July 2, 2007
By Eric Sorenson, CSTV.com
I feel like John Winger in the movie "Stripes." At the point where he already lost his job, his car, his apartment and then watched as his girlfriend walked out on him, preserving the fact that the tiny acorn will NOT become the mighty oak tree. He slumps to the floor, saying, "... and then, depression set in."
That's how I feel now. This is the part of the calendar year that I hate more than any other. College football is still two full months away. And - gulp! - the next pitch for college baseball is... (I'm doing the math here, bear with me)... seven... no, eight months away. (Damn later start date).
So as my last thoughts of 2007 slip out of my brain and onto my laptop screen, here are 10 quick hits I have been thinking about since the season ended five days ago.
1-USC, LSU, Stanford, Oregon State, Texas.Like the kids saying goes, which one of these is NOT like the others?
If you answered Oregon State, you win an all-day sucker. These guys just don't fit into the national power/dynasty category, right? Well, on second thought, maybe they do. As North Carolina coach Mike Fox pointed out in the post-game press conference, the days of teams repeating are supposed to be over. It just isn't possible. But yet, here we are.
But be honest, if I would've asked any of you stitch-heads out there 10 years ago, "Who do you think will be the next program to win back-to-back national titles?" I'm thinking exactly NONE of you would've said Oregon State. If I had suggested USC, LSU, Stanford or Texas to pull the trick again, I'm sure it would've been met with a shrug of the shoulders and "eh."
2-If Oregon State baseball were to go to a masquerade party, they'd probably go dressed as... Kansas State football.Like the once-moribund Mildcats, this program was not exactly a perennial winner. It was more of a perennial punching bag. Oh sure, it made a CWS appearance in 1952, but other than that, we're talking years upon years of futility. But Pat Casey turned things around immediately:1995: 25-24-11996: 32-16-11997: 38-12-11998: 35-14-11999: 19-352000: 28-272001: 31-242002: 31-232003: 25-282004: 31-222005: 46-122006: 50-162007: 49-18So it actually turns out that it's the rest of college baseball that has taken its damned sweet time coming around to acknowledging this program. For example, the '96, '97 and '98 teams probably deserved consideration for a bid to the NCAA tournament, but nobody would give them a freakin' sniff. (For example, Boyd Nation's ISR calculations had the Beavers at No. 19 at the end of the '98 season, but the RPI had them No. 61). In the meantime, coach Casey has upgraded everything: the schedule, the facilities, the reputation, the talent, the following and of course, the expectations. Like Coach Bill Snyder at K-State, he has made a national power with a newly-vibrant fan base in a most unlikely location, against pretty long odds. Only difference between the two, Casey has a pair of knucklebone-sized rings to show for it now.
3-If North Carolina baseball were to go to a masquerade party, they'd probably go dressed as... Ohio State football and basketball.Lost in the hoopla of Oregon State pulling off a second straight national title is the fact that UNC has been bad-ass enough to make it within a few outs of the title two years in a row as well. Think about Ohio State. If not for Florida having the hot athletic program this past year, Buckeye fans could be sticking their chests out about national titles in both football and basketball. Well, the Heels came pretty damn close to pulling out a two-fer of their own here in college baseball land. Like Coach Casey and the Beavers, I give UNC head honcho Mike Fox all sorts of props for elevating the program to where it is. And most impressively, for getting a team that lost 1st round talents in Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard back to the cusp of the brass ring a year later. Totally incredible. Unlike ESPN and its endless supply of Beaver features, let's give North Carolina its well-deserved due.
4-Worst comment of the entire College World Series.Barry Larkin, when discussing the lack of blacks in Division I college baseball said "Baseball needs to embrace the hip-hop culture."Oh yeah?! What about baseball embracing the punk culture? Think of all those little punk-rockers out there scratching their mohawks wondering how to hit a curveball and not knowing who will teach them. And what about leaving the hip hop culture to a sport that REALLY needs it... like NASCAR.
5-Conference grades.A quick look at a few select conferences in the country.- ACC: CCarolina making the CWS finals saves a lot of face here. Most teams didn't live up to billing in the NCAAs. Georgia Tech may have deserved a bid to the big dance, but played under its talent level all season. As for Florida State? Miami? Virginia? They crapped the rug big-time in the post-season.- Big 10: AAwesome year. So many big non-conference wins, even Kendall Rogers is impressed. Can you imagine if that near no-hitter from Zach Putnam goes down as a W over Oregon State? That could've changed the series. Minnesota and Ohio State also represented the conference well. And I'm still stunned Penn State played so well at UNC.- Big 12: COkay, five teams made the Regional finals. Granted. And A&M and Okie State didn't do too bad in the Supers (well, until you consider the 20-2 smackdown OSU took at Louisville). But overall, still a bad post-season here. Particularly with Texas under-achieving again, even if it came against a team as good as UCI. I'm starting to wonder about my "Augie Factor" now.- Big East: B+Obviously, a Big East'r making it to Omaha is huge news. Louisville doing so well in the post-season pretty much assures me that Paul Maineiri is right, this conference plays good baseball. St. John's and Rutgers had nice wins in regular season (see, Rice and Georgia Tech), but had tough luck in Regionals.- Big West: B+Nobody tested themselves more as a conference than these guys. And it showed in the post-season. UCI was the darlings of Omaha. Fullerton played like Titans of old to make the CWS. Long Beach made a regional final. Only UCR ran out of steam, losing in three in Tempe. In hindsight, Cal Poly has a gripe about not getting a bid too.- Conference USA: BWell, obviously, Rice carries the flag here. But you have to think back to how well East Carolina did in the non-conference. Strong work. Southern Miss had some nice wins too. But keep in mind that Rice just waltzed through CUSA play like it was the WAC all over again, Memphis didn't play like it deserved a post-season bid and Tulane under-achieved huge.- Pac 10: A+Great performance all season long. Take away Arizona State's piss-poor weekend at Auburn and the Pac 10 exceeded its billing. Nobody really laid an egg in the post-season. Even Arizona made the Regional finals before losing at Wichita State. Difference placement in the NCAAs could've meant Oregon State vs. ASU for the national title.- SEC: DFirst, getting only five NCAA bids amounts to the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Then, the reputation took a black eye with Vandy getting knocked off by Michigan, South Carolina and Ole Miss catching the SEC bugaboo of not winning on the road in the post-season (though DAMN! The Rebels should've won game one in Tempe) and MSU going 0-2 in Omaha.- Sun Belt: C-The huge run by New Orleans probably overshadows Troy's horrid 0-2 proof it didn't belong in the NCAAs and UL-Lafayette blowing it's chance at a Super Regional bid by not getting any offense vs. Texas A&M. The Privateers nearly picked off Wichita State twice in the Regionals. Can't wait to see what Tom Walters does with this program next.- WCC: C-The only reason this one isn't a "D" grade, is because Gonzaga deserved a post-season bid (considering it's many, many tough non-conference wins). San Diego dominated the headlines in the regular season, but wilted in the spotlight of a post-season host. Pepperdine didn't make a Regional final for the first time since 2003. We expect better from this Mid-Major.
6-Remove the pacifier and fire off a parting shot.How about this one from North Carolina reliever Andrew Carnignan, explaining why he was barking at OSU's 3rd base coach in Sunday's finale:"It's just tough the way they played. Their offensive philosophy... I just don't agree with how they do it. They try to slow things down as much as possible. It's not baseball in my opinion. It's kind of a cowardly way to play. I was steamed-up about it. It's a big percentage of their offensive mentality... and I don't agree with it."
That's funny. The Beavers - and the scoreboard - "agreed with it."
7-Almost perfect Lou.Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, run by legendary college baseball mind Lou Pavlovich, ran a feature on the Top 50 College World Series moments. A great retrospective, without a doubt. But there were two moments that he forgot to include.
1- Creighton in the CWS.The hometown team coached by now Cubs G.M. Jim Hendry had the city in a frenzy in 1991, finally making the series they've long been the host institution for. In a Monday night winner's bracket game, the hometown Jays played an epic 12-inning contest against MoValley rival Wichita State. With the Shockers clinging to a precarious 3-2 lead, the game came down to a play at the plate when Shocker CF Jim Audley unleashed a perfect throw to Catcher Doug Mirabelli to cut down CU's Steve Bruns at the dish in the 12th, preserving the panic-filled win.
2- The Championship Game Streaker.The streaking craze hit Rosenblatt in the 9th inning of the 1974 CWS title game between USC and Miami as a fleet free-baller ran right in front of where my father and I were sitting in the first row of Section M and entered the field where the ball girls run out to chase down foul balls off the netting behind home plate. The bare buck then stepped up to home plate, waving around one of those over-sized pink bats from back in the day. He feigned a swing at an imaginary ball, and then noticed the stadium security cops running toward him. At that point he started running the bases down the third base line, hit the bag and started toward second. After touching second base, with the cops still in full chase, he kept running straight for the right field foul pole. The streaker then scaled the wall and left the stadium (at the time there were no outfield bleachers). Apparently, the guy ended up getting caught somewhere just after hopping the fence. At least that was the story I heard. The remainder of the game was played without any further delays.
So you see, all those weak beach-ballers in the outfield bleachers have no sense of creativity in how to REALLY disrupt a game.
8-Schedule Fever starts now.The winners are: UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton.This is the time of year that I can usually count on Long Beach State being the first school to post their next season's schedule on the website. But not this year. As of today, the only two I found were from the Highlander website and a Titan message board. Here they are:UCR:http://www.athletics.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/display.cgi?sportl=1CSUF:http://mbd.scout.com/mb.aspx?s=45#S=45&F=2231&T=649524
9-One last YouTube moment until football season.Evan, of the Going Yard boys, forwarded me this link of the remarkable Stevie Wonder kickin' some serious A on the drums. Neil Peart, move over:
(Keep in mind, this is from when Stevie was cool... Not ruined by management that told him piece-of-crap songs like "That's what friends are for" and "I just called to say I love you" were a good idea.)
10-Okay, okay, I'll pick my Eight for The O in 0-Eight.But keep in mind this is NOT a Pre-season Top 8 or a prediction of who will be the national seeds for next year's tournament. This is just one of those things that I'll write down now and then, if for some reason most of them DO make it to the CWS next year, you'll never hear the end of it from me. Here you go:
- Arizona State - I know, no real surprise here. Probably pre-season No. 1.- UCLA - They almost made it to the Series a year early too.- San Diego - Coulda, woulda, shoulda in '07. Can, will and shall in '08.- Missouri - Lots of youth. Firey coach. Underrated like UNC used to be.- Texas - With guys like Russell, Suttle, Danks and Wood, this is a "matter of time" thing.- South Carolina - Eventually those potent bats will overcome their pitching woes.- Virginia - Jacob Thompson, Greg Miclat and Brandon Guyer give Coach O'Connor a homecoming.- Ohio State - Go ahead, roll your eyes. About as likely as a Big East team making it, right?... oh wait.
Okay, there you go. I have posted my last Friday First Takes for the 2007 baseball season. Oh I may throw something up here from time to time. In fact, I'm supposed to be going to see some Cape Cod games in mid-July. If I have some interesting comments from that, I'll include them here.
It's been a great season. I'm already counting the months until the SoCal Media Day kicks off another college baseball season next February.
Don't worry, we're getting older here people. It'll be here quicker than you think.
Eric Sorenson is CSTV.com's National Baseball Columnist, and also appears on CSTV as a baseball expert. For more of Sorenson's insights, click here.