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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.


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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.

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