Best of Both Worlds
Spend a few days in Omaha during the College World Series and you quickly realize why it's considered such a great event. Most people rave about the atmosphere, but I feel like that short-changes the fantastic product on the field. Lucky for us, we got a first-hand look at some of that unique atmosphere to go with some outrageously good baseball in the same day.
Before arriving in Omaha, each team gets assigned a service club as a host group, and that group is responsible for setting up their accommodations as well as arranging for some off-day activities. These activities vary from group to group, but the team that gets the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base as their host is privy to a unique treat.
This year, that team is Louisville, and they got a tour of Offutt Air Force Base that included a turn on a flight simulator for each player. After seeing them try their hand at the simulator, I'm pretty sure this is one breed of cardinal that is probably better off grounded.
Though the simulator was the highlight of the morning, we also got to take a tour of an Air Force cargo plane while also getting a brief history of the historic base. Offutt used to be the home of Strategic Air Command, which was the branch of the Air Force responsible for combating the Cold War. From February 1961 until July 1990, Strategic Air Command always had a crew airborne aboard a EC-135 aircraft 24-hours a day in case of nuclear attack. Don't worry, it was not the same crew, they rotated. Offutt was also where President Bush conducted a major strategy session on September 11, 2001.
A word to the wise: Do not get on a plane if any of these guys are flying it.
While getting the real history was cool, I had to delve into more pressing issues as well. We asked San Diego coach/surf-maven Rich Hill if surfers like "Point Break," so I felt compelled to ask Tech. Sgt. A.J. Bosker (our host) if members of the Air Force think "Top Gun" is a good movie. Though he never revealed his feelings towards the film, Bosker informed us that the movie had been originally pitched to the Air Force, but they decided it would cost too much time and money to support. The Navy jumped at the chance, and instead of focusing on the Air Force's RED FLAG program at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, the movie instead portrayed the Navy's TOPGUN program in Miramar, Calif. As far as bad movie decisions of the 1980s, I'd say the Air Force declining that opportunity ranks right up with Scott Baio and Matthew Modine turning down the role of Maverick in "Top Gun." Seriously, they really did.
Are plastic "L's" really that hard to come by?
After hanging at the Air Force Base, we hustled back to Rosenblatt for today's games. In the opener, we were treated to the most compelling contest of the tournament thus far between Big West rivals Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine. Well, it was compelling in that Irvine rallied three times to tie it, it went into extra innings, and because it was an elimination game for both teams. On the flip side, one could also argue that it was excruciating, because of all the pitching changes, mound conferences and disputed calls. Having endured two snoozers on Sunday, I'm planted firmly on the side of compelling.
The most notable story line within this game revolved around the head coaches. Before taking the job as the Anteaters' head coach, Dave Serrano served as pitching coach at Fullerton under George Horton. I'm not sure if it is a direct homage, but Serrano even wears a pen tucked under his cap just like Horton. If I didn't know better, I'd say they had plans for mini-golf after the game.
As it turned out, Obi-Wan defeated Yoda 5-4 in the longest game in CWS history. The five-hour, 40-minute affair will go down a CWS classic even though innings 10 through 13 were relatively mundane.
Things picked up in the bottom of the 13th when Taylor Holiday got hit by a pitch to lead off the frame for the 'Eaters. He didn't make much of an effort to get out of the way, and Horton was ejected for arguing as such. It was one of eight hit batsmen in the game, another CWS record. Holiday certainly did his part, reaching base three times via the plunk. In the postgame press conference, Holiday essentially admitted that he tried to get hit in the 13th. While I respect the honesty, I can't imagine the umps will be giving him the benefit of the doubt the next time he gets nicked this week.
With runners on first and second and one out, left fielder Matt Morris singled to his counterpart in left, Josh Fellhauer. Holiday never hesitated from second, but was thrown out by an absolute laser from Fellhauer. It takes a lot to get a roar from the press box, and that throw did it.
Fullerton thought they had life again, but it didn't last long because Bryan Peterson singled to center to score Cody Cipriano to end the game. Peterson eliminated Wichita State with a walk-off double in the Super Regional, so this was his second walk-off hit of the the postseason. This name probably won't go over as well in pro ball, but I'm dubbing Peterson "Mr. June" for now.
We ran into Cipriano in the elevator after the game and asked him if he had ever seen a throw as good as Fellhauer's.
"He nailed me at home on pretty much the same throw earlier in the year," he said. "So it was deja vu all over again. I had to pee for like the last seven innings, so after I scored I had to sprint back to the bathroom."
Luckily for Cipriano, he didn't have the use the kind of toilet they have on Air Force cargo planes.
Special mention must also go to Dylan Axelrod, who earned the win by striking out seven in 4 2/3 innings of relief.
The nightcap involved far less drama, with Oregon State hammered Arizona State 12-6 in our second conference showdown of the day. After beating Irvine on Saturday, the Sun Devils looked like the class of the "West Coast" bracket. Now they'll have to beat the 'Eaters again on Tuesday just to stay alive. As we saw today, Irvine won't be going down easy.
Even though the night game was less than stellar, it was still a memorable day because we got another glimpse of what makes the CWS special on and off the field. It was the best of both worlds.