We’re off, and it really seems early to me. It was 11 below here in Omaha about two weeks ago, then shot up to 67 last week. Welcome to the ever-changing climate of the Midwest. With streaks like that though, it makes the mandatory start date even more important. Teams like Creighton have a little advantage because of the turf, although the snow just melted off late last week. Many teams ventured south without ever taking a ground ball outside.
Let’s start by sending my thoughts and prayers to Cory Hahn for a full recovery. Hahn was injured in a collision this past Sunday and is still hospitalized in Arizona.
I want to start the year by writing something that I never thought I would…I am cheering for Cal. The whole rivalry thing gets thrown way out of whack and I am exaggerating some, but I will absolutely be pulling for Dave Esquer and the Bears this season. What the University did to the program is embarrassing. Dave Esquer is a friend, and a great coach. He was an assistant coach when I was a player at Stanford and was universally respected by all. He can coach, he can recruit and I firmly believe that he can win. That is, if he’s truly given a chance. Think about this, Cal is the only program that I know of in the Pac-10, SEC, Big 12 or ACC that does not have lights. That’s a microcosm of the challenges that Esquer and the program have faced. Yet, they have made regionals two of the past three years and were ranked in the preseason top 25 in many polls this year. All of this while having to compete with inferior facilities and an administration that was simply not willing to put money into the program.
Any good business model includes opportunity spending, the money that is utilized to help better a business with the hopes and intent of increasing revenues. This never happened at Cal. The frustrating thing is that it has happened in numerous places around the country, and with great success. Take Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, TCU, Virginia and numerous others. Over the past ten years or so, a dedicated effort has been made to better the facilities at each of these schools. Two of the above have made their first ever trips to Omaha in this timeframe. They have literally built a program by putting the right coach in place, and giving him and his staff the necessary resources to win. Cal has half of this already, but they have never been willing to provide the needed support. You have a phenomenal learning institution, in one of the country’s largest metropolitan areas, that plays in one of the best conferences in the country. All you need to do is look north to Eugene to see what can happen when a program is given a chance. Here’s hoping that former Bears Doug Nickle, Sam Petke and the rest of the Save Cal Baseball crew reach their end goal of restoring this proud program.
Now to the first weekend. I was in Miami to cover the FIU-Southeastern Louisiana game as Garrett Wittels chased Robin Ventura’s record. It’s clearly been a long wait for Garrett, and it showed in his Friday at bats. He was aggressive outside of the zone and really looked to be pressing. The last at bat of the night was his best, and a great play by Jonathan Pace prevented a late inning hit that would have kept the streak alive. Wittels did show plenty of class when he went out of his way to congratulate Pace after the play. Aside from his actual at bats, Wittels handled the spotlight well this past weekend. I will be interested to see what his season looks like from here on out.
The one thing that I took out of the weekend was the growth of Southeastern Louisiana baseball. Jay Artigues has a pretty good club, and it is loaded with guys that were instrumental in last year’s success. Eight of the nine starters were regulars last year on a team that ended the season in the discussion for an at large bid. Southeastern will be tested early, but a 3-1 start including a thumping of Tulane this week bodes well for the remainder of the year. They are tough and experienced, and they have a Friday guy in Efferson that has the chance to be pretty good.
Across the rest of the country, Florida jumps off the page. Kevin O’Sullivan was pretty excited to have Karsten Whitson on campus, now we all know why. Five innings, nine punchouts, one hit allowed in his debut as UF swept USF. The Gators did everything well this past weekend and looked the part as the top team in the nation. They are loaded on the mound and return seven of their regular position players from last year. The Gators should make a serious run at the title this year.
UCLA has now played four games and given up one run, it makes sense that they started 4-0. North Carolina’s trip out west was a fruitful 4-0 as well, and Stetson’s sweep of Georgia this past weekend has the Hatters on the national radar already.
I’ll get into my take on the bat regulations next post, I do really think they are going to change the way that the game is played at some schools. The ball still travels if you center it, but if it just misses the barrel it does not go anywhere. More on that and the pitchclock/speed of game later this weekend.
One last thing, I drove by TD Ameritrade a few nights ago and the lights were all on. The new joint is going to be spectacular. Different, but still spectacular. It really should make for a great 2011 Series setting. Enjoy your matchups this weekend.