of these internet hacks we read out there. And yes that includes me.

- Second Best Prequel To The Post-Season:
Rice vs. Long Beach State.
Unlike Vandy and ASU, this series looked like a post-season quality game.

- Best Summer Blockbuster Thrillride:
North Carolina.
The defending runner-ups swept Florida Atlantic down in Boca Raton this weekend in three straight. But there was hair-raising, edge-of-your-seat action on both Saturday and Sunday, as those games were big time comebacks (from 10-6 and 7-4 respectively) keyed by their significantly experienced offense. Word of warning though, the usually pitching-heavy Heels were roped by the Owls in those two games as well.

- Best Showing At Sundance (an off-the-beaten-path gem):
Jacksonville.
The Dolphins went 3-0 this weekend in the Jacksonville Invitational, beating Wisconsin-Milwaukee 20-8, Richmond 7-4 and UNC-Wilmington

- Best Short Film:
Troy.
The Trojans gave up two, zero and one runs respetively in their three games with Rhode Island, an expected contender in the Atlantic 10. The rest of the Sun Belt is on notice as the efficient Trojan arms gave up just 12 hits all weekend. The best part for those in attendance? Saturday and Sunday's games went just 2:24 and 2:29 in length.

- Most Entries In One Category:
The Near Upsets.
Despite the upset successes of North Florida, Cleveland State (over Louisville) and Texas-San Antonio (over UL-Lafayette) check out these near-misses from Sunday on the Top 30 scoreboard:
North Carolina 8 - Florida Atlantic 7.
South Carolina 7 - East Carolina 6.
Arizona 9 - Georgia 8.
Vanderbilt 4 - Miami Univ. 3.
Cal State Fullerton 7 - TCU 4 (just missed a game-tying three-run homer in the 9th)
Coastal Carolina 4 - Virginia Tech 3.
Southern Mississippi 9 - Lipscomb 8.

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SOME ADDITIONAL NOTES FROM MY TRIP TO THE DEMARINI CLASSIC IN TEMPE---
- Got the perfect location to shoot the movie Damnation Alley 2:
For those of you who know, here's a picture of that old horse track that's about 20 minutes outside of Phoenix:

ArizHorsetrack.jpg
(Yes, I took this picture while in my truck driving on I-10. What? People talk on their phones and drive at the same time too!)

Looks like a giant, abandoned, alligator mouth-shaped eyesore. According to San Diego ace Brian Matusz's father, it hasn't been in use for about 30 years now but has yet to be torn down. Nice post-World War III setting.

- It's "George"... as in Curious George:
According to Oregon State's new SID Hank Hager, Beaver Sophmore pitcher Jorge Reyes' first name is pronounced like "George." Hank said even Jorge's cell phone voice mail identifies himselt as "George" and not "Hor-hay" as he had been called all last season. Still, when it comes to media matter, Jorge says "Hor-hay" instead. Go figure.

- I caught Darwin Barney WITHOUT any ESPN cameras fixedly focused on him:
Saw Darwin Barney at Saturday night's Oregon State-Miami game. I would say more about him here, but Erin Andrews did SO many personal feel-good stories on him during last year's national championship series with UNC that I can't possibly tell you anything you don't already know.

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(A rather dark pic of Barney at Packard Stadium Saturday night)


- Call this the challenge to Sports Illustrated's cover "jinx":
Speaking of Reyes, this is the third straight year that the team on the cover of Baseball America has left their opening weekend of play with a losing record. Texas had Kyle McColluch and Drew Stubbs on the cover of the 2006 edition and went 0-3 at San Diego. Last year, Rice's Joe Savery was on the cover and Rice left the Minute Maid Classic with a record of 1-2. And Reyes was on this year's cover with Mike Stutes, but OSU went 1-2 in Tempe this weekend.

- Blogging Arizona:
Enjoyed my time in Tempe with fellow CSTVer Doug Kroll, Rivals Kendall Rogers and SEBaseball's Dylan Hedges. But I checked out Doug's live blog and the other live blogs out there. Hafta admit, and this is no hometown call, Doug's blows theirs out of the kiddie pool. I think they know that too. I enjoyed adding pics of the game to it as well. Gotta love out-of-the-box thinking.

- Woke up early in Phoenix in order to do some hiking with the mutt and still get back in town early enough to see the last half of the UCLA-Oklahoma game in Westwood. Unfortunately, despite the partly cloudy skies in Santa Monica, the game had already been canceled from the overnight showers. Damn you Mother Nature, you got me again.

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(The dog during a morning hike in the desert. See? That's a cactus there.)


Okay, I'm wicked tired now. Hittin' the hay.

G'night.

February 24, 2008

Saturday Statements - The Devils send Vandy to Hell

Okay, if Arizona State isn't No. 1 in at least five of the eight or nine rankings that will be released on Monday, then they're just not giving the Devil his due.


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(Kai Murphy, the coach's son and ASU batboy, gives Coby Cress some pointers on his batting stance)

Got up early this morning, loaded the dog in the truck and made the six-hour drive over to Tempe to see a pair of national powers collide in ASU and Vandy. Unfortunately, only one showed up.

Let's make this the best of today's best.

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THREE UP---

1- Arizona State.
(Beat Vanderbilt 18-6)
After what we saw from the Commodores on Friday night (an 8-1 win over Oregon State), I'm not sure anyone would've seen this one coming.

Player of the Day Award? Easy. ASU's Brett Wallace. The beefy, athletic third baseman went 2-for-3 with a pair of home runs. One was a 4th inning grand slam that turned this game into a no-brainer... and a yawner. His second blast was a three-run job in the 6th that pushed the lead into the teens. He also walked twice.

2- Nothing wrong with the Carolina bats.
South Carolina combined for seven home runs and 26 runs in a split with East Carolina.
North Carolina rallied time and time again to subdue Florida Atlantic 14-13. Kyle Seager with two home runs and Seth Williams added his third dinger in two games so far this weekend.
Coastal Carolina beat Maryland 10-4 behind 16 hits, including a double and home run from leadoff man David Sappelt. Three other players had three hits each as well.

3- HILO!!
Beat Kansas twice today, 4-3 and 12-4.
That nice little trip to paradise isn't an instant gimme anymore. Coach Joey Estrella has made great strides with this woe-be-gone program. They are now 3-3 on the season with today's stunning twin upsets out on the Big Island. Ronel Trias finished today's DH going 4-for-5 with four RBI to pace the Vulcans.


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THREE DOWN---

1- Texas A&M going 0-fer against... Northern Colorado? (Really?).
UNC got the Aggies 3-1 and 4-2 in College Station today. Yeah, I know it's the first weekend of the season, but that's a big red flag.

2- Capra goes out to emergency appendectomy.
Wichita State's highly regarded LHP Anthony Capra will be sidelined indefinitely after being hospitalized yesterday. Capra was 7-1, 1.76 last season for Gene Stephenson's rotation.

3- The SEC vs. the Pac 10.
Today was a 180 from Friday's outstanding performance, as both Vanderbilt and Georgia went down to defeat. Georgia lost to Arizona in game two of that series, 7-1.

Overall, it was a tougher day for the SEC than yesterday was. Cal Poly swept a pair at Alabama (16-7 and 6-2), Tennessee lost to Morehead State 4-1, Mississippi State dropped an ugly one at North Florida by a 17-9 count and South Carolina split with East Carolina in a DH, but the loss was by a 13-4 count.


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DEVILS DOWN 'DORES DECISIVELY---
Vanderbilt 000 002 013- 6 11 0
Arizona St. 003 634 02x- 18 16 6

WP- Mike Leake, 6.0inns, 7H, 2R, 1ER, 4Ks, 0BBs
LP- Brett Jacobson, 3.0inns, 4H, 6R, 6ER, 5Ks, 4BBs

Top hitters:
Brett Wallace, 2-for-3, 7RBI, 4-run homer, 3-run homer.
Ike Davis, 3-for-4, 4RBI, double
Jason Kipnis, 2-for-3, 3RBI, triple, home run

First off, it's early people. It's early. Don't do backflips over this ASU fans. Don't go looking for the nearest Britney Spears concert video VU fans. Even ASU head honcho Pat Murphy had a word of warning.

"I'm going to say it right now, Vanderbilt will be in Omaha at the end of the year." He reasoned. "This will be a good thing for Corbin and them. They were No. 1 all last season and felt they could do no wrong, but then Michigan got them in the Regionals. That won't happen to them this year."

Another big facet not to forget? Pedro Alvarez didn't play. His mystery injury kept the nation's top player on the sidelines instead of manning the hot corner and making a difference at the dish.

Murphy would go on to say, "When I heard he wasn't going to be in the lineup today, I said 'Whew!' I mean, normally one guy doesn't make that big of a difference in an offense. But he does. He changes everything. So keep that in mind"


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IT'S MURPHY'S WORLD, WE JUST LIVE IN IT---
Pat Murphy was having a good time in the post-game press conference. Particularly when it came to talking about his victorious pitcher. "Since we have all these national media guys here, I want this to be known. I'm a 49-year old man... old man... and I beat 19-year old Mike Leake in a 3-point contest this morning."


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JARVIS PLAYS---
Despite numerous reports to the contrary, it turns out that Arizona State Super Soph Jason Jarvis IS eligible after all. In fact, he came in as a pinch hitter today, drawing a walk.

JarvisPlaying.jpg
(Jason Jarvis getting a handshake from 1st base coach Tim Esmay)


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PEDRO DOESN'T PLAY---
Not sure what his injury was, but CSTV Player of the Year candidate Pedro Alvarez didn't play in tonight's game. His bat was missed, to be sure.

Pedro.jpg
(Guess I can't "Vote for Pedro" this week.)

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CORBIN DOESN'T LIKE HOW I ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE---
After the game a few of us media types were talking with Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin and I asked him, "With 11 hits, six runs and no errors, you have to take away some positives from today, right?"

He looked at me stone-faced, "You're really reaching, aren't you?"

Yes I was coach.


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FAITH IN THEIR FEET---
I didn't have my camera on me at the time, but as we were waiting for Coach Corbin to meet with us after the game, some of the Vandy players were taking off their cleats. I noticed that they are outfitted with the logo of the College World Series on the tongue of their cleats. Obviously, the logo they used on their shoes was the CWS logo from 2007. Must be a motivational thing.

College World Series2007.png
(The logo worn on the feet of the Commodores)


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CHECK OUT THESE OREGON STATE TOGS---
Joey Wong flashes the fashion for the Beavers tonight.

OSUunis.jpg
(Will the wonders of Nike's fashion plates never cease?)


OSU beat Miami Univ. in tonight's second game 8-3.


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THE TOUGH LUCK AWARD GOES TO...
Purdue.
Lost to Baylor in 11 innings 11-10.
For the second day in a row, the Boilers lose at Baylor by a single run. Yesterday, they couldn't get the offense cranking, losing 1-0. Today, they could stop cranking. But neither could Baylor's offense.


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THE TOUGH LUCK RUNNER UP GOES TO...
Rice.
Lost 3-2 at Long Beach State.
Once again, the Beach wins in its last at-bat as Danny Espinosa is the hero again, going 3-for-4 with a home run and scoring the winning run in the 8th. Rice out-hit the Dirtbags, but starting pitcher Cole St. Clair wasn't sharp in his first start, lasting just four innings and giving up the bomb.


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SORRY, GOTTA CUT THIS SHORT---
So I checked into the Motel 6 near campus because A- They welcome dogs. And B- They offer free wireless internet.

Of course, I was informed the wireless was busted and they also put me in a hotel room right next to a large group of guys that looked like they were ready to party all night. Great. Maybe they'll show me their tattoos while they're keeping my dog on bark alert all night. Gotta love Motel 6 man.

So I'm finishing my article while at Packard Stadium tonight, since I won't have internet in my hotel room. Oh and I've got to go share a beer with Kendall Rogers and Doug Kroll. No, the dog has to stay in the truck.

Sorry so short. More tomorrow after my drive back to Smogland.

G'night.

February 23, 2008

Friday First Takes - The Damn-That-Was-A-Great-First-Game-Of-The-Season Edition

Man, I hope the last game I see this season is as incredible as the first game I saw this season.

BeachWins.jpg
(The scoreboard says it all. As does the celebration by Long Beach after its 10-inning win against Rice.)

See what else made Today's Best, and what made Today's Worst in college baseball's opening day...

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THE BEST AND WORST OF THE DAY IN COLLEGE BASEBALL---

THREE UP---
1- The Rice-Long Beach game
Rice Owls - 0
The Beach - 1 (10inns.)
Sorry, have to give major props to the game that I saw tonight. Now THAT'S how to start the season man! Two quality teams. Great pitching. Solid defense. And the ultimate in gamesmanship to end the night. Too bad somebody had to lose. That was a 10 inning game that went just 2:41 in time. All American SS Danny Espinosa does what an All American is supposed to do by getting the game-winning RBI with the bases loaded and two out in the 10th.

2- The SEC over the Pac 10.
Vanderbilt beat Oregon State, 8-1
Georgia beat Arizona, 9-7

I don't think anyone is too shocked at the Commodores win over the defending national champions. But a 7-run whitewashing is pretty impressive. Nice work Vandy. SS/2B combo of Ryan Flaherty (2-for-4) and Alex Feinberg () paced the 'Dores.

And give our Player of the Day award to Josh Fields of Georgia. He went 2-for-4 with a home run and got all three outs via the strikeout in the 9th inning to pick up the save. With everybody and their brother saying Fields was the key to UGa's season, THIS is a very good sign that the Dawgs have their bite back.

3- The 2-0 teams
There are only four teams in the country that are 2-0 going into Saturday's games. Here they are...
- San Jose State beat Utah 6-5 and 7-6.
- Santa Clara beat Utah Valley State 12-1 and 7-2.
- Prairie View A&M beat Texas College 8-2 and 14-2.
- Oral Roberts beat Army 9-1 and also beat UT-SA 5-3.


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THREE DOWN---
1- Mother Nature.
Just to show she isn't going away softly, there was postponements and cancellations throughout college baseball in Day 1. The carnage came to my unofficial count of 24 games that were affected by ill-weather and pushed to Saturday double-headers or cancelled all together. Yeah I know, you probably think I jinxed it by saying "Mother Nature will be a bitch" in my 64 Things That Will Happen In 2008 column. Well don't worry, I don't believe in jinxes.

2- San Diego
Lost to San Diego State 11-2.
The Toreros lost to their cross-town rivals in an ugly and surprising manner. Projected No. 2 draft pick Brian Matusz will see better days, after going only into the 5th inning and surrendering eight hits, six runs and four walks. The new season nerves didn't stop there as Frosh Kyle Blair, Baseball America's No. 2 rated new player, only last .1 inning, giving up two hits in his three batters faced.

3- The Upset specials.
I had eyes out for Wright State (lost 9-4 at Arkansas) , Minnesota (lost 8-1 at Ole Miss), Purdue (lost 2-1 at Baylor) and Gonzaga (lost 6-1 at Oklahoma State) today. All came up snake-eyes. Also watch for Mercer at Clemson tomorrow, which has now become a Saturday DH.


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MOTHER NATURE STRIKES IN MALIBU---
The coaches had met with the umps at home plate, the starting lineups had been announced and the hundred or so scouts behind home plate had their guns ready to go. Then, the rain started. And it got angrier too. So the tarp was pulled out.

Twenty minutes later, the sun came out and the tarp was pulled up and the players started warming up again. Another 20 minutes later, the rain started again. A little while later, the game was called.

So much for my trip to baseball paradise this afternoon.

Coach'sMeet.jpg
(Steve Rodriguez and Rick Rembielak discuss the poor conditions)


Pepperdine doesn't have a grounds crew, so the players did what they could to get the field playable, but it just wasn't going to happen. Any other circumstance and the game probably could've been played. But not at a stadium where they don't expect much rain.

After a horrible spell of time on L.A.'s freeway system, I made my way to Long Beach State...


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AND THEN THERE WAS THAT GAME AT BLAIR FIELD---
Rice Owls - 000 000 000 0 - 0 5 1
Long Beach - 000 000 000 1- 1 9 0

WP- Dustin Rasco (1.0inns., 0H, 0R, 3Ks, 0BBs)
LP- Bryan Price (1.1inns., 3H, 1R, 1K, 2BBs)

That's right, just one error on the night, even though the outfield was pretty sloshy and there were a lot of tough hops and handcuffed line drives on the infield.

Four times tonight the Beach started an inning with two outs and then a hit. They could never get a two-out rally started. But in the 10th, RF Zach Barger lined a single up the middle. He would eventually make it to third as the bases ended up getting loaded on a pair of Price walks, the only two walks on the whole night for the Owl arms. Then, Danny Espinosa hit one of only two balls on the entire night that carried beyond the outfielders. It was Rice RF Jordan Dodson who couldn't quite track down Espinosa's screamer to the warning track. Barger jogged home for the only run of the game.

Both Espinosa and Barger had a pair of hits on the night for Long Beach.

Good crowd tonight too, with 1,894 in attendance. That's good by West coast standards, of course.

I've got to give special props to the starting pitchers though. These guys were in mid-season form, no doubt about it. Here's their lines for the night:

Rice's Ryan Berry:
7.0inns., 5H, 0R, 8Ks, 0BBs, 8Groundouts, 4Flyouts

Long Beach's Andrew Liebel:
8.0inns, 5H, 0R, 11Ks, 1BB, 6Groundouts, 6Flyouts.

Both starting pitchers put on incredible performances, staying ahead in the count all night and throwing in the low 90s, though it looked faster to tell you the truth.

RiceMeeting.jpg
(After Berry exited the game, Wayne Graham didn't find the right relief)

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A COUPLE OF GAME NOTES---
- Apparently Rice likes L.A. gridlock. While here in SoCal this weekend, the Owls are actually staying at a hotel down in Irvine, anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes away, depending on traffic.
- Though there was no rain during the game, the outfield was quite a quagmire (Giggity). Anytime the outfielders came to a running stop, a huge splash of water would come with it. In fact, the only hit Rice was able to get until there were two outs in the 5th inning was a bloop to right field by Diego Seastrunk, which Beach RF Zach Barger appeared to have a bead on, but slid down on his hind-quarters when he tried to splash to a stop.
- Despite the large dimensions of Blair Field, when J.P. Padron played in the Area Code Games here during high school, he hit a home run over the center field wall. And that was with a wood bat.
- Wayne Graham has buzzed about how good Freshman Rick Hague has been as a batter in the Fall and pre-season. Sure enough, the phenom started the game as the leadoff hitter. But he showed his youth in the 6th. After connecting on a solid double to the warning track, Long Beach threw the relay throw just slightly off-line. Hague bolted from second for third, but when the Dirtbags retrieved the ball, the throw to third had Hague tagged by two strides. Out. Graham just gave his young stud a pat on the back. (Maybe he screamed at him once the inning was over.). Hague was the only Owl to finish with two hits in the game.
- Not sure how many they brought, but I'd have to say I'm pretty impressed with the large contingency of Rice fans that made the trip out West. Good showing.
- And yes, in case you're wondering, I did have a beer tonight. It was the gigantor, 10-dollar version. Good stuff Maynard.

SeastrunkMishandle.jpg
(Ironically, had Diego Seastrunk handled Adam Zornes' throw in the dirt on this play in the 10th, Rice would've caught Zach Barger leaning and ended the inning before Espinosa's heroics at the dish.)


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NOW FOR MORE AROUND THE COUNTRY TODAY---

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THERE'S THAT OTHER 1-0, 10-INNING GAME---
UL-Monroe 000 000 000 1- 1 8 1
Nicholls St. 000 000 000 0- 0 4 1

Redhawk 2B Kyle Suire struck out all three times he was at the plate in regulation. But then he blasted a solo-shot in the extra frame and that was the difference in the other 1-0, 10-inning game tonight in college baseball.

Jared Jennings was Liebel-like, pitching 8.0 innings for UL-M, giving up just four hits and striking out 10 in a no-decision. These two teams are former Southland Conference rivals, but the Redhawks have since moved on to the Sun Belt.


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ANOTHER 1-0 GAME AND POSSIBLY THE ONLY COMPLETE GAME PITCHED ON THE DAY?---
Arkansas Little-Rock - 0 3 0
Texas-Arlington - 1 7 0
UT-A leadoff hitter Michael Choice gets the game-winning RBI single in the 5th inning and Nathan Long throws what I believe is the only complete-game of the day, going all nine innings, giving up just three hits and striking out five. He also only walked one.


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BEST UNDER-THE-RADAR PERFORMANCE---
UC Santa Barbara's Mike Ford.
The Gaucho ace went 7.0 innings, striking out 11 and giving up just one hit as UCSB beat Marist 9-0. Okay, so it was the Red Foxes' first chance to see live pitching (and probably the first time they've seen the sun this year too), but you gotta like what Ford pulled off here.


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BEST UNDER-THE-RADAR FIRST-GAME COACHING PERFORMANCE---
Liberty's Jim Toman.
His Flames beat Notre Dame 6-2 at the Clearwater Invitational in Florida, giving the longtime South Carolina assistant a feather in the cap opening day win at his new gig in Jerry Falwell-town. If the Irish are all they're cracked up to be by season's end, this could be a nice RPI win for the Flames as well.


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NOW these ARE TYPICAL FIRST GAMES---
Richmond - 24
UNCW - 16
(39 runs, 37 hits, 6 errors and 15 walks)

UW-Milwaukee - 8
Jacksonville - 20
(Dolphins led 14-2 after four innings. Pretty much girlfriends and parents left in the stands)

Northern Colorado - 5
Texas A&M - 9
(Teams combined for 9 errors)

Dallas Baptist - 10
Missouri State - 11
(teams combined for 10 hit batsmen.)


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WORST NEWS OF THE DAY---
Pepperdine makes it official: No more dogs allowed at the game.

The best place to watch a game in college baseball is starting to get black marks against it. First they started charging money for games (used to be free). Then they raised that price to eight bucks. And now, the once dog-friendly Eddy D. Field Stadium goes all Michael Vick on us. Damn.

P'dineScoreboard.jpg width="324" height="163" />
(It's a little hard to read but the new scoreboard at Pepperdine has a new message for fans. "No pets" allowed. Oh and "no smoking" but I'm fine with that.)


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Okay, it's late and I got a long drive ahead of me tomorrow, gotta go to bed. Hope you liked your first day of college baseball here on the mainland as well as I did. Well, at least wherever Mother Nature didn't throw her little hissy-fit.

G'night.

February 22, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - Welcome to the 2008 Season

Johnny Rosenblatt is my father. Annie Savoy is my mother. And I'm their bastard son.

And in case you're wondering, my Godfather is Henry Rollins and my Godmother is Bonnie Bernstein.

RonPolk1.jpg
(Let's hear it for Ron Polk's Mississippi State Bulldogs. I've included 10 Teams we should ALL be cheering for this season. Read on.)

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A COUPLE OF QUICK HITS TO START OFF---
- I would first like to open with this. I was born in New Jersey, moved to South Carolina, did all my growing years in Omaha, went to college in Louisiana, lived in Dallas for a spell and then moved to Smogland. Because of that, I have no bias for anybody in college baseball. In fact, as a blanket statement, I hate every team in the country on the same level. So there.

- Now, I can't wait for the season to start (on the mainland), mostly because if I have to hear/read about the start date being pushed back and its ramifications one more time, I'm going to have to grab a bat and do some damage.

- I also decree that I don't love aluminum bats, but I can live with them. Same goes for the DH.

- I like that I can go to a college baseball game, pay a couple bucks, sit wherever I want and take in a game up-close and personal. No expensive parking. No high-priced tickets. No nose-bleed seats. No bratty millionaires. No dot races. No rally monkeys.

- I also like that college baseball is getting more and more popular. Long gone are the days when Boyd Nation, Mark Etheridge and I were the only ones pimping the sport on the web. But I'm fine with that.

- Unlike a lot of websites, I have NO problem admitting I read a lot of people's college baseball stuff out there. You will never see me write "According to other web outlets...", I think giving other websites some props by name is a good thing. Our sport needs it.

- Lastly, I'm fine with a common start date. Baseball was the ONLY sport in all of the NCAA that didn't have one. But they need to make it one week sooner. And also - this is a big point - do NOT push the College World Series back another week! Can you imagine what the airlines will charge for people wanting to fly home during 4th of July weekend? That'd suck.

There, I'm all through with this start date junk. Done and done!


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TEN TEAMS WE SHOULD ALL CHEER FOR IN 2008---
Not that I play favorites or anything, but here are 10 very likable teams and why...

1- Notre Dame
Coach Dave Schrage is one of the good guys in college baseball. Before his first season at ND even started, his wife passed away from breast cancer. The Irish then suffered through a 28-28-1 season, their first non-winning season since 1987. ND signed the No. 4 recruiting classs in the country and should have a better season in 2008.

2- Mississippi State
Everybody should give thanks to coach Ron Polk, who always speaks his mind. He wrote that 18-page open letter to all of college baseball back in the summer about how bad the new rules will effect the game. Every coach I've talked to agrees with him whole-heartedly, but I guess didn't want to stick their necks out like Coach Polk. He deserves another good season in Starkville.

3- Cal Poly.
Two seasons in a row now the Mustangs have finished higher in the Big West standings than a team that made the NCAA tournament. Too bad the rest of the country doesn't know about Larry Lee's charges. Maybe this year they will.

4- Iowa.
Okay, try to follow my logic here. But when Oregon State won two national titles, suddenly rival Oregon decided, "THAT does it! We're not going to stand for that, we're bringing baseball back." So if Jack Dahm's Hawkeyes win like crazy and go to the College World Series or something, maybe Iowa State will bring back baseball too. The more the merrier is my philosophy.

5- North Carolina
It's hard enough just to make it to Omaha for the College World Series, much less coming up short in the championship round twice in a row. I don't know about you, but if UNC makes the trip again, I'm pulling for them huge.

6- Coppin State
The Eagles went 0-44 in 2007. I want to see them win. Not just once, but like 10 or 15 times. No, I'm not kidding, I want 10 or 15 wins from CSU.

7- Alabama.
With Rod Delmonico and Pat McMahon run out of Tennessee and Florida respectively, despite both going to the College World Series in recent years (no, not as fans either), it looks like the SEC is becoming as ridiculously quick-triggered as their football brethren. So let's hope Bama doesn't miss the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row, 'coz it looks like Jim Wells might be the next in line in the SEC. (Special hi to former Ole Miss football coach David Cutcliffe)

8- Tulane
While it looks like the University of New Orleans has made big strides in the post-Katrina days (two straight 30+ win seasons), the Green Wave has hit harder times. Not terrible mind you, just not up to the TU levels of the 2000s. Sparkling new Turchin Stadium will rock this year.

9- LeMoyne.
Over the summer, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference passed a rule that said every school had to compete in Division I in all sports. So LeMoyne - who has dominated in baseball - was the ONLY school that had to drop out of the MAAC. So here's to hoping that they have a great season and all the MAAC members finish with losing records.

10- (tie) Florida Gulf Coast Univ., USC Upstate, South Dakota State, Presbyterian, New Jersey Tech and North Carolina Central.
All these teams have brought their programs to Division I this year. And because of that weird (read: dumb) "transitional" rule the NCAA has where for four years a team can't play for the post-season or anything else, these teams don't have a lot to play for. Hopefully the teams don't lose their will to compete.


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HERE IS MY CURRENT TOP 25---
1: Hawaii (2-1)
2: Hawaii-Hilo (1-2)
3-25: NA
Clearly, nobody has played better than the Rainbows in Division I so far. Forget Oregon State, North Carolina, Vanderbilt and the Arizona schools, the No. 1 team is a no-brainer. But give the Vulcans some props here, they played good, competitive baseball all weekend against their bigger brothers last weekend, even getting their first win over UH-Manoa in 15 tries on Sunday.


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TOP MATCHUPS OF THE WEEKEND---
1- Vanderbilt vs. Arizona State (Saturday).
There will be All Americans and future MLBers all over the diamond in Tempe for this one. As of press time, I'm not sure who the pitching matchups are right now, but I'm hoping for Mike Minor vs. Josh Satow. But Minor will probably get the call for Friday's Oregon State game. The bats of Pedro and Wally will be sweet to watch.

2- Vanderbilt vs. Oregon State (Friday).
Who knows, we could be looking at the national champions of 2007 vs. the national champions of 2008. If history proves correct, give the early advantage to the warmer weather team in the first few games of the season. Vandy wins.

3- Oregon State vs. Arizona State (Sunday).
Last year, I got the chance to see ASU dominate the Beavers in Corvallis, holding OSU to four runs in a three-game sweep. But in Omaha, Pat Casey and Co. beat the Devils 12-6 on their way to the title. (Obviously, by this Top 3, the DeMarini Classic in Tempe is the place to be this weekend.)

4- Rice at Long Beach State.
These two teams deserve a lot of props. Well, in specific, the coaches: Wayne Graham and Mike Weathers. These guys aren't afraid to schedule up and this is a great opening weekend shin-dig. The Friday matchup of Andrew Leibl (9-3, 2.84) vs. Ryan Berry (11-3, 3.01) will be - in the words of Peter Griffin - freakin' sweet. With the typically thick night air at Blair Field, it may be a quick game.

WayneGraham2.jpg
(Wayne Graham, the old war horse, will be stalking the coaches boxes in another Southern California locale this weekend)


5- East Carolina at South Carolina.
Love this matchup. Always good to see a team like ECU get a shot at the big boys like this. Let's see if T.J. Hose can continue his giant-killing ways in '08. But the Gamecocks have bludgeoning power and you know how offense usually beats pitching early in the season. Be sure not to park beyond the outfield fence. The Pirates have to hope their bats don't have as slow of a start as they did last season.

6- Arizona at Georgia.
Don'tcha know that the Bulldogs remember last year's lidlifting series against another Pac 10er? That three-game sweep at the hands of Oregon State eventually led UGa to an UGa-ly season. Keep an eye on reliever Josh Fields, who has been Jekyll and Hyde in his career, but throws hard as hell and is a former 2nd round draft pick. He could be the biggest key to the 'Dogs success in '08. But Arizona is the No. 1 team for a reason, mainly ace Preston Guilmet and a half-ton of good returnees to the lineup. This should be fun.

7- Minnesota at Mississippi
Rebs look for revenge on the Hosers from the great white North after allowing the Gophers to score three unearned runs in the 8th inning in a 3-2 Minnesota win last year. Lance Lynn gave up just four hits, striking out 11 Gophers in 6.0 innings of work in that game, before the pen melted down.

8- Oklahoma at UCLA.
Sooners still steaming after NCAA snub last year. They have to know that a series like this will pay big dividends in June, as long as they can pull a win or two. Bruins have too many experienced weapons here. If this series was played in May, it may be another story.

9- Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Oral Roberts (Saturday).
Hey, it IS Bracket Buster Saturday for the cagers, so these two might as well meet up in baseball on Saturday. Great mid-major matchup. Because of Texas Tech being added to the UTSA Classic lineup at the last minute, this will be the third game of the weekend for both teams. No. 3 starter Brent Solich will take the hill for UL-L and is not a big drop-off from Danny Farquhar and Hunter Moody. ORU has only nine returning lettermen, so this will be a mystery team.

10- Cal State Fullerton at TCU
Two teams with a lot of new faces. If it was vogue for good college baseball players to stay in school for four years, the Wes Roemer vs. Sam Demel matchup of arms would've been awesome. While the Titans pull back the curtain on the Dave Serrano era, keep in mind the Frogs went 27-3 at Lupton stadium last year.

Actually, doing just a Top 10 list is pretty silly considering it's the opening weekend and there are an obscenely high number of great matchups this weekend.

So here are a few more you might wanna check out if you live nearby:
- North Carolina at Florida Atlantic
Unlike last year's non-ACC slate, the Heels hit the road vs. decent teams.
- USC at Florida International
The Turtle era gets underway with a West coast visitor.
- Virginia Commonwealth at Texas.
VCU returns to the site of one of the greatest Regional runs I'd ever seen. In 1992, the 6th-seeded Rams lost their first game then won five straight, pushing 1-seed UT to a second title game, before succumbing.
- Mercer at Clemson
Tigers are on upset alert after seeing the Bears pull two wins at Miami last year.
- Purdue at Baylor.
Boilers have enough talent to pull a W, but not enough depth for two.
- Wake Forest at Pepperdine.
The bats of Allen Dykstra and Willy Fox vs. Brett Hunter and those ocean breezes.
- Wright State at Arkansas.
Like Mercer, the Raiders are capable of wins here. They did it at Ole Miss in '07.
- Nebraska at Stanford.
These two are both coming off of "off" seasons. The Huskers haven't been outside yet this year, and it'll probably show.


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SEE, I TOLD YOU THIS GUY WOULD GET CREIGHTON A LOT OF EXTRA PUB---
Here's a screen grab from Tuesday night's Creighton-Missouri State basketball game in Omaha that was televised by ESPNU.

PatVenditte3.jpg
(Pat Venditte, wearing the Sox hat. Hmmm, no wonder he didn't sign with the Evil Yankees after getting drafted by them last June. And, is that Serj, the lead singer from System Of A Down with him?)

Pitcher Pat Venditte got some camera time and props from announcers Dan McLaughlin and Mac McCauslin, who glossed on about him being the only ambidextrous pitcher in the country.


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WORST PLACES TO TAKE IN A GAME THIS WEEKEND---
The Virginia-Lehigh series has already had Friday's game cancelled, so has the Appy State-North Carolina State opener in Raleigh and the Southern Illinois-Western Kentucky series has been moved from Carbondale to someplace called Cordova, Tennessee. That's just the tip of the iceberg in this February winter weekend. Can't we just all move to Honolulu?

- UC Irvine at Nevada, in Reno.
Forecast: Snow turning to rain, highs 43-to-45 Friday and Saturday.
Is this any way for a College World Series team to open a season?

- Cleveland State at Louisville.
It'll rain all day on Friday (with a high temp of 40), but Saturday and Sunday look like baseball weather with partly cloudy skies and highs forecast for 37 and 41 degrees.

But the "What Were You Guys Thinking Scheduling This?" Award goes to:
- Creighton at Washington State, in Spokane.
The Bluejays have had most of their practice days ruined by single-digit temperatures lately. Now they go to the balmy Palouse, where the temps won't get above 42 all weekend. Oh and throw in some occasional snow showers and freezing rain.


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COACH COONEY'S UNIQUE VIEW ON THINGS---
One of my favorite facets of college baseball coverage has always been collegebaseballinsider.com's player and coach diaries. I don't get the chance to read all of them, but I love the perspective Florida Atlantic coach Kevin Cooney offers. His tilt on the Roger Clemens trial was really interesting. Give it a whirl if you get the chance. Here's the link:

http://www.collegebaseballinsider.com/Journals/08Journals/kc080214.html


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EVERYBODY BURNS THE BISCUITS ONCE IN A WHILE---
Special thanks to stitch-head reader "JJ" who was kind enough to remind me that Illinois Friday starter Tanner Rourke has left the team and the school for academic reasons. So now my preview statement of "Illinois has all four weekend starters returning" is inaccurate. But at the time I wrote it, Roarke was still on the squad. My bad.

Just like, my Pac 10 preview didn't include the fact that Arizona State's Super Soph Jason Jarvis (11 saves in '07) may now be academically ineligible for the entire season. Same goes for Freshman hurler Devin Fuller, another future high-round draftee. Ouch man. Pat Murphy, who hasn't had any players pull up ineligible in his 26 years, now has two to deal with. He will have to shuffle some arms around as that Sun Devil arms staff gets thinner and thinner.

PatMurphy2.jpg
(Pat Murphy is scowling after Jason Jarvis and Devin Fuller were found academically ineligible. On another note, I did read the other day that he wears No. 42 in honor of former Sun Devil footballer Pat Tillman. Which is cool.)

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TRIVIA---
Using the only four college sports that matter (football, men's basketball, hockey and baseball) as a basis, which two schools are the only two in Division I that have celebrated a national championship in one or more of those sports in each of the last four decades?


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MY NEW FAVORITE LIVE BAND---
Ladies and gentlemen, Cowboy Mouth.
If the Neville Brothers and Joe Strummer had a love-child, it'd be Cowboy Mouth. I've seen the New Orleans rockers twice in the off-season, once at a rally before the LSU-Florida football game and once at the Whiskey A-Go-Go in Hollywood back in December. They rule. Fred LeBlanc, band leader and drummer, puts his drum riser at the front of the stage, sports his Saints jersey and lets-er-rip. The pudgy bastard is funny, entertaining and a demands audience participation. I remember him from back in his days with Dash Rip Rock and he's always been entertaining as hell. At the Hollywood show, Hootie and the Blowfish guitarist Mark Bryan filled in with the band. Go to their website, check out their tour schedule and go see them (they're at The Varsity in Baton Rouge on Friday night, go after the Indiana game). Lots and lots and lots of fun.

CboyMouth.jpg
(Drummer Fred LeBlanc and fetching bass-player Regina Zernay bookend Hootie guitarist Mark Bryan at their show in Hollywood)


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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO---
Chip Glass?
The '94 CWS MVP for Oklahoma was a gutty player. If I recall correctly, wasn't he the guy that used to choke up on the bat when at the plate? Can't recall for sure.


.
That's enough for now.

Thanks again to all you stitch-heads for checking back in again this season. I'll do my usual gig of writing just about every weekend night (I reserve the right to skip a night every once in a while), giving you a last parting shot at the day's actions and opinions - at least until I get too tired and fall sleep. Don't forget, if you've got any suggestions, bring 'em on.

G'night.

February 15, 2008

Thursday Thoughts - 64 Things That Will Happen In 2008

There are plenty of certainties this college baseball season. So I've decided to take the 64 things that I'm sure will happen and lay them out for you here. Feel free to disagree, but I'm so sure I'm right that I'll shave my head if I miss on any of these things.

So here you go: The 64 Things That Will (Almost Certainly) Happen In College Baseball In 2008:

PatCaseyOSU.jpg
(Pat Casey and the Beavers hope to win title No. 3 this June)

1- Oregon State will not win the national title.
And the more I write that the more Emails I get from Beaver fans saying "Thank you for doubting us. We love when you guys in the media do that."

2- North Carolina will not finish as runners-up again.
As I said in the preview on UNC, unless you're some kind of perverse Duke basketball fan, you hate seeing Coach Mike Fox get THISCLOSE to the national title and come up snake-eyes twice.

UNCpray.jpg
(Coach Mike Fox and his Tarheels pray they won't finish No. 2 again)

3- Rice won't start out 2-0 in Omaha only to lose two straight again.
It's happened two years in a row now and it's just weird. Surely fate won't be this cruel again.

4- The SEC will get more than five teams into the NCAA tournament.
Last year may have been one of the biggest hiccups in history, with only five SEC teams making the Big Dance. If the recruiting rankings hold any water, this should be a monster year. A full seven SEC teams were ranked in the Top 12 of the fall 2005 recruiting classes. Those players are all juniors now.

5- The SEC won't have a team go 0-2 in Omaha again.
Going back to 2003, six of the last 10 teams to go uno-dos-adios at the CWS have been from the SEC. Even Mark Etheridge gave his own home conference a your-schedules-are-too-easy-based berating after Mississippi State was eliminated last June. But better luck is on tap for 2008. The SEC will be more competitive on the national stage. (Though I admit I feel weird just having to write that.)

6- The number of college baseball rankings will still be about FIVE TOO MANY.
For a sport that really doesn't need rankings - Damn! - there sure are a lot of rankings. NCBWA, Baseball Weekly Coaches, Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, Rivals, Ping!, PG Crosschecker, TMZ.com, People Magazine, Oprah... stop the insanity!

7- A handful of pre-season Top 25 teams will tank it big time this year.
It happens every year. Remember Evansville, Winthrop, Tennessee and Georgia Tech? They were all ranked last year in the pre-season. None of them made the NCAA tournament field. Let's see who flops this year.

8- Wayne Graham, Augie Garrido, Mike Martin and Ron Polk still won't retire after this season.
And college baseball will be all the better for it.

9- But if none of those coaches make it to Omaha in June, Coach Martin will get the most heat from his fan base.
The Seminoles have come up short too many times since their last visit to The O in 2000, including losing on their home field in the post-season three times.

10- For the first time in 10 years George Horton won't be mentioned for any job openings.
Annually the biggest rumor source in college baseball. But thankfully he's busy getting his Ducks in a row.

11- Once again ESPN just won't "get it" when it comes to college baseball.
For a network that televises the grand stage of the game, it stuns me that they still continue to have NO original content on their website, choosing to pirate Baseball America's coverage instead. And also, we'll all be subjected to poor coverage in Omaha where mis-pronounced names, incorrect facts and endless human interest features on Oregon State will leave us numb.

(Two caveats: Kyle Peterson is a great analyst. And though Mike Patrick doesn't follow the sport all year, he's a good play-by-play guy).


KylePeterson.jpg
(Kyle Peterson is the best thing ESPN has going in its sparse college baseball coverage)


12- Coppin State will win a game.
Last year the Eagles went a painful 0-44. And I was hoping to find their schedule was full of Division II or III teams this year just for insurance Ws, but there are very few. They'll still get a win (or two) somewhere. And when they do, they'll be my Team of the Week. Go Eagles!

13- St. Peter's will have a winning record.
I am the biggest bandwagonner for the Peacocks. Last year they went 23-29 and 13-13 in the MAAC. Despite being picked 7th in the conference, they have seven starters back and some decent pitchers. Tell you what, they'll at least have their first winning season in the MAAC since 1997. Go Peacocks!

14- Mark Etheridge will still be the hardest working man in college baseball media.
This guy is one prolific machine. His Daily Dose is a big hit with me, as is his NCAA projections, which are more dead-on than anyone else's. Forget that his website is called "SEBaseball.com" Mark knows college baseball across the board better than anyone I know. (Okay Mark, send me my check for mentioning that.)

15- Aaron Fitt will have to answer "Why isn't my team ranked?" questions time and time again.
His weekly Top 25 Chat at Baseball America is required reading for me, but gah! Fans just don't get it when their teams aren't ranked where they want them to be. And he has to address this question 10-12 times a season.

16- Texas will win a Regional again.
It's weird to think the Longhorns have fallen on their home turf in each of the last two seasons. But revamped Disch-Falk Field will see their winning ways in 2008. I.e.: the Augie Factor will return.

17- The Big East won't be questioned when it gets three teams into the NCAAs again this year.
Thank you Notre Dame of 2002 and Louisville of 2007. Coach Dan McDonnell deserves the loudest plaudits. Now, imagine if the Big East gets FOUR bids?

18- Somewhere out there in baseball-land we'll see another bizarre coaching resignation like McNeese State had in 2007.
Coach Chad Clement quit his post in the first week of the season. Terry Burrows took over and the Cowboys turned around a 4-23 start to finish 18-12. If college basketball is any indication (Bobby Knight. Lute Olson. John Brady... well, he didn't resign) it will probably happen in baseball again too.

19- Just like their basketball brethren, the Pac 10 will beat each other silly as the best conference in the country.
At least it's the best THIS YEAR. (calm down all you SEC, ACC, Big 12 honks)

20- No one with a nickname as cool as "Anteaters" will make the CWS.
Well, unless you consider "Sun Devils" to be cooler.

21- My College World Series prediction of
Missouri
Virginia
Arizona State
UCLA
South Carolina
Miami
Texas
Ohio State
making the field of eight, will change... often.
I'm looking your way Michigan, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Long Beach State and Arizona. Oh what the hell, you too St. Peter's.

22- If you're looking for a class act to cheer for this year, choose Dave Schrage.
2007 wasn't so easy for the Notre Dame skipper. His wife passed away in the off-season and then his team finished 28-28-1, the first non-39+ win season for ND since 1987. A calmer and more focused 2008 should help. Along with the No. 4 ranked recruiting class coming to South Bend.

23- Once again I'll hear the phrase "___ (Fill in the blank) ___ has the worst fans!"
And once again I'll remind everyone that there are a few bad fans in every fan base. No one is immune. (This comment is a carry-over from my football work)

24- Mother Nature will still be a bitch.
The spring of 2007 was pretty harsh with endless rain in the Northeast, Hurricane Barry during the Regionals and the most important series in the Big 10, Minnesota at Michigan, getting wiped out altogether. I'm crossing my fingers that this will be a mild one... then again, as I write this it's 10 degrees in Omaha.

25- Rice will finish Conference USA play somewhere near 22-2 again.
And those voices that claimed the WAC was so weak and that C-USA would be a more stern test for the Owls will get quieter and quieter. (I can almost hear you squeak people.)

26- Bethune-Cookman will win the Black College Baseball National Championship again in 2008.
Mainly because the SWAC is so much stronger, and because of that SWAC favorite Prairie View will take some lumps before winning the conference with an uglier mark.

27- Speaking of, the SWAC will keep getting stronger and stronger.
Recruiting and facilities keep getting better in this once-downtrodden league. In fact, remember when Southern used to dominate year-in, year-out? Remember when Prairie View won three games in 2003? Remember when Arkansas-Pine Bluff played more like Arkansas-Pine Box? Those days are long gone as most everyone is improved.

28- Despite only nine returning letterman, Oral Roberts will continue to dominate in the Summit.
ORU has lapped the field in the Mid-Continent-now-Summit League. Just to give you an idea, the Eagles have gone 98-7 in conference play the last five years.

29- Fresno State will host its first Regional since 1992.
The Bulldogs are beginning to dominate the WAC like I thought they would when Mike Batesole took over the program. And Beiden Field is a great venue to catch a game too.

30- No white outs. No black outs. No pink outs.
There's a reason why I like college baseball more than football or basketball.

31- No faux confetti showers when the national championship trophy is presented.
There's another reason why I like college baseball more than football or basketball.

32- Niagara's Tim Alberts will quietly remain one of the better hitters in the country.
The Purple Eagle outfielder hit .379 and had a nation-leading 35 game hitting streak in 2007.

33- Okay, if Alberts is quietly one of the better hitters, then Ryan Lavarnway is quietly the BEST hitter in the country.
The Yale outfielder had a nation's best .467 average as a Sophomore. And he's a student at Yale, so you know he's smart enough to figure out a way to keep that average up in the stratosphere again this year.

34- Hell, if you want to see the best hitters in the country this year, stay in the North.
Of the 12 .400+ hitters returning from last year, six are in the snowbelt:
Ryan Lavarnway, Yale .467
Ryne White, Purdue, .452
John Koehniein, Youngstown State, .434
Matt Prokopowicz, Hofstra, .416
Ryan Murphy, Brown, .410
Cole White, Army, .408

34- I don't know why but I have the feeling that Jordan Danks is going to have a better year than Kyle Russell.
Both Texas talents are outstanding, no bones about it. But this seems like one of those perfect "the target is too big" situations for Russell. He went a little (emphasis on "little") cold down the stretch in 2007.

35- I guarantee I'll be at a couple of games this year where the coeds sitting in front of me will ask each other "Do they play seven or nine innings in college?"
Happens every year.

36- I guarantee I'll be at a couple of games this year where the coeds sitting in front of me will have their thong panties riding up two inches above their pants' waistline.
And no matter how hard I try to look away...

37- Remember last year's early upsets? Mercer beat Miami twice. Wright State beat Ole Miss twice. Illinois-Chicago took two from Tennessee and Kent State won a series at Florida. When that happens again this year to another set of Top 25 teams, don't be shocked at the ramifications.
Those should've been hints about the post-season swoons and snubs of these big-conference victims.

38- No matter what they do, the Big 10 still won't get enough respect nationally.
Still, wanna know the most encouraging thing about the Big 10? Have you seen how many games they'll get televised on the Big 10 Network? Try three games a weekend and even some mid-week games. Any additional pub for our sport is great in my book. Especially for a conference that deserves more.

39- Beer gardens outside of Rosenblatt during the College World Series will continue to dwindle in number.

40- Yet the number of bowl games will continue to needlessly grow again for undeserving teams to play in.
Oh wait, that's football. Sorry, I'll get back to baseball now.

41- Though there are a lot of good tournaments out there, all will pale in comparison to the Urban Invitational in Compton that will feature UCLA, USC, Southern and Bethune-Cookman.
This is part of the MLB's RBI program and a good idea too. Best feature of the weekend? USC and Southern's bands will be there and have a competition before their game. Gee, I wonder which band will win? (Yes, I know the answer).

42- The Colonial will replace the Big South as the "It" mid-major conference in the East.
Old Dominion is pre-season No. 25 in Baseball America.
Virginia Commonwealth is loaded for another run.
UNC-Wilmington looks stocked for a return to the post-season.
And Delaware is also on the rise after being part of a four-way tie for first.
Meanwhile...
Winthrop crumbled under expectations last year and had too many studs transfer out.
Coastal Carolina won't quite live up to its Regional-hosting squad of 2007.
And Liberty will have to adjust to a new regime under Jim Toman before winning consistently.

43- Besides the CAA, the America East will be the best conference race to watch.
Nothing ever stays the same in the AmEast. In the past four years we've seen four different regular season champions and four different tournament champions. This year's race looks as wide open as ever. But you have to figure Maine will be back in the driver's seat if they live up to potential.

44- The Mountain West will once again be the biggest underachievers.
If you've ever been to a game at UNLV, BYU, San Diego State, Utah or New Mexico, you've sat in some of the finest baseball facilities in the country. Still, only TCU looks like a viable national player again this year. But watch out for BYU's potential.

45- College baseball will continue to be smarter than college football because they won't try to change the name to something unwieldy and stupid like "Football Bowl Subdivision" - a phrase I still refuse to use.

46- Hawaii and Hawaii-Hilo will start the season a week earlier than everyone else (Friday February 15th) and everybody will say "Hmmm. Maybe starting the season one week earlier will be just fine for college baseball."
And next year, it will be so.

47- With the condensed season, five-game weeks and weather issues, a lot of Top 25 teams will end the regular season playing less than 50 games.

48- ... and a lot of Northern schools will see this happen to Southern schools and say, "Oh poor babies. Welcome to our world."
(Remember my Q&A with Minnesota's John Anderson from last year?)

49- www.NCAA-baseball.com will continue to be the most kick-ass website on the planet and I will continue to be addicted to it all season long.
Thank you Jeremy and Cindy.

50- A lot of smaller conferences will continue to hold post-season tournaments where third or fourth place finishers will win it and go to the NCAA tournament instead of their best team.
Or, like the Southern Conference last year, will see a last place team get hot and win their tourney (Wofford). C'mon small and mid-majors, just stop with the conference tournaments, will ya'?

51- After a few years of going walk-about, the Southland Conference will be "back" in 2008.
Look for it to be a multi-bid league for the first time since 2005 and to start pulling more early season upsets again.

52- The Sun Belt will be the best mid-major conference out there this season.
Look for the return of Florida Atlantic, South Alabama and Florida International to the contending scene. UL-L will be huge with a stud pitching rotation and Tom Walters will continue to pull miracles out of his New Orleans team. I like this conference a lot.

53- Oklahoma State will not end Arkansas' season for the third year in a row.
Hogs will be down a notch and will hit the road for the post-season. Oklahoma State lost way too much and, like their rival Sooners last year, will have a tough time making the post-season.

54- At least three times this year I bet I'll see an outfielder lose a pop-fly in the sun while his sunglasses rest on top of his hat.
They're not a fashion accessory guys.

55- Once again the high strike will never be called by a home plate ump.
And you know there are many times when it needs to be.

56- I will continue to call for more college ballparks to serve beer like Tulane and Long Beach State do.
Then, I'll see another drunken fan acting an ass to an opposing fan and it will remind me that beer at games is not always a great thing.

BrewAtLB.jpg
(Mmmm. Beer at Long Beach. Beer can be a good and bad thing.)

57- There are seven phrases you'll still never catch me using in a column.
1- no-no (for a no hitter)
2- walk-off home run (never seen a player walk)
3- it is what it is
4- body of work
5- pitchers "dual" (instead of duel)
6- swagger (horrible word talking heads use too much)
7- that RPI is great

58- The West will be wicked-good this year.
As scary as that sounds, the West didn't exactly have vintage seasons the last two years. (Yeah, I know Oregon State has won it all both those years). But that will change this year. The Pac 10 will have practically no weak links. The Big West has improvement all across the board. And the West Coast Conference will have major incentive with its 0-4 post-season mark. Oh and as I stated, Fresno will be a monster too.

59- The selection committee will still find a way to screw the West.
Although the committee did one of its best jobs in years last season, you DO remember how they crammed every team in the West on one side of the bracket, right? That was below par.

60- Still, the West will get better treatment than the old days.
Prior to last year, the West was usually funneled into two Super Regionals, not four. Even if it meant matching up conference rivals.

61- For the first time since 2003, this year's national champion will be one of the eight national seeds.
Which leads me to...

62- For the seventh straight year, the national champion will come from West of the Mississippi River.
Which leads me to...

63- The best-of-three title round in Omaha will see?...
Missouri vs. Arizona State.
At least that's my pick for now. Hey, how 'bout sticking your neck out and making a pick?

64- Somewhere out there in college baseball-land this year an All American or All-conference player will eventually go on to the pros, have an incredible career and be caught using steroids, forever soiling their names - and our sport.
I just hope I'm wrong. That's all.

G'night.

February 10, 2008

Saturday Statements - The What, you didn't go to a college baseball game today? version

This new common start date is absolutely the best thing for college baseball. Especially when I decided to drive down to San Diego to see an NAIA game between No. 2 ranked Azusa Pacific and Point Loma Nazarene. I mean those poor boys had to play a double-header under Mother Nature's fury of bright sunshine and biting cold 74-degree temperatures.

HomePlateViewPLN.jpg
(Point Loma Nazarene's Carroll B. Land Stadium. Yes, that's the Pacific Ocean beyond the fence.)

Yes, I was Jonesing for college baseball so bad I decided to make the horrid drive down the 5 Freeway to "America's most scenic ballpark" at PLNU. In case you didn't know it, that's the moniker given to Carroll B. Land Field by a writer from the San Diego Tribune in 1993. It literally does overlook the Pacific Ocean beyond its outfield wall as you can see the surfers lining up to ride the tubes in the breakers below. Nice joint to say the least.

CarrollLandStadium.jpg

Game one
Azusa Pacific 000 100 010- 2 8 0
Point Loma 000 003 14x- 8 15 0

Game two
Azusa Pacific 201 003 0- 6 14 1
Point Loma 010 003 0- 4 8 1

A pitcher by the name of Jonny Bravo got the win in game two for APU to improve to 2-0 on the season. And the 5'7" dynamo threw pretty hard too. The guns were reading mid-90s on his fast ball. It seemed like he was throwing somewhere in the upper 110s. Guess it's been a while since I've been at a game, so I chalked it up to that fact.

johnnybravo.jpg
(Okay, just so you know. This is Johnny Bravo, the character from The Brady Bunch episodes of the mid-70s)

JonnyBravo.jpg
(Not to be confused with Azusa Pacific's Jonny Bravo, who threw fire today in game two)

I got to the stadium today just as the first game was ending. Then took in the view beyond left field in between games to watch the line of surfers and stayed for game two.

Was particularly interested in seeing APU's 1B Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the MVP of the Alaska League last summer, and PLNU's SS Jesse Gill, who Baseball America named as the No. 10 pro prospect in the Northwoods League.

Nieuwenhuis was intentionally walked twice and also sliced a 1st inning single and laced a line shot that was caught in a diving fashion by the Point Loma left fielder.

Gill was a stout fielder and got on base all three times at the dish, including by error and a pair of singles. His last at-bat was a two-run single that pulled the Sea Lions within 6-4 in the 6th inning.

The star of the game turned out to be APU catcher Stephen Kohatsu, who hit a two-run homer in the 1st, a gap single in the 3rd and another single in the 6th. He also blocked the plate on a play at the dish to stem a Point Loma 6th inning rally.

PlayAtPlatePLN.jpg
(Azusa's Stephen Kohatsu making the defensive play of the day)


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Two weird factoids about NAIA baseball---
(Yes, Bob Broughton, otherwise known as the King of NAIA baseball, I should've known about these already, but I didn't. My bad.)
1- The Courtesy Runner.
When the catcher gets on base, NAIA rules allow for a pinch runner. And the catcher doesn't have to leave the game. He can resume his spot in the lineup. It's referred to as a "courtesy runner" for the catcher. Know why they have this rule? Because apparently, the rules-makers felt it was a way to keep the game moving quickly. See, by doing this, the catcher could go back to the dugout and start putting on his fielding gear. (Oooookay...)

2- Intentional Walks
If a team wants to intentionally walk a batter, the pitcher doesn't have to throw four balls, he can merely tell the umpire "intentional walk" and off the batter goes to first base. I LOVE this rule. One of the saddest scenes I'd ever seen was in the 2005 Super Regionals when Arizona State's Zechry Zinicola balked home the winning run for Cal State Fullerton in game one while attempting an intentional walk.


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I know. I know. Where's the preview stuff?---
One of the things I liked about CSTV's plans for college baseball previews is that the boys in the New York office decided to wait 'til this coming week to start posting my conference write-ups and a lot of other pre-season features. (Some sites started their "pre-season coverage" with features before Christmas. Really, peeps.That's like those college football magazines that start hitting the stands in late May.). So don't worry, the goods are on the way and when they get here, you'll dig it. In fact, I believe there's a money-back guarantee.

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My Hall of Fame ballot---
I find voting for the latest class of the College Baseball Hall of Fame nearly impossible. You're given 67 names of great coaches and players and asked to vote for anywhere from 6 to 12 of them. So, thanklessly, arguably and after much consternation, here are the 12 names I put on my ballot:

1- John Winkin, coach of Maine
Anybody who can lead a team from Maine to the CWS six times (and two 3rd place finishes) is a miracle worker to me.

2- Gary Ward, coach of Oklahoma State/New Mexico State
10 straight CWS berths? 14 straight Big 8 titles? Good goshawmighty!

3- Steve Arlin, Ohio State pitcher
CWS record 20Ks in a game.

4- Danny Goodwin, Southern Catcher
Only player ever to be drafted as the No. 1 pick on two occasions.

5- Mickey Sullivan, OF and coach Baylor
Hit .519 in 1954 and also led Baylor to its first two CWS berths in 1977 and 78.

6- Paul Molitor, SS Minnesota
Led the Gophers to a No. 1 ranking going into the 1977 CWS.

7- John "Hi" Simmons, coach Missouri
Put up with college aged dudes from 1937 to 1973. Won national title too.

8- Mike Smith, OF Indiana.
Only player ever to win the college triple crown in 1992.

9- Owen Carroll, Pitcher Holy Cross.
Went 50-2 as a pitcher back in the early 1900s (one of my two Veterans list picks)

10- Billy Disch, coach Texas
Won 22 conference titles. And had the stadium at UT named after him... until some corporate sponsor took over.

11- Jeff Ledbetter, OF Florida State
Hit 42 home runs in 1982, then a national record. Broken by Pete Incaviglia in '85.

12- Greg Swindell, Pitcher Texas
One of only six players to be named 1st team All American in three seasons.

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Who I left on the "How can you leave them off?" list---
There were an endless number of worthy Hall of Fame candidates that were hard as hell to leave off. Here are a select few of note.
- Jackie Robinson, UCLA
The civil rights pioneer only hit .097 in his lone college season in Westwood.

- Branch Rickey, Ohio Wesleyan/ Michigan, player/ coach
The Dodger G.M. changed the sports world, but didn't do enough in college to merit a vote.

- Ben McDonald, LSU pitcher
The Tiger hurler began the trend of stud pitchers who met tough times in Omaha.

- Al Ogletree, Pan American coach
Anyone who could win 1,200+ games in Edinburg, Texas is a hero.

- Dick Howser, Florida State player and coach
Inspirational former coach who FSU's stadium was named after.

- Eddie Bane, Arizona State pitcher
Probably my most egregious leave-off. But I think he'll probably get voted in anyway.

- B.J. Surhoff, North Carolina catcher
One of only two numbers retired on the Boshamer Stadium outfield wall.

- Neal Heaton, Miami pitcher
The Heat. A great college pitcher in Miami's heydays under Ron Fraser.

- Barry Larkin, Michigan
Led Michigan to two CWS appearances. Played 20-some odd years in the bigs - all for the Reds.

- Dave Roberts, Oregon 3B
Drafted No. 1 by San Diego and went straight to Jack Murphy Stadium the next day. No minors for him.


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The Steroid Boys---
Two players that were included on the College Baseball Hall of Fame candidates list were Mark McGwire (USC) and Rafael Palmeiro (Mississippi State). Just in case steroids played any part in their college success too, I decided to leave these liars off of my list.

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Oregon's baseball stadium---
Seen the artist renderings of that bad boy yet? Ho-chee-mama! It looks freakin' immaculate. Here's a link to an article from the Oregon Daily Emerald on the new digs:

http://media.www.dailyemerald.com/media/storage/paper859/news/2008/01/31/Sports/Oregon.Unveils.Duck.Baseballs.Field.Of.Dreams-3179596.shtml

Only beef? The location.

Instead of having it on campus, they've decided to build in on the Northwest shoulder of Autzen Stadium. Not a bad location, mind you. I mean, they will have access to the weight room and indoor Mashovsky Center facilities. But if you look at the Google Earth view of the campus, you'll see the open, unused area between the softball field and the famous Hayward Track stadium that I thought would've been a perfect place for the baseball stadium. Especially during those numerous spring track meets where the fans could mosey by the baseball stadium between events and take in a few innings. Meanwhile, the Autzen Stadium location is a couple of miles away from the heart of the Eugene campus.


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Okay, it's getting late. And the start of the season is just six days away in Honolulu. See you when the preview stuff starts. Hope you dig it. Also, I'll be posting "The 64 things to watch for in college baseball this season" in the next few days. Don't worry, it won't be your normal boring "just the facts" stuff. It will be fun.

G'night.

 


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