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

(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:

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

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

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

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.
(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.

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.

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.

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?
(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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

(There were many open seats... no, sections at the Clipper game Wednesday night)
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!

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.

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.

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.



Anthony Scelfo hit two triples on Wednesday night for Tulane against ULL.

Also, in last year's Houston College Classic during the saturday Vandy/Arizona State game, Vandy won on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth when ASU was attempting to intentionally walk the batter. Question: why doesn't the first baseman back up the catcher on intentional walks?

Brad Beanblossom went on to play for the Cardinals, eventually playing in the AAA division. He now works for Louisville Slugger as a regional sales manager.

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