Monday, 06/25/07

Heading Home

As The Doors once sang, "This is the end." Then again, they also once sang, "If you whip the horses eyes, you can make them sleep, and cry" so maybe we won't take Jim Morrison's word for it. Either way, it is indeed the final day of Going Yard.

The tents along the street in front of Rosenblatt Stadium have all packed up and gone (save for one local outfit, The Dugout, which is keeping things running at least through the end of today). The parking lot, once bustling with activity, is mostly empty. Even the seemingly perpetual line for milkshakes at Zesto's has dwindled to a few random customers.

Strange as it is for us to witness the aftermath, it's probably even stranger for the folks of Omaha, who go through this every year. One minute the city is the center of the college baseball universe, and the next it is 50 weeks away from experiencing that rush again.

THE MORNING AFTER

WATCH CLIP

As for us, it's time to go home.

This, of course, is assuming we remember where home is. It's been a long (and of course sometimes strange) trip that took us from coast to coast and everywhere from the tiniest of baseball backwoods to the biggest stage college ball has to offer.


Worst. Circus. Ever.

We managed to dodge most fast food along the way, preferring instead to somehow find every International House of Pancakes in the United States. We managed to limit our hot dog intake despite being in a different ballpark every day. We even managed to get laundry done when we needed to.

The one thing we never managed to do was get tired of being on the road.

Somehow, despite the three months away from home, we had a great time, and therefore a hard time believing it was over when the Beavers got the final out the other night.

To avoid repeating what Matt said yesterday, I'll simply say that he said it all. We're rounding third, and the coach is waving us home. Who knew Going Yard could be so much fun?


See ya around!

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Posted by Evan Markfield at 05:59 PM | Comments (3)

Sunday, 06/24/07

Still Ballin'

We really couldn't believe it. When we pulled up to Rosenblatt Stadium this evening, we realized that this could be the last game of Going Yard. If North Carolina didn't pull their heads out of their collective you-know-whats, this would be the last game of our journey. This was game No. 80, and it had the chance to be our last.

We've been preparing ourselves for this for the past couple of weeks, constantly reflecting on some of the highlights of the trip while recognizing the impending finish. It seemed fitting that North Carolina, the team we first visited back on March 30, was one of the last two teams left standing. It also seemed fitting that Marcus Ginyard, a forward on the UNC basketball team, could be mentioned in the blog for both our first and last game. If nothing else, we'd have even more symmetry.

I realize Ginyard might seem a little random, but he's a big supporter of Tar Heel baseball. He was in attendance on that fateful Friday in March against Wake Forest, and Evan remarked in our first blog post that "you can't spell Going Yard without G-I-N-Y-A-R-D." Low and behold, he was in the park again tonight, making the trek from Chapel Hill to Omaha to cheer on his schoolmates in the College World Series Finals.

GOING GINYARD

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After UNC righthander Luke Putkonen retired the side in order in the top of the first inning and the Tar Heels put their first three runners on base (while pushing across a run), it looked like this wouldn't be our last game after all. But the clutch hitting that has evaded the Tar Heels for much of the CWS continued to do so, and they squandered a chance to take control of the game by only scoring once in that frame.

As is their custom, Oregon State capitalized in the second with a two-run homer from shortstop Darwin Barney. For the third time this CWS the UNC starting pitcher could not get out of the second inning, and Putkonen gave way to closer Andrew Carignan with the bases loaded and two outs with the Tar Heels trailing 3-1.

Using Carignan so early is unconventional, but it seemed like a wise choice. UNC coach Mike Fox could not let this game get out of hand, so he knew he needed his best reliever to stabilize things and Carignan did so by getting out of the jam. It harkened back to the days of Goose Gossage and Mike Marshall, when closers were capable of throwing more than an inning, and were often used in (gasp!) non-save situations.


David Puddy would be proud.

The Heels put two more runners on in the sixth with the red-hot Dustin Ackley at the plate and trailing 5-3. Even though Ackley hit the ball on the nose, it went straight to left fielder John Wallace and the threat was over. At that point, the Tar Heels were 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position during the Finals, and it was too much to recover from.

The Beavers put up two more runs in the top of the seventh, and nine outs (and two more runs) later they were national champions for the second straight year. And after 87 days on the road, we had seen our last game. A champion had finally been crowned, and Beaver Nation was ready to party.

BONKERS FOR BEAVERS

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We didn't get a chance to watch the Beavers during the regular season, but we read about their struggles during conference play. Having watched them five times in Omaha, it is hard to believe they had a losing record in the Pac-10. There was no question that they were the best team in Omaha, and deserving champions. For every botched opportunity by their opposition, there were the Beavers properly executing a relay from the outfield, or hitting through the hole on a hit-and-run.


The thrill of victory . . .

Oregon State becomes the first team to repeat since LSU in 1996-97, and they have firmly established themselves as a dominant force in college baseball. After three straight trips to Omaha, some might start to wonder what the "O" in OSU stands for. As Mitch Canham said in his follow-up to "O-State Ballaz," they still ballin'.


. . . And the agony of defeat.

The thing that strikes me most about OSU is that roughly 90 percent of their core guys are from Oregon and Washington. One would expect coach Pat Casey to have to dip into California's talent pool to put together such a run, but center fielder Chris Hopkins is their only regular from the Golden State.

You want further evidence that OSU is a consummate team? How about the fact that they went 5-0 in the CWS even though reliever Eddie Kunz, their highest drafted player at 42nd overall, pitched just 1/3 of an inning.


We're confused, are you No. 1, or are you No. 2?

As hard as it is to believe, North Carolina's loss means that the ACC is still without a CWS title since Wake Forest in 1955.


The head Beaver gets wet.

We'll be back tomorrow with some feel for what Omaha is like the day after the CWS, but we'll finish our road trip having witnessed 80 games in 87 days. There were 945 runs scored, which were powered by a total of 149 home runs, 1,623 hits and 133 stolen bases. Though you might think otherwise because of the record 53 hit batsmen during the CWS, college pitchers do have some control. There were 1,054 strikeouts on our trip, to go with just 536 walks.

As this will be my last blog post (if you knew Evan, you'd know it is appropriate he gets the last word), I wanted to thank everyone for following along on our journey with us. It was some of the most fun I've ever had in my life, and I hope that came across in our product. I'm a self-described baseball junkie, but even I was a little concerned that I might get burned out after so many games in so little time. Fortunately, that never happened. In fact, I am now a college baseball fan for life. If I'm not here covering this next year, you'll find me in the left-field bleachers letting the world know just how much right field sucks.

I feel a bit like I am writing an Oscar acceptance speech, but there are too many people to thank for making Going Yard such a success. Obviously, I appreciate Evan for taking this journey with me, and for tolerating my random neuroses. But what made this trip so special were the players and fans. We were embraced pretty much everywhere we went, and it would not have been the same if not for the willingness of our subjects to open up show us what makes college baseball so great.

From the Rebels to the 'Eaters, Rowdy Knights to the Bleacher Creatures, you made Going Yard live up to its name.

Alright, enough with corny stuff. Thanks again for reading and watching, I'm ready to relax a little now that I have some free time. Therefore, to the girl in the Cardinals cap from the video we made at Ole Miss: If you're reading this, drop me a line.


O-State Ballaz, they still ballin'.

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Posted by Matt Meyers at 05:59 PM | Comments (1)

Saturday, 06/23/07

Beaver (Domi)nation

For the first time in 34 years, the College World Series Finals feature a rematch. And there was plenty of anticipation around Rosenblatt Stadium for the North Carolina vs. Oregon State battle.

It's been interesting all throughout the CWS to see the mixture of fans from each team, along with lots of other teams that didn't even make it to Omaha. So today it was a bit of a shift to see so many folks clad in gear pledging their allegiances to either the Heels or Beavers.

But obviously, the final weekend of the CWS has an influx of fans from both sides who couldn't make it out to the start of the series yet still wanted to support their school. And what better way to get a sense of how cool the rematch factor is than by talking to some of the more intense fans from both sides. Especially if you're holding a video camera.

RIVALRY RENEWED

WATCH CLIP

The pitching matchup allowed us to have a little language-related fun that we enjoy largely thanks to our friend Aaron Fitt, Baseball America's college guru who we mentioned a few days ago.

Fitt has always had a habit of translating names from Spanish to English if they are easily translatable (Classic examples: Antonio Banderas becomes Tony Flags and Jose Mesa becomes Joe Table). Today's matchup allowed us to do one in each direction, as North Carolina freshman starter Alex White became Alejandro Blanco and Oregon State starter Jorge Reyes became George Kings.

Ta da! (And yes, before you ask, we know we are idiots.)


What, no love for Wally?

The most indelible moment from last year's College World Series Finals was the fielding mishap involving UNC second baseman Bryan Steed and first basemen (though catcher by trade) Tim Federowicz. Well, the fielding didn't get much better for the Tar Heels this time around.

Already trailing 6-3 in the seventh inning, UNC reliever Tyler Trice fielded a would-be sacrifice bunt and looked back the runner at second before throwing to first too late to get Chris Hopkins. On the next play, OSU's Joey Wong (who shares a name with a female Taiwanese film star) bunted the ball right to Trice, who sailed his throw into right field allowing two runs to score to make it 8-3.

Trice walked the next batter, and then his night was done. With the Tar Heels' bats back in the slumber mode that plagued them before their games against Rice, those were two runs UNC couldn't afford to give up.


You must take the 'A' Train, to get to Rosenblatt Stadium up in Omaha.

By the time the carnage was complete, Oregon State had handed UNC an 11-4 thumping to kick off the series.

Of course, there were some random bits of good news for North Carolina. First, they tied a CWS record (and set a CWS Finals record) with five double plays in the game. Second, they seem to play better when facing elimination, so they can always hope to bounce back tomorrow.

But that can't compare with the feeling the Beavers have: They're only 27 outs away from repeating as national champions.

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Posted by Evan Markfield at 05:58 PM | Comment

Friday, 06/22/07

Handing Out the Hardware

There were no games today at the College World Series, as Oregon State and North Carolina prepared for their showdown in the finals that begin on Saturday. With a little down time, we figured it would be the perfect opportunity to check out some of Omaha's most legendary locales not named Rosenblatt.

When it comes to food, Omaha is most known for its steaks, however, the goodies don't stop there. A stone's throw from the Rosenblatt parking lot is Zesto's, a hamburger establishment that also specializes in milkshakes. It's a staple of Omaha, and quite possibly the most popular snack spot during the CWS. Even North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams said Zaesto's has the best milkshakes he's ever had.

SNACK ATTACK

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A little further south on 10th Street is the Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo. You probably recognize the giant Desert Dome because it is visible on television beyond the right-field stands. That's just one exhibit, and the zoo provided us with close to three hours of entertainment. If you ever make it out to Omaha, it's definitely worth an afternoon of your time.


Even gorillas do calisthenics.

Because it was an off day, we figured this would be the perfect time to unveil the All-Going Yard team. We presented an early-season follow list, but now it's time to give you the team. Remember, this team is not about your performance on the field. A spot on this team means you distinguished yourself when the bright lights of our HandiCam were focused on you.

Catcher-Mitch Canham (Oregon State) This spot was wide open until we got to Omaha. Then we got the rap stylings of OSU's backstop. I've even found myself singing the chorus of "O-State Ballaz" to myself ever since.

First Base-Brandon Reichert (Florida State) In our first Tour de Handshakes in Tallahassee, Reichert led us through some of FSU's most outrageous shakes. He even mixed in some self-deprecating wit.

Second Base-Nick Crawford (Millsapes) The NCAA record-holder for hit by pitches took us through the finer points of taking one for the team. He even traded "Happy Gilmore" references with us.

Shortstop-Chris Cates (Louisville) The shortest player in Division I showed us the literal meaning of shortstop. His teammates call the 5-foot-3 Cates "Wee Man," but he plays much bigger than that.

Third Baseman-Chris Phethean (Savannah State) Phethean earned his spot on day four of Going Yard when he gave us the first of two silly dances we caught on camera. That alone was enough to earn him a spot.

Outfield-Ollie Linton (UC Irvine) This was one of the easiest choices for us. No one appeared in more of our videos than Linton (three), and he stole the show in pretty much every one. Even before he impersonated Stephen A. Smith and asked the Anteaters what their profession is, he locked up his spot in late April when he showed us his amazing Mortal Combat handshake.

Outfield-Aaron Ivey (Oklahoma) Ivey is thinking of walking on the Oklahoma football team now that his baseball eligibility is complete. We wanted to see if he still had the goods on the gridiron, and he was kind enough to run some pass patterns for us while we tried to cover him. Let it be known that when I was covering him, the pass was incomplete.

Outfield-Tommy Lentz (Winthrop) We had never heard of Korean Rock, Paper, Scissors before hanging out in the Wintrhip dugout. Once Lentz gave us a demonstration and explained why he is such a dominant force, he pretty much locked up his spot.

Designated Hitter-The Whammer (UC Irvine) His name is actually Zach Robinson, but it might as well be "The Whammer," because that is how he is known to pretty much everyone. Irvine's dugout captain is a riot, and his explanation of Irvine's dugout rituals clinched his spot. Yes, the same explanation that ESPN ripped off ten days later during the CWS.

Utility-JoJo Tann (Ole Miss)With the exception of possibly Linton, this guy was the biggest no-brainer on the squad. His tour of the Ole Miss bus was one of the more memorable moments of our trip.


We pity the fool that does not pursue a post-graduate education.

Pitcher-David Price (Vanderbilt) The best pitcher in college baseball (and the No. 1 pick in the MLB draft) let us hang out with him and his family at a postgame cook-out. He was so laid back, you'd never know he was such a star. On top of that, when we saw him in Omaha we discovered he had been keeping up with our trip pretty much the entire time. If you're a fan of us, we're a fan of you.

Pitcher-Will Kline (Ole Miss) Kline gave us the catch phrase of the trip, one that highlighted our ride on the Ole Miss bus and provided a perfect ending for our music video. "Online, offline, landline . . . bring it . . . We'll play at your place."

Pitcher-B.J. Hagen (Charlotte) Baseball players play some dumb games to pass the time during rain delays. But none is more juvenile and entertaining than "Flips." Hagen was kind enough to take us through the ins and outs of Charlotte's favorite time waster.

Pitcher-Ben Jones (Azusa Pacific) As we explained earlier for Phethean, doing dumb dances will earn you a spot on the team. Jones gets special points because, out of nowhere, he said to us, "You guys want to see a dance?" It wasn't used in our Azusa Pacific video, but we kept it on hold for our music video. He is the guy doing the Elaine Benes-style boogy after the first chorus of the Going Yard video.

Pitcher-Bo O'Dell (Florida State) The guy does a mean impression of Chewbacca. That's all there is to it.

Coach-Rich Hill (San Diego) Every team needs a coach, and any coach willing to take us surfing can coach our team any time. This probably won't take away the sting of getting bounced during regionals, but we hope it helps.

There you have it. The few, the proud, the All-Going Yard team. Congratulations gentleman.

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Posted by Matt Meyers at 05:57 PM | Comment

Thursday, 06/21/07

Single Showdown

For the first time during this College World Series, we had a day with only one game. And it couldn't have been bigger, with North Carolina playing Rice for the right to take on Oregon State in the CWS Finals (formerly known as the Championship Series).

The 6 p.m. start without an afternoon game left fans plenty of time to tailgate in the parking lot beforehand. And that meant a rowdy bunch for my two favorite random things about the CWS.

The first is the way the crowd boos the poor ball girls when they can't catch a foul ball as it rolls off the netting behind home plate. Without fail, if the ball makes it to the ground, a cacophony of boos tumble down upon these young ladies, who seem to take the tradition in stride.

The second is the rivalry between the bleachers in left field and those in right. To get a better idea of what we're talking about, check out today's video.

BLEACHER BATTLE

WATCH CLIP

All silliness aside, the 22,344 fans on hand -- a record for Session 11 -- couldn't have asked for a better matchup in this elimination game.

For a team that seemed to have a problem hitting home runs, the Tar Heels sure remembered how to do it in this do-or-die game.

Freshman Dustin Ackley, who broke out of a slump by homering the previous day against Rice, opened the scoring with a solo shot in the second. After Rice bounced back for a pair of runs, fellow frosh Tim Fedroff hit an opposite-field two-run shot in the third to give Carolina the lead back, 3-2.

UNC center fielder Seth Williams hit another solo homer in the fourth for a 4-2 Carolina lead, and shortstop Josh Horton followed suit with an absolute monster shot in the fifth to right-center field.

That's right, Carolina hit a home run in four straight innings.


This guy's got all his bases covered.

The Heels also got six innings of three-hit pitching from sophomore Adam Warren who left with a 7-2 lead. But there was still some drama to be had as UNC reliever Rob Wooten, who was appearing in his 11th straight game, surrendered a pair of runs to the Owls in the seventh forcing UNC coach Mike Fox to go to his closer, Andrew Carignan to finish that inning.

And even as all the excitement was going on, the crazy bleacher fans were still feeling pretty lighthearted. Before the ninth inning, they let a beach ball fall on to the warning track. But just as a stadium employee was about to snatch it up after running all the way out there, the fans yanked it back into the seats thanks to some string.

The employee, however, proved two could play at that game. When the ball came over again moments later along with the string, he grabbed it and pretended like he was going to throw it back to the fans . . . but held on to the string, psyching them out and then deflating the ball.


Uh, fellas. Game's happening live about 50 feet behind you.

Oh, and as far as the end of the game, Fox left Carignan in for the ninth -- making it an extra-long appearance for the closer -- and the righty delivered, retiring three Owls in a row to send Carolina to the Finals with a 7-4 victory.

Warren improved to 12-0 with the win, which is the best undefeated mark in school history, and trumps the previous record of 11-0 set by the immortal Scott Bankhead in 1984.

The UNC victory means we get a rematch of last year's Championship Series -- um, we mean Finals . . . the NCAA just sprung this change on us today, so it's tough to remember -- as the Heels take on the Beavers over the weekend. It's the first rematch in the finals since 1973, when USC defeated Arizona State for the second straight year. We can't wait.

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Posted by Evan Markfield at 05:57 PM | Comment

Wednesday, 06/20/07

Beavers Can't Be Eaten

Over the course of our trip we have spent plenty of time examining the family aspect of college baseball. We talked to some Nebraska mothers on Mother's Day, toured Jordy Mercer's parent's RV at Oklahoma State, and sat with Matt Gorgen as he watched his twin brother Scott pitch for UC Irvine. Until tonight, the family dynamic we had explored had exclusively revolved around the players.

You often hear coaches speak of their wives as unsung heroes, selfless partners who will sacrifice for the good of their husband's coaching career. Therefore, we figured it would be interesting to see the game through the eyes of a coach's wife. After enduring a string of agonizing Irvine postseason games, who better to assist us than Tracy Serrano, the wife of Irvine coach Dave Serrano.

Since defeating Wake Forest in the first game of their regional, the Anteaters have had nothing but Maalox-requiring marathons that would test the patience of even the most casual fan. You'd think that Tracy would be used to this by now. Think again.

THE BETTER HALF

WATCH CLIP

Like any intense fan, Tracy also has her own superstitions. She wore one outfit when Irvine won their first regional game, and she has since worn either the pants, tank top or shirt from that outfit to every game since. She tried a new shirt for Irvine's first CWS game against Arizona State, but when they lost she decided she would never wear it again.

"Cute shirt," she said. "I might wear it at home to work out some time. But it will not be on this body during the College World Series."


Tracy Serrano and the Serrano boys after Tuesday's win against Arizona State.

It was another tough night for Tracy because she had to sit through Irvine's third-straight elimination game. While Tracy might have been a wreck, the Anteaters seemed loose as ever. As we've learned over the course of this trip, it's just how they roll. Plus, they've become the fan favorites here, and they get autograph requests and praise wherever they go. As they walked into the park today, there were even a number of fans chanting, "Ollie, Ollie, Ollie" in honor of Ollie Linton, Tuesday night's hero. As further proof of their relaxed attitude, Linton once again led the team in a pregame skit that has become a staple of their preparation ritual.

AROUND THE HORN

WATCH CLIP

Today's matchups provided an interesting contrast. In the early game we had Rice and North Carolina, the two teams that basically choked away the 2006 College World Series. I realize "choke" is a harsh word, but let's be honest. Rice got shutout in back-to-back game by an Oregon State club with depleted pitching when one win would have put them in the title series. North Carolina made it to the title series, but blew a five-run lead in game two, and made a costly error in the eighth inning of game three that gave OSU the title.

In the second game we had Irvine and OSU, two teams that have proven they can execute when it matters. Irvine's biggest advantage in their previous two games was their ability to stay cool when things got hot, but OSU is the one team left with a more impressive resume in that regard.

Rice got waxed by UNC by a score of 6-1, and they now run the risk of being eliminated out of the winner's bracket with two straight losses for the second straight year. While I am sure they will downplay the significance of this, you can't convince me they aren't thinking about it.

It was good to see UNC righthander Robert Woodard rebound from an awful start in their opener against Mississippi State to help keep the Tar Heels alive. Woodard holds the school record for wins, and it would have been a shame for such a great career to end on such a sour note. The senior allowed only a run on five hits in 6 2/3 innings of works before Rob Wooten and Andrew Carigan combined to finish the job. UNC even rediscovered the ability to hit home runs, with first baseman Dustin Ackley slugging the team's first of the CWS.

The Heels and Owls will now play once more on Thursday night with the winner advancing to the title series.

Rosenblatt was packed once again to watch Irvine in the night game, and not just because it was the 'Eaters against the Beavers. As mentioned earlier, they are now the darlings of the CWS and the 29,921 in attendance were hoping to see a little more 'Eaters magic. It seemed appropriate that OSU were their opponents because the Beavers were the lovable underdogs here in 2005, but now that they been to Omaha three years running, they have surrendered that status.

Unfortunately for those looking for some more theatrics from Irvine, they just didn't have any more tricks in the bag. A two-out throwing error by third baseman Tyler Vaughn allowed the first Beaver run to score in the third inning, and OSU catcher/rapper Mitch Canham compounded the error with a two-run home run that gave the Beavers a 3-0 lead they would never relinquish in waltzing to a 7-1 win.


Evan shows off his "O" face.

It was definitely odd to see the 'Eaters get sent home because it was also an indicator that our journey was coming to an end as well. We first met up with the 'Eaters on April 29 when they showed us their zany batting cage race and handshakes. They provided us with great fodder for the blog and video, so we thought they were awesome. At the same time, we figured they were just a fun team that we would never hear from again.

In fact, after they defeated Wichita State to advance to the CWS, freshman pitcher Cory Hamilton said to me, "I bet when you were hanging out with us in our dugout back in Irvine you never thought you'd see us in Omaha." He was right.

I know that as a sports writer I am not supposed to have a rooting interest, but after spending so much time with the Anteaters this postseason, it became almost impossible not to root for them. There, I said it.

A large part of the nature of this trip is to bring out the fun side of college baseball, the atmosphere that makes it special. We had a ball goofing off with a number of players on a number of teams, but there was not another team that seemed to have as much fun as Irvine. Since our goal is to bring you the lighter side of the sport, they were our dream team because they provided us with a seemingly endless supply of amusing video footage and blog material. On top of that, they were a joy to watch on the field and were involved with what were the four most exciting games I've seen thus far on this journey. Therefore, I'd like to thank Irvine for help making this trip so much fun for us, and for those who have been following the blog. It's been a pleasure.

I'm sure they are disappointed, but it was definitely a fantastic season for Irvine. One that put them on the map as another West Coast baseball force. If nothing else, they should take solace in the fact that they knocked off Texas, Wichita State, Fullerton and Arizona State. That's pretty much a "who's who" of traditional college baseball powers.

As for the Beavers, they deserve all the credit in the world. They are in great position to win their second-straight title, which would make them the first repeat champions in the CWS since LSU in 1996-97. I don't think there was anyone in the world who ever thought OSU would be mentioned in the same breath as LSU in reference to college baseball.

We're down to three, and all of them were in the CWS last year. There definitely seems to be something to this whole, "first time teams can't win in Omaha thing."

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Posted by Matt Meyers at 05:56 PM | Comment

Tuesday, 06/19/07

Flamingo-ing Yard

Just when you think the Anteaters can't make their games any more exciting, they go ahead and prove you wrong. And when you think they're surely finished, ready to get bounced out of the College World Series and sent home, well you're wrong again.

There were times when it seemed likely that Irvine was surely headed to a little something called the "flamingo funeral." What's that, you ask? Well, the following video should explain. And then we'll take you through the days action, which went from a nice, brisk start to a nail-biting doozy of a finish.

FOR THE BIRDS

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Louisville's Logan Johnson tied a College World Series record with four home runs when he hit a solo shot to put Louisville up 1-0 on North Carolina in the first inning of the first game. But the offensive slugfest many expected (even though the Tar Heels hadn't been hitting well at all here) didn't materialize. Unlike Carolina's first two starters in the CWS, Luke Putkonen was able to stay in the game longer than a couple of innings, and he held the Cardinals to three hits in seven innings of work.

The Louisville pitching wasn't bad either. If not for a throwing error by UL third baseman Chris Dominguez in the second inning, this game could have been knotted at 1-1 the whole way. Instead, the Tar Heels survived with a 3-1 victory.

And that led us to one of the more interesting traditions we've discovered here at the College World Series. In the parking lot outside Rosenblatt Stadium, there is a group of fans that for the last several years has set up a tent where they not only hang out but also display eight plastic pink flamingos -- one for each team in the CWS.

As the eliminations begin, they hold "funerals" for each team's flamingo when the team gets bounced. So after the Tar Heels' victory, we went over to watch them say a short eulogy before putting a black bag over the head of the Louisville flamingo.

The ceremony occurs 30 minutes after each elimination game and draws quite a crowd. It's gotten to the point where Omaha police will put a cone out in the road to block traffic from coming through during the short ceremony.

They even put a little flamingo in the top of the cone, so there's no mistaking what the hold-up is.


Matt does his best Priscilla Barnes impersonation.

When we returned to the stadium, we were worried we'd encountered some sort of time vortex. But it turned out there wasn't any great disturbance in the space-time continuum, Arizona State had just decided to wear their 1981 uniforms for their game against UC Irvine.

Maybe the Sun Devils were hoping that inflation from 1981 runs to 2007 runs would account for a better showing on the scoreboard, but they found themselves in a dogfight with the Anteaters (regardless of neither mascot being of the canine persuasion).

Perhaps the funniest moment from this game came when ASU shortstop Andrew Romine lined a hard foul ball into the seats behind the UCI dugout twice in a row, prompting the 'Eaters fans to stand up and start waving a white handkerchief in surrender to Romine. He made sure not to hit them again but grounded out on the next pitch to drive in the tying run in the top of the seventh inning.

Things got even less funny for Irvine when a ground ball rolled underneath the glove of second baseman Cody Cipriano (though it was ruled a hit) and Arizona State took a 4-3 lead. The Sun Devils tacked on three more runs in the top of the eighth for a 7-3 lead, but if there's one thing the Anteaters have proven this CWS, it's that they're never quite dead.

So it was no surprise when they loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth with nobody out. Then ASU's Jason Jarvis hit UCI's Ben Orloff to make it 7-4 and tie the CWS record for hit batsmen with 36 overall (which was then broken when ASU's Rocky Laguna got plunked to lead off the 10th). Irvine accounted for 11 of those hit batsmen.

Cipriano followed with an RBI single to make it 7-5. Matt Morris doubled home two runs next to tie the game, but third-base coach Greg Bergeron held up the next runner, Cipriano, at third. Literally. Cipriano appeared to grab Bergeron (or vice versa) as the coach tried to get him back to third, leading the umpire to call the batter out automatically. And yes, this really happened. It would come back to haunt Irvine after an intentional walk set up an inning-ending double play. A two-out threat in the bottom of the ninth also produced nothing for the 'Eaters.

But watching this team battle has been amazing. When Irvine escaped a bases-loaded jam with a double play in the 10th, there was plenty of audible marveling going on in the press box. It's sort of like you can't actually believe your own eyes when Irvine appears to be completely done for and then somehow scrapes through.

Baseball America's Aaron Fitt best summed things up when the Anteaters loaded the bases in the 10th by noting, "This game is nuts!" He's not the best color man in the league for nothing, folks.


Easiest eye chart ever.

You could sense the weird underdog voodoo in the air with that bases-loaded situation, so it almost wasn't a surprise when Ollie Linton singled through the right side on a 2-2 pitch to drive home Morris to give Irvine the 8-7 win and a date with Oregon State.

After the game, the Irvine faithful hadn't left their seats except to move down toward the field and were sharing hugs with the players along the wall. There wasn't a guy more popular than Linton as everyone in Eater Nation celebrated. Coach Serrano's wife, Tracy, was so flabbergasted by the win it was as if she had been up with us in the press box, incredulous at yet another Irvine victory.


Let's hug it out.

She also had to talk her way onto the field after the game since she didn't have a pass. Well, I said, you could have showed them your wedding ring. But she wasn't wearing that, either. So why did security eventually give in and let her on the field with her sons?

"I guess they thought I was a crazy lady and they should just let me go," Tracy said. I told her not to worry, that's how Matt and I usually get past security, too.

As the madness died down on the field, it would soon be time for another flamingo funeral in the parking lot, but not for the bird belonging to the Cinderella-story Anteaters. As we bid farewell to Arizona State and Louisville, here's a little bonus video of a happier time for one of the losing teams: Cardinals pitcher Gavin Logsdon playing the spoons.

SPOON MAN

WATCH CLIP

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Posted by Evan Markfield at 05:55 PM | Comment

Monday, 06/18/07

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.

CARDINALS TAKE FLIGHT

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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.

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Posted by Matt Meyers at 05:55 PM | Comment

Sunday, 06/17/07

I Love It When You Call Me Big Poppa

A little more than a month ago, we were at Nebraska talking with some of the Cornhuskers' moms about how nice it was for them to get to watch their sons play on Mother's Day.

Well, sorry moms, but a bunch of dads got an even better treat: Watching their sons play in the College World Series on Father's Day. And even with the pressure of elimination facing the first two teams of the day -- Louisville and Mississippi State -- it sounded like the players still remembered to give a card or at least a phone call to Dad before the game.

Obviously, these proud baseball dads couldn't have asked for a better present than being in Omaha.

WHO'S YOUR DADDY?

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The wind was blowing out hard, and the Cardinals didn't waste any time taking advantage of it. A pair of early home runs -- both of which landed approximately somewhere in South Dakota -- helped Louisville take a quick 3-0 lead on Mississippi State.

In the third, Louisville's Isaiah Howes blasted a ball over the center fielder's head for a two-run double to make it 5-0. Then first baseman Daniel Burton hit another bomb in the fourth, a three-run shot that made it 8-0.

The Bulldogs eventually put up three runs of their own, but L'ville wasn't done bashing. Third baseman Chris Dominguez (whose dad was fired up to be here) cranked a two-run homer to left field (his second of the game) that almost hit the scoreboard behind the bleachers. In the end, the Cardinals came away with a 12-4 win as MSU became the first team to bow out of the 2007 CWS.

There was a ton of anticipation for the nightcap, which featured North Carolina and Rice. Rosenblatt Stadium was absolutely packed, and the Tar Heels' fan contingent included UNC basketball coach Roy Williams, who made the trip to Omaha last year as well. We caught up with him before the game for a couple of minutes to talk baseball and milkshakes.

OL' ROY IN OMAHA

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Unfortunately for Ol' Roy and the rest of the Tar Heel faithful, there wasn't a whole lot to cheer about. For the second straight game in the CWS, Carolina's starter didn't make it out of the second inning, as the Owls hung six runs on freshman Alex White.

And it only got worse from there. Carolina's propensity for falling behind early and then charging back for the victory was only halfway complete tonight. The Heels gave up the runs but never made the comeback. In fact, UNC set a CWS record by using eight pitchers in the game, the last of which was catcher Tim Federowicz, who also pitches part-time (and gave up a two-run homer in the ninth).

Needless to say, the game didn't have much drama, and Rice walked away with a 14-4 win.

On this Father's Day, there was not much question in either game who was who's daddy.


The city sure felt like it belonged to Rice tonight.

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Posted by Evan Markfield at 05:54 PM | Comment

Saturday, 06/16/07

Bash of the Titans

As Coolio once so eloquently put it, "Ain't no party like a West Coast party cause a West Coast party don't stop." Day two at the College World Series was all about the West Coast. We had UC-Irvine against Arizona State in the opener, and Cal State Fullerton versus Oregon State at night. Yes, Arizona State is not actually on the coast, but we'll count them because they play in the Pac-10.

Beyond great college baseball, the West Coast is also known for its rap music. Though I'm more Biggie than Tupac, I'll always respect the sounds that came from out west. Oregon State catcher Mitch Canham has more than just a respect.

A supplemental first-round pick by the Padres in the recent MLB draft, Canham has been composing rhymes for the last couple of years. His anthem, "O-State Ballaz" described the Beavers march to the title in 2006, and he has updated the song for 2007. As you can imagine, we made a point to get this on camera. Canham was a little hesitant, but he kindly gave us a sample. If you like what you hear, you can get some more of Canham's flow at www.ostateballaz.com.

IT'S A RAP

WATCH CLIP

I had been wanting to get Canham's rap on video for a couple of weeks, so it was very satisfying when we actually made it happen. We couldn't rest on our laurels, however, because we had a major mission for today, and that was to investigate Titan House.

Before we could do that, we watched Arizona State nip Irvine in the opener by a score of 5-4. Before the game I caught up with Matt Gorgen, the twin brother of Irvine starter Scott Gorgen, who we featured on video last week. Matt was scheduled to pitch for a team in the Cape Cod League this summer, but he asked the team if he could delay his arrival to watch his brother pitch in the CWS. The team said if he went to Omaha instead of reporting to the Cape, he would lose his spot on the team. As you would expect from any devoted brother, Matt told the team he was going to Omaha. He said the team has released him, but he remains optimistic he will find another team to pitch for on the Cape this summer.

Scott wasn't as sharp as he was last week against Wichita State, and he allowed three home runs in taking the loss for the Anteaters. Once that game was over, we finally go to see what Titan House is all about.

Titan House is a tradition that began back in 2003, and it is a house across the street from Rosenblatt that is rented by the Cal State Fullerton alumni association as a social spot for Titan fans. The idea was born back in 2001 when Tulane fans, who were partying in a private tent, started giving Fullerton a hard time for not having their own space. Because Fullerton was such a regular visitor to Omaha, they decided they needed to have a spot for their fans to kick back when the Titans were not playing.


Count the rings.

Carlos Leija, Fullerton's executive director of alumni relations, told us that they originally rented one house for two years, but have settled in at 3464 S. 13th St. The school has a standing agreement with the owners of the house that the owners will vacate every time the Titans advance to the CWS for as long as the Titans remain alive. No matter how long the Titans last, the rent is $7,000.

The alumni associate gets $2,500 from the school as seed money, but almost everything else is paid for by donations from fans in attendance. Leija estimated that roughly 250 fans will come through in a given day, but the Titans don't discriminate. There were a number of Arizona State fans partaking in some adult beverages sponsored by the Titans, and UCI coach Dave Serrano's father was there as well. Serrano used to coach at Fullerton, so it's not such a big surprise.


Even Robin Ventura hangs out at Titan House.

Leija could hardly contain himself as he described the scene at Titan House in 2004 after the Titans won the title. He organized for a giant speaker system to be installed, and he had "We Are the Champions" blaring as the team paraded the CWS trophy onto the back lawn.


It's true, ain't no party like a West Coast party.

For the most part, the fans we spoke to were shocked that the Titans even made it to Omaha. This isn't a vintage Fullerton team as far as the masses are concerned, but they might as well enjoy it while they are here.

We even found two Fullerton alums, Dave and Mike, in town for Mike's bachelor party. I had told someone just the other day that I thought the CWS was a great spot for a bachelor party (yes, I'm a baseball nerd), and these guys are one step ahead of me.

Unfortunately, most of their buddies balked at the idea of five days in Omaha for a bachelor party, but Mike's fiancee loved it.

"I told her I wanted to go watch baseball in Omaha for my bachelor party," Mike said. "And she was like, 'Sounds great!' "

I am guessing he would not have gotten the same reaction had he suggested Las Vegas. But as evidenced by Dave's shirt seen below, Omaha apparently has the same motto as Las Vegas.


Don't worry, your secret is safe with us.

One aspect of West Coast baseball that surprised us on this trip was the fact that they don't get much fan support during the regular season, at least not when compared to their counterparts in the SEC, ACC and Big 12. Titan House, however, can go toe-to-toe with any other shrine to college baseball that we've seen.

On the field, however, things did not go as well for the Titans tonight. They trailed the Beavers 3-2 with two outs in the ninth when third baseman Evan McArthur skied a pop-up to left field. Clearly dejected, McArthur moped to first base thinking the Titans had lost. But the ball got caught up in the wind, and OSU left fielder John Wallace could not make the play. I'm sure McCarthur feels terrible about this, and he will be lambasted elsewhere as well, but he should have been on second base when the ball dropped, but he didn't run. This error was compounded when pinch-hitter Jon Wilhite subsequently singled to right, which would have scored McCarthur had he run out his fly ball. Joel Weeks grounded out to shortstop to end the game, and the Titans lost 3-2.

It was a tough one to swallow for the Fullerton faithful, but I doubt that will stop the revelry at Titan house.

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Posted by Matt Meyers at 05:53 PM | Comment