Archive for the ‘NCAA’ Category

The Buses have Returned to Florida

For those of us lucky enough to live in Florida, particularly in Central Florida, there is a certain buzz in the air come March. Not quite March Madness, but better than just a night out drinking green beer and praising the Irish Saint of Bacchanalia. I am talking of course about Spring Training.

(Oh, sorry. Before I go any further let me introduce myself. I am Jordi Scrubbings of JordiScrubbings.com. You may have known me from my other blog TheSeriousTip. Maybe, maybe not. Anyway, I’ve been invited to contribute here this season, and if things work out, every season for the next decade (Scott Boras hooked me up). A few things about me: I am from Tampa, Florida, I’ve been known to “go ‘fro”, I am a Rays season ticket holder, and I actually sat through all of Major League 3.)

Although the spring exhibition schedule officially kicked off on Tuesday, my personal baseball season began Wednesday night when I journeyed over the bridge and through the urban sprawl to Brighthouse Field, spring home of the Philadelphia Phillies and summer home of the Clearwater Threshers. As has been recent tradition, the Phillies once again opened their spring schedule against the Florida State Seminoles. This was the third iteration of the exhibition, with the Phillies beating the Seminoles 12-4 in 2007 and neither team taking the field due to rain in 2008.

Due to time constraints, and the unfortunate fact that I have to go to work tomorrow (I’d much rather be going to Port Charlotte to see the Rays play the Orioles!), I’m going to use the legendary bullet style to talk about Phillies vs. Seminoles III: Charlie Manuel Don’t Surf.

  • I am from Florida, like I said. I’m used to baseball being played in the heat or indoors. I’m not used to cold, windy days at the ballpark. The temperature hovered around 50 degrees all night with gusts probably close to 10 mph. Enough to send a shiver through my bones. Too cold for baseball. But I endured.
  • The crowd was probably 50/50 Phillies/Seminoles fans. There are a lot of FSU alumni in the Tampa Bay-Clearwater area and we usually represent well at sporting events. But there were some diehard Phillie fans in the house. I saw one guy with a replica Steve Carlton jersey.
  • Unfortunately, although she was at the first two Phillies-Seminoles contests, Jenn Sterger was not in attendance.
  • The Phillies played most of their regulars for the first two innings, to include Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, Placido Polanco, Carlos Ruiz, and starting pitcher J.A. Happ. After Rollins lead off with a hit, the Phils regulars were shut down by the first three FSU pitchers.
  • Due to the game being an exhibition, and because the Noles played the night before in a regulation contest against the rival Florida Gators, head coach Mike Martin opted to use a pitcher an inning for the first five innings.
  • After five, the Seminoles were up 6-4. Then the wheels came off. A bunch of walks, a few hits, and a throwing error quickly made it 8-6 Phillies and they never looked back.
  • Many of the FSU faithful were seen checking their phones for the score of the FSU-Wake Forest basketball game (Check Storming the Floor for the result!). Because their preoccupation and the freezing temperature I only heard one school chant and only once did we do the Tomahawk Chop. Too cold to do the Tomahawk Chop? Preposterous.
  • FSU head coach Mike Martin threw in the towel after the Noles were retired in the 7th, down 13-6. Between the weather, the lack of pitchers, and the 4.5-hour bus ride Martin’s team had to do after the game, I was not surprised. Disappointed, yes. But not surprised.
  • As I left, I saw a charter bus pull in, ready to either take the Noles home or the Phillies to their next contest.

The buses are back, and so is baseball.

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A Mendonca Among Boys

Spokane’s Tommy Mendonca has been on a bit of a hot streak lately, hitting .395 in his last ten games.  He has had multiple hits in half of those and exactly three in four.

Last night against Salem-Keizer, the 21-year-old out of Fresno State enjoyed the best game of his young career, belting three solo homeruns to lead the Indians to a 6-2 win.

Mendonca was the Most Outstanding Player at the 2008 College World Series while playing for the Bulldogs team that won the national championship.  He was selected in the second round of the 2009 draft.  He hasn’t hit for a ton of power early in his professional career, with only four homeruns in 114 at-bats prior to yesterday’s outburst, but he had 29 in two seasons of college ball, so maybe those three were the rule rather than the exception.

The All-Golden Spikes Award Team

Thirty-two players have won the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s best amateur player.  As luck would have it, that’s just about enough to put together a full team (thanks to Khalil Greene and Rickie Weeks, the only middle infielders who have won) – lineup, rotation, bullpen, and bench.  They even have a manager. It’s very exciting.

Before moving on, feel free to tip your cap to the six guys who didn’t quite make it: Alex Gordon (2005), Kip Bouknight (2000), Travis Lee (1996), Mike Kelly (1991), Augie Schmidt (1982), and Mike Fuentes (1981).  We hardly knew ye.

Starting Lineup

C: Jason Varitek, Georgia Tech (1994)
1B: Will Clark, Mississippi State (1985)
2B: Rickie Weeks, Southern University (2003)
SS: Khalil Greene, Clemson (2002)
3B: Bob Horner, Arizona State (1978)

OF: J.D. Drew, Florida State (1997)
OF: Pat Burrell, Miami (1998)
OF: Oddibe McDowell, Arizona State (1984)

DH: Robin Ventura, Oklahoma State (1988)

Starting Rotation
SP: Tim Lincecum, Washington (2006)
SP: Jered Weaver, Cal State-Long Beach (2004)
SP: Stephen Strasburg, San Diego State (2009)
SP: Alex Fernandez, Miami (1990)
SP: Ben McDonald, Louisiana State (1989)

Bullpen
RP: Mike Loynd, Florida State (1986)
RP: Jim Abbott, Michigan (1987)
RP: Mark Prior, Southern Cal (2001)
RP: Jason Jennings, Baylor (1999)
RP: Darren Dreifort, Wichita State (1993)
CL: David Price, Vanderbilt (2007)

Bench
C: Buster Posey, Florida State (2008)
INF: Dave Magadan, Alabama (1983)
INF: Tim Wallach, Cal State-Fullerton (1979)
OF: Mark Kotsay, Cal State-Fullerton (1995)
UT: Phil Nevin, Cal State-Fullerton (1992)

Manager: Terry Francona, Arizona (1980)

CWS Finals Preview at The College Baseball Blog

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The College World Series has come down to two powerhouse programs. Texas has 6 previous titles, with the most recent coming in 2005. LSU last did it in 2000, and is one behind the Longhorns with 5 big-ass trophies. Texas has won the most games overall in Series history, with a whopping 81 victories.

For more info on this year’s teams, check out The College Baseball Blog’s Preview.

The Championship Series begins tonight at 7pm on ESPN, with a second game at the same time on Tuesday.

Interview: College World Series organizer Jack Diesing, Jr.

I went to the College World Series for a couple of days this year. I might have mentioned that before.

The resulting article is up on ESPN’s SportsTravel page right now. One of the people I spoke to in Omaha who contributed a lot to my understanding of the event’s history and my appreciation of where the CWS is and where it’s going was Jack Diesing, Jr., who heads up the non-profit organizing committee College World Series of Omaha, Inc. I used three quotes from him in the article, but really wanted Bus Leagues readers to see what else he had to say.

This is technically my father’s day post, because we talked a lot about how Jack Diesing, Sr. helped build the Series.

Extra P: The CWS has been at Rosenblatt for 60 years. In 2011, it will be in the new stadium downtown. How do you even begin to pack for a move like that?

jackdiesingjrJack Diesing, Jr.: Having been somewhere for 60 years doesn’t make the process easy, but the overall idea is to make it as seamless as possible. Especially for season ticket holders who have been the backbone of the event over that time. Change is difficult, but change is good. You get people prepared for it, then you do it slowly but surely. You celebrate the past and you look forward to the future, and that’s what we’ll be doing for the next couple of years.

EP: Are there any treasures from earlier series hanging around Rosenblatt?

JD: There are a lot of plaques immortalizing past winners of the Series, some for past Most Outstanding Players, certainly plenty of photographs. There’s the “Road to Omaha” statue, of course. And most of those will, in one fashion or another, be moved to the new stadium.

EP: Will there be an auction of some of Rosenblatt’s effects? Seats, fixtures, signs?

JD: There aren’t any official plans for that at this point. But there will be discussions with the city of Omaha, because they might want to do something with the seats, and potentially some other artifacts. Anything unique to the Series will move to the new stadium, because this is about the history of the event, and it is about the College World Series, and about the NCAA DI baseball championship. We want to carry that tradition on to the future of college baseball.

EP: What will you miss about Rosenblatt?

JD: That’s an intriguing question. Mostly, for me, I’ll miss reliving the memories of some of the great games that were played there. There have been a lot of last-minute heroics. A lot of people have been touched by the College World Series over the years, starting with my father, then Rod Dedeaux, coaches, players, the people of Omaha who’ve contributed so much. The underlying theme, for me, is that Rosenblatt Stadium, for 60 years, has been the foundation of the success of the CWS, and it’s leading us into the future at least for the next 26 years. That’s a memory in and of itself.

We’ve gone through four different additions to the stadium.

EP: Which proposed features of the new stadium are you most interested in?

JD: The new stadium is going to be very, very fan friendly. There will be a 360 degree concourse going around the stadium so people can enjoy getting up, walking around, buying food, and visiting with people while still having a view of the action, and also not blocking anybody else’s view. The seats are going to be wider, with more legroom. The sight lines will be better than they are now, even though I don’t think there’s a bad seat in Rosenblatt, but it’ll be that much better. I think the overall experience will be something that people really enjoy.

EP: Fans are very attached to Rosenblatt, but do you get the sense that participating teams are excited about the new facility?

JD: I think the overall sense from those who are involved is that building the future of the CWS, making it fan-friendly, and also a place that offers a first-rate experience for student-athletes is good. It’s about creating something that will last long into the future that satisfies those criteria. For the players and the coaches, it’s going to be a great field with a wonderful atmosphere. Batting cages, locker rooms, the field itself – It’ll all be state of the art. We’re creating something that will allow the Series to live on in Omaha far into the future, and giving everyone a lifetime experience. Fans will have a new place to come and enjoy the greatest show on dirt. It IS all about the event. History is great, but the idea is also to continue to take the CWS to the next level for everyone involved. And the vision we create here is going to do that.

EP: Omaha has had an unprecedented run as the sole host city for this event. Is Omaha just fertile ground for baseball lovers, or did the love of baseball grow stronger because the series was always there?

JD: We’ve had AAA baseball in Omaha for a long time. But I think as the Series stayed here, people here took ownership of the CWS. Residents have been able to see this event basically from birth and watch it grow, expand, and improve. At the same time, the festival atmosphere that was created has been pretty affordable. We have a two-week event that allows people to come in, see old friends and watch kids playing baseball for the love of the game, since most of them won’t be able to go pro. The local participation and volunteerism is great. But we also have people from all over the world who have formed love affairs with the CWS, and that’s what it’s really all about. It’s not just the college kids, either. There are a lot of junior baseball tournaments played in town around this time as well.

EP: It’s a pretty big part of the identity of Omaha at this point, isn’t it?

JD: We have a belief that the sports initiative is a very important ingredient in the success of Omaha in terms of economic impact and the image of the city – the quality of life. The track record of success that we’ve built over the years has provided a solid foundation for developing credibility when we look at expanding the sports initiative. It has big economic impact in the community, it has a national image-building capacity for the community, and it’s also helped us build a reputation around the country for knowing how to host amateur sporting events, and we are aggressively expanding our sports presence in the city.

EP: The MOP trophy is named after your father. How did your family come to be involved with the CWS?

JD: That’s an interesting story. Way back when they came here, they were looking for local business leaders to run the show. So they found a local guy who owned the largest retail store here, and he did it for a while.

Then he passed away in 1963, and they convinced my father – who at first said “No way, I don’t want to do this – to take on the role of being the organizer of the event. And he also became the creator of the local organizing committee – CWS of Omaha, Inc. – which is a totally volunteer operation. He had never played baseball in his life, didn’t really want to do it, but it’s like the story we talked about a minute ago – he fell in love with the event, and the people who come here every year, and was actively involved for 27 years overall.

EP: Are you already planning farewell events for next year’s final series in Rosenblatt?

JD: Yeah, we are, but we don’t have any specific plans yet. We want to make sure it’s a celebration that would be fitting for the home of the CWS for the last 60 years, and we want to celebrate what Rosenblatt has meant to college baseball, and the enjoyment of the event by fans and players. We’re not far down the road with a lot of specificity, but it’s on our to-do list.

EP: That’s going to be a tough ticket to get!

JD: Every year’s a tough ticket to get. But it’ll be even more fun next year.

EP: If someone is planning to make their first trip to the CWS, where would you suggest they go?

JD: The first thing people usually want to do is get their picture taken in front of the “Road to Omaha” statue. It’s become the icon of the DI men’s baseball championship. You can do that right out in front of the stadium.

If you get here the Friday before the event and go up, down, and around the stadium, you’ll find all kinds of things going on. There’s the NCAA fan fest hosted by the event’s corporate partners. There are various retail establishments up and down 13th street, and there’s a local eatery called Zesto’s which is a place most people don’t want to miss. You can go in there and get a banana shake or something.

The Doorly Zoo, we think is the best zoo in the country, and from an attendance standpoint, it’s #2 in the country, and it’s right there. About four blocks away is Lauritzen Gardens, which is a botanical park. The Old Market is the downtown development which is in the older buildings downtown, and our convention center and arena is there. The Space Museum has aviation displays, and it’s not too far from downtown.

There’s a lot of things within three miles of the stadium that keep people busy for the time they’re here, but the one thing a first-timer should do is buy a general admission ticket and sit in the bleachers. That’s probably the most fun place to be for a game.

We’re out of time to visit this year’s series, but there’s always next year, and the 25 years after that… Thanks to Mr. Diesing for chatting with me.

More Rosenblatt Memories

I went to the College World Series to write about Rosenblatt Stadium for ESPN.com. Even though you’ve seen my massive, hard-drive crushing photo display already, here’s the more polished words I wrote there:

A Year Long Swan Song

OK, self-promotion over. Off to work on the next Z-Meter.

Bus Leagues Road Trip: The 2009 College World Series, Part 1

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I’ll be honest here: I find it rather a daunting task to attempt to describe my whirlwind two-day visit to Omaha. Fortunately, I remembered that a picture is worth 1,000 words, so I’ll be letting my camera do the talking for part of this recap.
I have always wanted to go to Omaha for the Series, and stupidly did not do so when I lived a couple of hours away in NE Kansas. Fortunately, fate allowed me another chance, as my recent freelance association with ESPN.com’s Sports Travel page gave me an in.
I had already planned to travel to New York for Blogs With Balls 1.0, so I just added in a connecting flight to Kansas City, where I met up with my dad. He was hauling his travel trailer, so we’d have a cheap and portable place to stay while we were in Omaha.
We rolled in before the 1pm game. Since I had press credentials, my dad had no way to enter Rosenblatt with me. Being a marvelous and supportive father, he was quite happy to let me work while he explored the other sights in Omaha, of which there are many. His decision was invaluable, as I needed time to interview fans and officials and never made it to the nearby zoo. My dad did, and he gave me all the pertinent details. He also had the tough job of having to eat at the awesome diners around the stadium. Poor guy.
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I was pretty eager to get inside, as the 1:00 game between UNC and Arizona State was already underway. Rosenblatt, despite being built in 1947, has an excellent seating diagram. The diamond was completely visible from every vantage point I explored.
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I did some pre-interviews by phone before I arrived, and one of the event’s organizers highly recommended the bleacher experience for first-time visitors. It was packed in the outfield, with fans spilling out into the walkways. The vibe of happy rivalry was really enjoyable.
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I call the second photo here “Mona Lisa of Tempe”, because I clicked the shutter just as she began to smile. Gives her more of an air of mystery, no?

Coming Up: Rosenblatt, part 2