The mid season mayhem portion of the college baseball schedule is now in full swing. As I write this on Saturday night, Oregon has taken the first two in Westwood, the Cardinal have taken the first two in Corvallis, Texas continues to pitch out of their minds and the ACC and SEC races are starting to really take shape. Let me start in Fayetteville, where I had the chance to see Arkansas and Georgia last night during my first trip to Baum stadium.
As I wrote earlier this week, the Arkansas trek this weekend was a family affair. My dad and son Teddy made the trip with me and we had a blast. I do want to thank the fine folks at the hotel for posting a Medieval Times brochure at the eye level of a five year old. The only problem, the restaurant was in Dallas. As we entered the hotel, Teddy grabbed the brochure and seemingly had dinner planned out for the night. Try explaining to a five year old that Dallas is not a dinner trip from Fayetteville. Miniature golf got the call instead and I took two Gatorades from Teddy on the back nine. He did crush the White River on Friday though as he pulled a few Crappies and one White Bass out (catch and release of course). This takes the cake for trip of the year, nothing beats a father-son squared weekend on the road.
To the game…and the atmosphere. My first trip to the Natural State did not disappoint. Dave Van Horn has created a monster in Fayetteville. Most college fans know of Baum stadium, but the growth since Van Horn took over is pretty impressive. They now have 32 luxury suites (all sold out) that extend down each baseline and the feeling is still collegiate. He also has a pretty salty squad this year. Zack Cox is the headliner and rightfully so. Show me a more complete hitter in college baseball right now. What impressed me even more though were the guys that surrounded him. I saw many of them in Omaha last year, but the lineup right now is very offensive. Bo Bigham was the sparkplug as he reached base five times. He is a perfect guy to hit in front of Cox, Wilkins and Eibner. He showed patience and really seemed to get his role…all with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Wilkins has big time power and his 3 run HR in the first really spun the game early. Oh, Drew Smyly was pretty good himself. The lefthander gave up two in the first and then cruised through the last eight innings for his first career complete game. His variance with the fastball probably impressed me the most. The velocity on the fastball was between 84-93 mph, a range that I don’t know that I have ever seen. The top end velo was better than I remembered and he proved why he is a true Friday night guy. Arkansas is for real, I would be very surprised if they are not hosting throughout and fighting for another trip to Omaha.
One quick note on Georgia. They are obviously scuffling right now, but I do think that they will get it turned around next year. The pitching struggles and injury problems have been too much to overcome but I really like Dave Perno and his staff. There is some talent there, but there are pretty beat down right now.
On the national front, give me George Horton as the coach of the year thus far but keep Brad Hill in the discussion. No one could have imagined the success that the Ducks have had this year. They were the first team to best Arizona St., and have now taken the first two from UCLA on the road after a series win at Stanford last weekend. They did not have a program three years ago, and definitely took their lumps last year during the first year on the field. But with a pitching staff that ranks among the deepest (and best statistically) in the country, Horton’s crew has thrust themselves into the post season mix and no one will want to play them in early June. In Manhattan, Brad Hill has succeeded this year in a year that most thought the Cats would take a step back. They lost AJ Morris and his 14 wins from a team that won 43 games last year. The Cats have won the first two this weekend against Baylor and now sit at 8-3 in the Big 12 thus far. They have a tough road ahead with series’ against Texas, Oklahoma, KU and A&M still to come but the resume thus far is still pretty impressive.
One stat note, check out the top team era’s in the country when you have a minute. Last year, the top four team era’s, and five of the top nine nationally, were represented in Omaha at the end of the year. Pitching still gets you to the top and this year is starting to look like the same formula.
Have a great night, I will recap the weekend more in depth early this week.