Friday, May 30, 2008


We will begin this private, eyes-only missive by dissecting the Dogs, Fresno State, not your next door neighbor’s little yelper. I do this despite a warning from my ESPN pal Michael Strahan who reminded me that “The last time you had a uniform on was when you were five and your mom took you trick or treating.” Yes but now I am a journalist—(remember how quickly I desert the bleachers and boxes when it is too cold or too sunny). Okay? Comprende? Now let’s proceed in the AARP banned really small type!

Here is what the smart guys at Baseball America had to say, “Fresno State opened the year ranked No. 18 but stumbled to an 8-12 start before recovering to win the WAC's regular season and conference tournament for the third straight year. Fresno's chances took a major hit when ace righthander Tanner Scheppers (8-2, 2.93 with 109 strikeouts in 71 innings)—a potential top-10 overall pick in the draft—went down in mid-May with shoulder pain, ending his season. But the Bulldogs still have a nice collection of experienced, quality arms, led by lefthanders Justin Wilson (6-4, 4.29) and righty Clayton Allison (2-5, 4.17), plus a stalwart closer in Brandon Burke (4-5, 3.26 with 10 saves). The lineup has some power, led by senior outfielder Steve Susdorft (.347 with 10 homers and 75 RBIs), first baseman Alan Ahmady (.389 with 12 homers and 79 RBIs) and third baseman Tommy Mendonca (.273 with 14 homers). One major concern: Danny Muno (21 errors, .903 fielding percentage) is a defensive liability at shortstop, and this regional should place a premium on execution.” Quote end quote.

Next is my own stroll through the FSU post season guide. First, the schedule. Rough start noted above including beat downs early by Davis and SLO, first nine games go three wins and six losses. Better in April until they drop the last four in the month (Nevada and USF) and then can’t solve NMSU. May is much better but the competition is MCC level, sort of like MGB, a light beverage heavy on San Jose and Sac State. Today’s Dog pitcher has been better of late, a 3.20 ERA over the last four starts (25.1 innings). Offensively, Susdorf and Ahmady are RBI giants with 67 and 74 to rank nationally and Danny Muno is 45th the USA in bases on balls. In the stands should be some FSU fans with nine area kids playing but the Red Wave of old is still holding back the passion of yesteryear. Asked about Fresno State's future hopes of hosting an NCAA Tournament themselves, "That is our master plan. We want to earn the respect that will get us back there. We won our third straight conference tournament and have never done that before. We have talked about putting ourselves in a place to host a regional again." This weekend he claims to not be worried. "This is a big weekend with all four of us having seen each other. We have seen Long Beach State twice, Cal three times and San Diego in regional action the past few years. One through four, this regional is probably the toughest regional this year." Oh yes, Susdorf on LB’s hitters, asked about having seen their opponents during the season, "It's nice to see all their hitters and to know what pitches to throw them." Okay.

Batesole, you will recall, got CSUN to the BWC title in his last season…and in 1996 the Mats actually were a game away from the CWS…Justin Wilson has a so-so walk to strikeout ration, 50 walks and a mere 72 Ks in his 92.1 innings…he did have 11 Ks against La Tech in raisin country but relieved in a tourney game against Nevada and allowed six hits in two innings…the team bats at a .301 clip, pitches to a 4.54 team ERA and fields at .971…oh yes, both Peterson (first team, 3.85 GPA in Finance, Real Estate and Law) and Susdorf (second team) have won academic All-American status so if a spelling bee breaks out we could settle matters that way…Susdorf’s advice to the young Dogs in his dugout, “slow it down...,” …that dugout will be on the third base line…top seed gets to pick their side and the Niners will stay in their normal place…Peterson ranks amongst the Big West top-10 in nine different offensive categories, first in batting (.399) and on-base percentage (.510), second in slugging (.601) and rated by Baseball America as the 75th-best prospect in the June Amateur Draft which is next Thursday…a key to this weekend however may well be the re-emergence of Niner senior slugger Brandon Godfrey who batted .553 last week (8-for-15) in leading the Dirtbags over the over-rated F hats… he earned his third career Big West Player of the Week honor, and first since two in 2007.

The Weathers report from the press conference was upbeat. “When we were 17-3, I did tell the guys that there were some things that were not right, but it’s hard to get that across when you're winning. Obviously when you're losing 10 of 11, everyone is more attentive...that was a place this program had never been before. I tried to be patient with it and lean on the experience coming back. There were very high expectations for this team and no excuses for that streak. I think the biggest thing was for me to step in and tell them things were not right and to be real about the situation." Regarding the progress of Jonathan Jones, "He's really been one of our saving graces when we lost our regular center fielder, senior Chris Nelson to a knee injury. Freshmen like J.J. (Jonathan Jones) always want a chance to show what they can do and he certainly showed. He's hit in 34 of 40 games his freshman year and he's really solidified us in center field. He's done a great job not only in center but with the added pressure of being our leadoff man."

And finally the remarkable Andrew Liebel, who Mike said was starting Friday because FSU can really hit and, “I still have Illinois-Chicago (4-1 loss in the game one of last year’s Regional) in the back of my mind.” Back to Liebel and his view of how he helped the team during the losing streak. "My role wasn't really to change anything that I was doing. I just had to go out there and make Friday more important than it already is and put the team back in a position to get back on track." And Andrew, is this start different from others? "It is what it’s a baseball game and I'm going to go out there and compete like I have all year. It’s no bigger than any other game." Finally about the MLB draft, "My position is what it is and I'm not going to worry about it. I haven't put too much thought into it and what's important is this Regional. What's most exciting for me right now is the start tomorrow.” And this squib from Gary Klein in the LA Times on Danny Espinosa and that shortstop U stuff…”Espinosa is batting .311 and playing solid, sometimes spectacular defense for the 49ers, who won a share of the Big West Conference title and are top-seeded in a four-team NCAA Regional that begins today at Blair Field…at 6feet and 190 pounds, Espinosa is not as rangy as Crosby or Tulowitzki, both of whom stand 6-3. But he shares a common mentality. "They all love to catch the ball, I mean with a burning desire," Long Beach State Coach Mike Weathers said. "Some guys, you watch them in workouts and it's no big deal to them to miss balls hit during drills or batting practice. But Bobby, Troy and Danny are all the same -- they get really upset. They don't want to miss anything."

Finally, a couple of shots at Fullerton, especially the conspiracy theorists like Fullerton’s Don In Section K…the LSU press wondered if the Tigers needed to beat Ole Miss to get the 7 national seed…. “They had done enough to get a national seed,” NCAA chair Larry Templeton said Wednesday during the SEC Spring Meeting…the NCAA determines regional host sites and national seeds before Sunday play and so perhaps LB didn’t get the boost it should have for beating FU on Sunday, and the Titans were not dropped a notch for losing…and how easy is the Titan Regional?…you know UCLA, and maybe have heard of Rider but UVA, terrible offense…The lone power threats in the lineup are juniors Jeremy Farrell (.320 with 11 homers and 51 RBIs) and David Adams (.282 with six homers and 50 RBIs)…the Cavs rank 240th in the nation with 25 homers…finally if he hadn’t once been a Titan or the guy that clobbered us at Cal, I would likely like David Cooper, especially when his press conference included his thoughts on the decision to transfer to California from Cal State Fullerton, "It's been exactly what I wanted it to be. It's more of a university feel as opposed to Fullerton, which is more of a commuter school. I like the camaraderie of the school and it’s been exactly what I wanted.”…let the games continue and remember "the ability to reach for the stars is not available to all individuals and teams. Consult local rules and regulations and restrictions."--SIDD FINCH


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