Sunday, 04/29/07

Meet The 'Eaters

This was touched on yesterday, but it warrants mentioning again. Schools in California have the best team nicknames. UC-Santa Cruz is notorious for being known as the Banana Slugs, and yesterday we saw the Gauchos and the Matadors of UC-Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge. Despite the greatness of all those, UC-Irvine has my personal favorite: Anteaters.

The Anteaters aren't just a goofy name, they are a goofy team. In fact, the might have the most interesting quirk of all the teams we have seen thus far. Like most squads, the pitchers and catchers are responsible for taking down the screens and tarps after batting practice. Unlike other teams, the Eaters have made this a point of pride and try to do it as quickly as possible.

They say it started last year as a way of trying to set the tone for the game. It has become something of an obsession, and the team tries to beat their record for each home game. Entering Sunday the record was 27.32 seconds, and the Eaters were focused on setting a new standard under the bright lights of Going Yard's camera. If you want to know if their bid was successful, you'll just have to click on the video below.



Beyond their cleaning skills, the Eaters also take pride in their handshakes. Much like those we saw at Florida State, they are extremely elaborate. Center fielder Ollie Linton is the team's handshake maven, and after he demonstrated a few of the team's favorites, he and catcher Aaron Lowenstein taught us an abridged version of their shake that is now the official handshake of Going Yard.

You'll see in the video our hands are not quite as quick as Linton's and Lowenstein's, but that's why they are the shake masters and we are the camera-blogging guys. Rest assured, we will certainly be practicing this greeting so that we have it down pat should we run into the Eaters again down the line.

The most entertaining handshake they have is a Mortal Kombat inspired number between Linton and senior Josh Tavelli and can be seen in the video below. According to Tavelli, Linton randomly told him one day that he had a dream the night before in which they were fighting in Mortal Kombat. They used that as inspiration, and below is a routine that Sub-Zero would be proud of. Even though Tavelli is on crutches in the wake of hip surgery, he can still get it done.



The Anteaters have the laid-back style one would expect from a Southern California squad, and coach Dave Serrano is proud of the relaxed atmosphere he has cultivated. He was even kind enough to give us access to the dugout late in the game so that we could get a sense of what it's like for closer Blair Erickson when he is preparing to enter a game.

I was a little surprised Serrano was willing to let us into the dugout at what could be a tight spot in the game, but his explanation made perfect sense.

"I want to get this program to a place where they have cameras in their faces all the time," the third-year coach said. "I told them they need to start getting used to it."

If that's his goal, he seems to be doing a pretty good job. In the recent RPI released by the NCAA, UC-Irvine came in at No. 27 and after defeating UC-Davis on Sunday, they are now 31-12 on the season.

Wo-oah, here she comes. Watch out boy, she'll chew you up.

If there was ever going to be a closer to hang out with in preparation for a save, Erickson was the ideal choice. For those who have been living under a rock (or just don't follow college baseball that closely), Erickson recently set the NCAA career saves record when he notched his 50th against Cal Poly two weeks ago.

Like most college pitchers, Erickson was a starter in high school, but when he injured his ankle playing basketball before his freshman year of college it put his starting career in jeopardy. The injury prevented him from doing as much running as the starters, and as a result he was forced into a relief role because he lacked endurance when the season started. Fifty-one saves later, it seems like it worked out well.

A Sacramento native, Erickson was originally recruited by former Eater coach John Savage. When Savage left for UCLA after Erickson's freshman year, he seriously considered following his coach. According to Erickson, the Irvine athletics department told him they would not release him to transfer to UCLA and he decided to stick around.

"Boy, am I glad I did," Erickson said.

Fortunately for us, Erickson had not pitched on Friday or Saturday and was set to pitch in this game, save situation or not. When we reached the Irvine dugout, it looked like it would be a save situation after all, but the Anteaters put up a nine-spot, which turned a 7-4 game into a 16-4 one. Erickson seemed a little nervous at first, but he relaxed as the game turned into a blowout and his impending save opportunity vanished.

The game was void of excitement by the time Erickson entered in the top of the ninth with his team leading 16-6. Serrano wanted to get his stopper some innings, however, and Erickson allowed one run in an uneventful final frame.

With a low three-quarters arm slot, Erickson relies more on deception and command than overpowering stuff. Though he says his fastball is his out pitch, he can't even tell you how hard he throws, which is a pretty strong indication it is not that hard. The secret to his success, he says, is simply getting ahead in the count.

This was our second encounter with a NCAA record-holder, as Going Yard fans will remember our encounter with Millsaps' Nick Crawford who recently set the NCAA all-divison record for hit by pitches. Needless to say, and with all due respect to Crawford, this was a bit of a more high-profile record.

Speaking of Crawford, his record might actually be in jeopardy if Irvine's Dillon Bell can keep up his current pace. The freshman came up as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the sixth inning and was hit by a pitch. In 14 plate appearances this year Bell has been hit five times. Fortunately for Crawford, Bell is still a part-time player, so his record should be safe even if his body isn't.

Are you a true Anteater?

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Posted by Matt Meyers at 05:18 PM | Comments (2)