Just arrived at Carolina Stadium for the first time…they did this one right. A great shot of downtown Columbia beyond centerfield, all brick façade around the exterior and a rod iron fence beyond the right field wall that allows fans to peek in from the street. Dyson v. Chris Stratton in game two of the [...]
Back from Mexico and ready to get out on the road. Took the family to Cancun for a week and returned to 75 degree weather in Omaha. It is now starting to feel like baseball weather! I am in Baton Rouge tonight for Georgia at LSU on ESPNU at 8:30 Eastern, then head to Columbia tomorrow for the Mississippi St. v. South Carolina finale on Easter. Then Ole Miss at Georgia next Friday and the trek starts this year. It should be a great run and I will see a lot of SEC action through the regular season. More on tonight’s game a little later on…
Let me start with a brief look at last weekend. First, ASU and UCLA stay undefeated and we are almost ½ through the regular season. Each has set records for the fastest start in school history and each have played some pretty good clubs. This weekend, the Cardinal head to Westwood for UCLA’s first conference series of the year; Stanford is coming off a series win over USC at home. The Bruins took game one in extras and still sit undefeated. The Devils headed north to take on George Horton’s Ducks and a 1-0 game one win kept the Devils spotless as well. Drew Maggi’s first HR of the year was the difference as the teams combined for 9 hits. U of A took 2/3 from Oregon at home, after winning two midweek games against New Mexico. Andy Lopez’ club is off to a great start. I see as many as 7 Pac-10 teams solidly in the regional discussion right now, quite a statement for a conference that did have some struggles last year.
To last weekend’s best series, where UVA continued to show why they are one of the top teams in the country and Clemson showed why they are in the discussion as well. Each side put 12 runs on the board over the weekend, with UVA winning the series 2-1. Virginia had 10 hits in game 2 (and lost), that was the only double digit hit total for either team all weekend. Both should be hosts at the end of the year, and I would be very surprised if the ACC does not have at least 2 national seeds. Georgia Tech and FSU are the other two teams that are right there with Miami knocking on the door. The Wreck swept UNC in Chapel Hill to move to 8-1 in the conference. Deck McGuire and Matt Harvey went pitch for pitch on Friday, with McGuire getting the win. Harvey gave up just one earned run though and Tech won with three hits on the night. They then scored 24 runs over the next two games to sweep the series. The Noles swept Maryland at home, then beat Florida in a mid week game as well. Mike McGee leads FSU with 5 HR’s and has settled into the closer’s role as well. In 10 1/3 IP so far, he has given up just one hit.
There are some teams over the years that you remember in Omaha, even if they don’t go on to win the CWS. The Citadel’s run in 1990 is one that I will always remember. Georgia won the Series that year, but The Citadel was definitely the fan favorite in Omaha. Fred Jordan’s club is a great story this year too, with a 9-0 start in the SoCon and 19 wins already this year. Pretty impressive stuff for the Bulldogs.
In the SEC, the class of the conference is starting to show itself early. LSU, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Florida, South Carolina and Vandy are all in the discussion to host as we hit the halfway point of the season. South Carolina’s series win at Auburn was impressive and I will see them on Sunday in Columbia for the series finale against Mississippi St. More on both teams early next week. LSU got Anthony Renaudo back and he impressed in two innings at Tennessee. Renaudo will start again tonight and should go 40-45 pitches. The LSU lineup has some familiar faces, with Blake Dean and Micah Gibbs anchoring in the middle. Dean’s transition to 1B has been a good transition thus far, I look forward to seeing him over there tonight. I talked with Paul Mainieri today about his club, and he mentioned that Dean had never played 1B until this year. You don’t hear that very often with LH power hitters. A few notes on Georgia, they have really struggled but are getting close to 100%. The Dogs had 11 players drafted last year, but the toughest situation for all was the heartbreaking incident with Chance Veazey. I hope to see Chance next week when I head to Athens. I look forward to seeing Grimm tonight and a Georgia starting line-up that is all freshmen and sophomores. They got Farmer and Hyams back last weekend after injuries and that should help as the season moves on.
Others that impressed this week include Kansas St. with a 3 game sweep at home against Oklahoma St. Brad Hill’s club then beat Wichita St. in a mid week game but was clipped by Texas tech last night in the series opener in Lubbock. Hill has done a masterful job the past two years in Manhattan. UT and Oklahoma meet this weekend in Norman (the Saturday game is on ESPNU). The Horns took game one thanks to a combined shutout by Taylor Jungmann and Chance Ruffin.
A few last notes, congrats to Randy Fontanez from USF on the no-hitter last weekend against Notre Dame. Fontanez struck out 12 and helped Lelo Prado’s club sweep the Irish. Lastly, it was a sad day for college baseball earlier this week when Jack Diesing Sr. passed away in Omaha at the age of 92. Jack is the reason that the CWS grew in Omaha and his efforts in building the tournament, and as a result the college game, are still seen today. Diesing’s drive and determination, and belief that Omaha could become a first class and permanent home to the CWS, allowed the event to become one of the NCAA’s banner championships. There was a great article on Omaha.com earlier this week that spoke of Jack’s dedication to the sport, the city and the event. Jack’s son, Jack Diesing Jr., has continued his father’s fine work over the past few decades and the Series continues to grow year after year. Have a great weekend, I’ll talk to you in the next few days.
Let the conference seasons begin. I know that we are not entirely there, but many of the major conferences are off and running. I will get there in a minute, but let’s start in the midwest this week.
First, it is starting to warm up…snow is finally off the ground here in Omaha. We had a scare this week with another 2 inches on Friday, but 50 degrees today did away with all of it. It matters because midwest teams will finally get outside for an extended period of time starting about now…and it’s about time. Give midwestern and northern team’s credit for travelling to warm weather schools early. I know that most do not have a choice, but playing top teams early is a tough task. There is no replacement for getting outside, no matter how impressive a school’s indoor facilities. Enough about the weather, on to the week.
We start in Tempe as the Devils put together quite a week. I know that I have written about the relative unimportance of mid-week games. Let me amend that a little. It can show a team’s strengths and weaknesses as far as depth. Arizona St has answered that question thanks to a mid-week sweep in Fullerton and a sweep of a game Houston club at home, all of this coming after a home sweep of Auburn. The Devils showed why they are among the country’s elite. The stats are interesting to say the least…48 stolen bases, more walks (116) then strikeouts (111), and just 17 home runs in the first 20 games. The team era is sub-3 as well. That is balance, and that is without Josh Spence. It sounds like Spence will be back in a few weeks at the latest. UCLA kept up their winning ways as well, and both now stand undefeated through the first month+ of the season. The Bruins have wins over Vandy, Long Beach, USC, Nebraska, Riverside, Mississippi St. Oklahoma and Oral Roberts. That is a pretty impressive list. Arizona, Stanford, Oregon and Oregon St. all swept weekend series’ as well and the Pac-10 race could be a crowded one this year.
Give Pacific some credit for their start as well. Stockton native Ed Sprague has had quite a run this year as UOP has won all 4 of their weekend series so far this year, and won 3 of 4 in the Irish classic as well. A solid Big West run could put the Tigers in the regional discussion this year.
UC Irvine had a good week and weekend as well, with a mid-week win over USD and a weekend sweep of Gonzaga. Daniel Bibona remains one of the top Friday arms in the country. Irvine’s overall numbers will not amaze anyone but any Mike Gillespie team will force you to beat you, they will rarely beat themselves. Fullerton responded from a mid-week sweep at the hands of Arizona St. by sweeping UW in Seattle. Don’t be surprised if the Titans get on a roll now entering Big West play. USD took 2 of 3 at home against Rice and had the lead in the 9th on Sunday with a chance to sweep. Rich Hill’s club has been up and down and they make the eastern trek this week to take on Coastal Carolina. That will be a test, 3 time zones and a tough Chants team to beat at home.
Heading east, Oklahoma stays hot after a 3-0 week. The Sooners were rained out in the final 2 games against Baylor, although they trailed game two 5-0 when it was called. Kansas struggled over the past week after the series win in Baton Rouge. An 0-4 week with two losses each to Tulane and St. Louis have brought the Jayhawks back down to earth. Kansas St. was supposed to be rebuilding this year but it has not looked that way so far. After losing their top two arms off a regional club from last year, the Wildcats sit at 15-3 and they open Big 12 play this weekend at home against Oklahoma St. Texas’ mid week loss to Rice was evened out by a series win to start conference play over Nebraska.
Outside of the Big 12, TCU continues to be a solid national story, and is positioning themselves nicely to enter the national seed discussion in late May. The Frogs had a 7 game winning streak snapped in the series finale against BYU, but they won the weekend series and had another solid outing from frosh Matt Purke. I love the goggles by the way, pitchers with glasses have to stick together. New Mexico losing 2 of 3 at home to Utah is a step back, but Ray Birmingham’s club was bound to have a down weekend. They have been pretty consistent thus far. Two mid-week games at Arizona will be a solid test as Andy Lopez’ club has been playing some pretty good baseball. U of A is a tough place to play, the gaps are some of the biggest in all of college baseball and the Wildcats always play well at their home park. On the down side, Wichita St’s trip out west was a tough one, losing 4 of 5 to Long Beach and Arizona. They get into Mo. Valley play this coming weekend at home against Bradley…and they hope to be done with snow outs!
I am heading south for a few days with the family, back with more next week. The ESPN schedule kicks off on April 2nd in Baton Rouge when Georgia takes on LSU. Then Texas v. Oklahoma the following night with Mississippi St. at South Carolina to finish off the weekend. ESPN and ESPNU will have college baseball on every weekend starting the first weekend of April through the CWS and I am excited to get things started. Also, I will have podcasts of interviews with coaches and players from around the game following every weekend as well. Lastly, I am proud to call Omaha home and this summer will bring an additional college baseball game to Rosenblatt Stadium. We will announce a game between Team USA and Team Japan tomorrow here in Omaha and the game will be played on July 21st. It should be another great event for the city and will give Rosenblatt one more great college game before they close the doors. I had a chance to hang with Warren Morris and the guys from USA baseball tonight in Omaha and I am fired up for the game this summer.
Get your questions in, I’ll answer some towards the end of next week. By the way…give me Kentucky, Tennessee., the ‘Cuse and Duke in the final four with Syracuse and UK in the final. I think the frosh get it done and Calipari hoists the trophy in year one.
To start, we are now up and running and I am excited to partner with the folks from Easton. Fire away with comments and suggestions, I will read them and respond when I can. I also want to acknowledge the guys around the country that do such a complete job of covering the college game. I am proud to call guys like Eric Sorenson, Kendall Rogers, Aaron Fitt and others colleagues and their work in the game is exceptional. My TV work will start in Baton Rouge in a few weeks with Georgia at LSU on April 2. I look forward to getting back at it and the coverage on ESPN will continue to grow this year. Now to the action…
The ACC got a jump on most of the country this past weekend with the start of conference play, and UVA v. FSU was the marquis matchup in week five. Credit the Cavs for solidifying their spot atop the national rankings by taking two of three in Tallahassee. Virginia has now won series’ at East Carolina and Florida St. already this year, Brian O’Connor’s team is in fact that good. The Noles had scored double digit runs in 9 of their first 12 games coming in, and Danny Hultzen and company shut them out on three hits in the opener. This speaks to a larger point…the importance of a consistent Friday starter. A deep Friday start sets a staff up for the entire weekend. A rested bullpen is often needed more on Saturday and Sunday. The mentality of a Friday guy is important as well. You will always see the other side’s ace, and that can bring true character out. A Friday night win is obviously a great start to the weekend too. One last thing on UVA, they have played the part of favorite pretty well thus far. The ranking will put a target on their backs the rest of the season and they have responded well to this point.
Next, on the Baton Rouge, where Ritch Price’s Jayhawks announced their presence with a series win against LSU. Not to take anything away from KU because this was a huge weekend, but I think it speaks to the loss of Renaudo very strongly. LSU has struggled on Friday night this year without Renaudo. If you burn a bullpen on Friday it changes the course of the entire weekend. That being said, KU has a series that they can build on, and they did it without Tony Thompson. KU will challenge for the Big 12 title this year.
On to Oxford, where the fightin’ McDonnels won two of three at Ole Miss. Louisville is really good, and a road series win against a team that could host will look very good on Memorial Day. Adam Duvall had a big weekend for Louisville at the dish and the offense was impressive with Clark and Richmond out. No rest for the Rebels, they head to Knoxville to take on a Kentucky team that has been impressive so far.
Let’s talk about some others that are flying under that radar a little bit. SE Louisiana stayed hot with a conference sweep over UT San Antonio. The sweep in Starkville was no fluke. Brandon Efferson has won all four starts and Janway and Franklin have dominated at the back end of the bullpen. The stat that jumps out to me…they have walked just over 3 per 9 innings as a staff this season and have an era just over 3…that translates to wins.
Western Kentucky and Liberty have turned heads too. Jim Toman’s club took two of three from St. John’s this weekend and they look to give Coastal a challenge in the Big South race this year. The Hilltoppers swept New Orleans on the road and have a tough test mid week with a home and home against Vandy.
Elsewhere, Clemson and Georgia Tech stayed hot with series sweeps. Deck McGuire continued to dominate with a CG three hitter on Friday night. His start on the mound might be the most impressive in the country. A sub one era and five walks in 31 innings is a pretty good combination. Offensively, the Jackets have hit 27 jacks in 14 games and Tony Plagman leads the way with six so far. For Clemson, Jack Leggett’s club has left the yard plenty themselves. Tony Parker’s six hr’s paces Clemson.
In the SEC, there are some pretty gaudy win totals across the board. Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks head to Baton Rouge this weekend in what should be one of the premier series this weekend. I will be in Fayetteville in mid April and look forward to seeing Baum Stadium in person. Alabama has impressed so far too but the true test will come in conference. They open at home against Vandy this weekend. Auburn stumbled on the road against an Arizona St. team that remains undefeated. I’ll touch on the Devils later this week. Florida wins a series at home and faces in state rival Florida St. mid week. For the Gators, the pitching depth has stood out so far, a trait that will prove important in conference if it continues.
That’s it for tonight, I’ll get to the Midwest and West later this week. I head to Charlotte this week to tape some teaching elements that we will use during the ESPN telecasts this year. Get the questions rolling in, I’ll start the Q and A sometime next week.
Week four in the books and the dominant teams are starting to take pretty significant steps forward. To me, the true favorites start to take the lead about 3-4 weeks into the conference season. The book starts to get out on new players across the country and teams now know what to expect from most on the roster. That doesn’t mean that surprises won’t happen later in the season, they obviously always do, but I think you have a pretty clear sense of the top 15 teams in the country by the middle of April. One other note, I always put significantly more stock in weekend performances (series wins) than mid-week games. The post-season is generally set up similar to a weekend series. Three wins in a row to start the regionals and you advance. Supers are a best 2/3 just like a weekend series and the schedule in Omaha benefits those with a solid 5-6 arms. Mid week games are important for the RPI but to me, the weekend dictates who will have the most success in the postseason. Onward…
There truly is no better time of year for a baseball fan. It’s opening day and from coast to coast, college baseball teams are breaking huddles with the chant of Omaha once again. I am fired up to welcome you to the season and to my personal home on the web for the next few months. I have teamed with the folks at Easton to bring you Destination: Omaha, my takes on the college game throughout the season. We will take you across the country this year and I look forward to sharing the travels with you. I’ll have a weekly column that covers the national stories and a Q and A that will allow for weekly interaction with you the fans. Fire away with any question, we’ll answer the most compelling and entertaining every week. We’ll also have audio podcasts as the season progresses highlighting interviews with come of the top college coaches, players and personalities in the game today.