That is the way it is supposed to go out. The extra inning walk off single by Whit Merrifield gave South Carolina their first national title and turned out the lights at Rosenblatt Stadium. After losing their first game of the CWS, the Gamecocks rode an underappreciated pitching staff through the rest of the tourney. One of the greatest things about the CWS every year is the unexpected performances that come about. There was no need to start Michael Roth during the regular season, he was much more effective as a reliever. When Ray Tanner called his number for his first start of the year though, Roth was better than anyone could have expected. Relievers are conditioned differently than starters. More sprints, less distance, so the fact that Roth went the distance in his first start is even more impressive.
Omaha is also a place where legitimate stars are introduced to the entire country. College baseball fans knew who Jackie Bradley Jr. was, now the nation knows who Jackie is. I had a chance to spend some time with him over the past two weeks and I could not be more impressed. He can really play, but the way that he handled the attention and exposure was more telling to me. That ability is what sets guys apart as they move forward in their careers. The farther you go in this game, the more eyes that are on you. Jackie seems like he is perfectly suited for the ride that is almost certain to follow. The at bats were advanced, almost like he was looking for a specific pitch every at bat. He is not a burner, but the jumps are outstanding in center. He was a pleasure to watch in Omaha.
I was also very happy to see Ray Tanner hoist the trophy. He is a true professional, and I have always enjoyed covering his teams. This year’s South Carolina crew was a little different than the previous teams that Tanner had brought to Omaha. They could still hit, but the power numbers were not as gaudy as in years past. What was gaudier was the depth of the pitching staff and the ability to defend. This year in Omaha held true to what most of the previous ten years have established…pitching and defense win in Omaha now.
The reality of the CWS final is that someone has to lose, and too often that team’s run is entirely forgotten. John Savage and his staff put together one helluva squad. The pitching is obvious, but some of their position players can really play the game too. I really like Amaral and Regis, they can be anchors in a lineup for the next two years. Their staff was as advertised too. Cole can be electric, Bauer is quirky but he can really pitch, and Rasmussen is very polished and could head through the minir leagues pretty quickly. In the pen, I would bet that Klein is turned into a starter in pro ball because the secondary pitchers are so could and he can throw three for a strike. Rodriguez is a guy that was really overlooked the entire year. Somebody needs to catch these guys, and Rodriguez was solid behind the dish. Losing Rahmatulla was a giant loss, defensively and offensively. They get him back next year as well, and Savage will have one of the top teams in the country to start the season next year too.
Enjoy your summer, go catch a few summer league games if you have any that are close. I am sad to see Rosenblatt go, but cannot wait to get inside TD Ameritrade next June…