Friday, February 15, 2008


If you like college baseball more than political primaries, congressional hearings, or colonoscopies, then you know that the national countdown clock is ticking until next Friday where from Miami to Maine, from Boston to Blair Field, the ping of my favorite precious metal-- Scandium Alloy teamed up with the 100% Carbon Nanotube-rings out across the land.

Bullied by the BCS billionaires north of the warm weather, the uniform start date of February 22 sends all NCAA teams into these-games-count-action after a 45-day window for fall workouts and 21 days this month. Big West teams of course begin with non conference games and against some pretty good opponents--UC Irvine at Nevada, Northwestern at Northridge, Washington at Riverside, Marist at UC Santa Barbara, Cal Poly at Alabama, Fullerton at TCU, Pacific at Houston, UC Davis at Fresno State, and of course, the best match-up in the land--Rice at Long Beach State.

To launch the media frenzy LBSU again hosted a coach chat in the Pyramid, ironically a good locale since for most of the schools in attendance, UCLA excepted, baseball will be counted on to distract the alums and faithful from fairly dismal basketball seasons.

We now sort-of report on what the programs and coaches had to say, in the order that they were seen (but some say not clearly heard) on the CSTV feed.

UCI—MIKE GILLESPIE--The leadoff was the venerable and recently well-traveled Mike Gillespie who SC awkwardly “retired” in 2006…last summer he coached minor leaguers in Staten Island, and then watched the dominoes fall his way in the perfect storm of Oregon-Fullerton-UC Irvine. He’s the Irvine and told everybody, several times, that the Anteater is a feared mascot, unlike the marsupial he used to tease when he was a Trojan (which he now infers is something you hide in your wallet from your mom, wife or whatever). Mike brought with him his lead-off guy; the scarily quick Ollie Linton who the skipper said has matured as much as he can bat wise. The question is will Ollie see anything he can drag and get on and get around? The ace of the staff is Scott Gorgen, he of the 13 wins last year and 2.83 ERA. After that, it is a new staff trying to improve on 47-17--a tall mountain to climb for anybody even if the coach has won a CWS title.

UCLA—JOHN SAVAGE—Set up by Mike as the #1 team in the USA, Savage clarified that the Bruins are ranked from #22 to #1 depending on the flavor of the poll…”I think we will be really good but you got to know that our own conference picked us third…however, our seventh place team from last year, Oregon State, ending up winning the national championship so we think it is a pretty good conference.” The blue boys won the LB regional last June (first since 2000) and have three big bats back, Decker, Cohen and Bradford.

CAL POLY—LARRY LEE—you might think that all the coaches are full of hope this week but the head of Cole Slaw-Larry Lee, is a bit discouraged after he lost his Saturday guy Matt Leonard last week…”we only have 15 starts in the guys coming back so a lot of new folks will have to step up…” Larry also lost man mountain first baseman Adam Buschini but still hopes that “defensively up the middle we should be fine…”…well they did have great D with Dave Snow and some guy named Ozzie Smith back in the ‘70s…offense you say, that topic makes Larry frown “in the cage we hit the ball real hard”…maybe batting lessons from their wise and loquacious radio guy, the mayor Dick Morrow (class of ’55), can return the thunder to the Central Coast

UCR—DOUG SMITH—the new home of good pitching, the Highlanders will feature string-bean righty Joe Kelly (150 over a 6-1 frame) and home town hitter Joey Gonzalez, .356 last year and the BWC freshmen of the year, plus a bunch of other guys from their 2007 regional team…best of all for the league, UCR now has an improved non conf schedule (Washington, Nevada, Nebraska, Texas Tech…) which helps everybody’s RPI

CSUF—DAVE SERRANO—on his return to Nutwood, Serrano brings his national coach of the year award and will wear the number (18), saluting the coach that as a player he “admired the most”, a former Titan assistant named Dave Snow...”our cupboard is full that’s for sure and I am very happy I got to bring my staff over with me (Sergio Brown and Greg Bergeron)…in case you wondered, word is that the Titans are quietly paying off their almost head coach Rick Vanderhook who occasionally comes to campus but not to the ball field…Serrano’s bunch will start with more different platoons than the Marines in Baghdad…”we are still figuring these guys out and I hope that this team can be unselfish until we get things settled…with this compressed schedule we have to have one and a half starting nines and a lot of pitchers”…no tears though, Jeff Kaplan anchors the starters and Adam Jorgenson closes...the Elephant Boys press guide is a massive 130 pages (LB is a tight 88) but USC goes over the top as usual with 160

CSUN—STEVE ROUSEY—to understand what the former Niner pitching coach thinks about his 2008 team reread virtually the same speech he has given the past three years but I love Steve because, like me, he loves alliteration…the motto this year is “elevate expectations”…Rousey also said that he will use “one and a half starting nines, (getting a theme here?) with six starters ready”…the Mats have 17 freshmen in town, the most in the USA along with UNC Ashville…wonder if the newcomers saw the yard before they signed up

UCSB—BOB BRONTSEMA—15 years later Bob still toils in the peoples republic of Isla Vista…the Gauchos were 23-31 last year and may not get that much this season with just six fielders and two starting pitchers back, but one is Mike Ford, freshmen All American last year…just to keep the skipper happy there is another old timer around, Mike Martin, in his sixth season after red shirts, injuries and NCAA appeals…good guy to know if you want a restaurant review of where the kids will be torching the sofas on Saturday night

LBSU—MIKE WEATHERS—the host skipper started his speech with a report on the recent coaches convention, highlighting the fact that A. he doesn’t like the new stuff, B. he flipped President Alexander to his side on the rule changes, C. his team has improved their APR (magical academic standard) from 869 to 990 and D. his coaching hero is a Maine transplant who is the coach at Clemson, Jack Leggett …Leggett is fighting the good fight to undo the national start date …the West did have four teams in one CWS bracket last year, UCI, CSUF, ASU and OSU, so maybe that made the Ads in the North and East choke on their Cheerios…as to the 2008 Dirtbag team, “well last year we exceeded our expectations early on then…” yep that would be the regional stumble but this year “we expect a lot” and the guys who have to deliver have some very nice resumes, 21 got a lot of PT last year…around the horn expect Cape Cod all star Shane Peterson to leave the bullpen for full time at first base, Jason Tweedy at second, USA team member Danny Espinosa at short, and Brandon Godfrey and Taylor Krick battling at third…the wide open spaces of Blair will belong to TJ Mittelstaedt in LF, a healthy Chris Nelson chasing stuff in center and another platoon in right, Jason Corder and Zach Barger…behind the plate will be starter Travis Howell with Kip Masuda as a back up…as usual, hopefully in the post Buckley era, the pitching looks good, versatile Andrew Liebel, Vance Worley and Manny McElroy have been to the wars and JUCO phenom Taylor Topp joins his talented Riverside City coach Andy Rojo in the black and gold…even freshman RHP Jake Thompson (6-3, 210) (who skipped his senior high school season to go to college) has a big upside and should figure along with returnees Rasco, Roberts, Shaw and Wilk…the schedule is loaded, LB is home for 15 of their first 20 all beginning with perennial power Rice Friday through Sunday…the national wise guys have the Niners between 13 and 25 but the Rivals chat room wags predict, based on the tough early sked, the D-bags will be the first of the top 25 to fall out

PEPPERDINE—STEVE RODRIQUEZ—the quip a minute S-Rod says his main guys have to be like Bugs Bunny, “popping up everywhere”, case in point pitcher Brett Hunter, “he will start on Fridays, close on Sunday and show up on those Tuesday/Wednesday things”…sounds like the union trouble-maker Dick Rogers ought to be contacted…like LB last season, the Waves might have peaked a bit early…Pepp plays Wake Forest 4 times in 48 hours to open but it is at the U with a View in Malibu

U SAN DIEGO—RICH HILL—last year they had a ton of wins (43-18) but two and BBQ-ed in their own regional…but Rich still likes to pick on Gillespie (“I was on a coaches conference call with Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno, Eddie Sutton, and Mike and the topic was how to fix your Ovaltine before a nap’)…his style again will be good pitching and a “grind it out” offense…his best guy may in fact be the number one overall pick, lefty Brian Matusz plus another pre-season AA, lefty Josh Romanski…the recruiting class was rated #1 in at least one poll…all the old and new Toreros will be at Blair on Tuesday Feb 26th, it is another BYOB night (for you rookies that is bring your own butane)

LMU—FRANK CRUZ—the Lions of course play the Beach twice, but LMU is paranoid about everybody…”so many coaches have switched dugouts around the town that nobody has a secret”…Gillespie was headed there before he got UCI, the well traveled Niner assistant Doc Strauss worked on the hill, and of course the Orange County shaking and baking involved a lot of photo copies of play books….the Lions will lean on WCC Freshmen of the Year Angelo Songco and a bunch of transfers including former Dirtbag Russ Lowell who had one appearance for LB in 2007

USC—CHAD KRUTER—the good news this season is that the boys of troy get an ESPN2 TV date playing Southern U in a battle of baseball and bands (Inner City Classic) at that new Major League sponsored youth park in Compton…Kreuter is in a bit of a hot spot, has two first year guys helping out, and needs to get way better than the 27-29 number from last season
VENEZUELA—HUGO CHAVEZ—oh, sorry got my notes mixed up… Coach Chavez is the oil guy chewing those cocoa leaves…but if gas prices stay so high I may import a supply of the wacky tobaccy for Mike and Elvis Joe.

SDSU—TONY GWYNN—he wasn’t there (along with UC Davis and UOP) but then Tony travels in the off and on season and the Aztecs still play in the baseball poor MWC so you just never know…that’s all I got, if you want more and to find out who’s on top in June please see my ex-wife Carole Merrill from Let’s Make a Deal, she can tell you who and what is behind Curtains Number One, Two and Three

2008 Big West Coaches Poll Results
1. Long Beach State (5) 77
2. Cal State Fullerton (4) 74
3. Cal Poly 58
4. UC Irvine 52
5. UC Riverside 51
6. UC Santa Barbara 29
7. Pacific 24
T8. Cal State Northridge 20
T8. UC Davis 20
( ) First-place vote


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