Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Thoughts From The Weekend

As I await on another four to seven inches of snow, I bitterly ponder creating an outdoor college baseball tournament on the opening weekend of the season. I envision something like that NHL game between Pittsburgh and Buffalo on New Year's Day -- cold, windy, snowing. Instead of two northern programs, though, we invite four of those southern schools lamenting the universal start date.

The round robin tourney will be held somewhere like Traverse City, Michigan. The cherry capital just built a new minor league park. It's not far from Lake Michigan, either. I'm sure it would be ideal for baseball in February. The very PGA Tour-like title is the Universal Start Date Classic hosted by Eric Sorenson.

(Eric, buddy, lay off the universal start date. College baseball had to have it, if it wants to grow. Think of it like medicine, it might not taste good now, but it will make you better in the long run.)
In addition to this wildly ingenious, albeit spiteful, idea, I've been thinking about the weekend that was in Big Ten and around college baseball.

Minnesota's opening weekend versus Mississippi was simply terrible. The Gohpers fell by scores of 8-1, 22-5 and 15-4. While premature, many wrote off John Anderson's team only one weekend into the new season. Then along came the Dairy Queen Classic.

The Gophers defended home soil, home astroturf to be specific, by winning the DQ tournament. Minnesota fell in Friday's opener in extra innings, 7-4, to TCU. However, the Golden Gophers rebounded to take the next two games. They beat Tulane, 7-5, and Pepperdine, 5-2, to capture the DQ for the first time since 2004. One week later and the Gophers appear to be a much better team than many thoughts seven days before.

While a number of things went much better for the Gophers between week one and week two, one thing has stood out -- strikeouts. Minnesota batters fanned a remarkable 39 times against Ole Miss two weeks ago. In those three contests, the Gophers whiffed 21, 9 and 9 times.

This weekend, the Gophers struck out only 24 times. Minnesota batters fanned 14, 6 and 4 times in the Dairy Queen Classic. Minnesota has yet to win a game where they have struck out nine or more times. The games with their two lowest strikeout numbers are both victories. Sabermatericians, rejoice! Perhaps, this does mean that fewer K's = more W's.

Vanderbilt baseball fans must hate the Big Ten right about now. As you recall, the Commodores got bounced out of the NCAA Tournament last season by Michigan. Vandy entered the post-season as the top ranked team in the land, the number one seed in The Dance and regional host only to have upstart Michigan rain on their parade.

This past weekend, Iowa jumped up and took another bite out of the SEC power. The Hawkeyes prevailed over the seventh ranked Commodores, 6-3.

Any chance the SEC faithful can muster up a little respect for the Big Ten now? I didn't think so, either. But, I figured I'd ask.

In my ongoing search to watch college baseball this past weekend, I flipped through all the potential channels that might televise such an event. In coming across CSTV, I found a women's lacrosse match. In stopping to watch the Notre Dame vs. Stanford affair, I glanced at CSTV's crawl.

I noted college basketball scores, both men's and women's. Completely appropriate. I also saw hockey scores. It's hockey season, I'm good with that. However, I failed to notice any baseball scores sliding across the bottom of my screen. Was I mistaken? Did I not wait long enough? Are baseball scores not posted as frequently? Do they not post baseball scores at all? This is College Sports Television, right?

Remember what I said about Purdue in my season preview?

However, Purdue is probably the most enigmatic team in the Big

After losing three straight hard fought, one-run affairs against nationally ranked Baylor in Waco, Purdue looked like a team ready to take flight. Alas, the Boilermakers have gone the opposite direction. After dropping three more versus Western Kentucky, the Boilermakers are off to their worst start in a forever. (Technically, the '08 Boilers are tied for the worst start in the 121 year history of the program.)

I'm not sure what to say other than this is so typical of Purdue. You just can't figure out what you are going to get from them. Well, I can't anyway. My advice for the Purdue visitors here? Be patient. Much like the weather in the midwest, the Boilers' performance could and probably will change several more times before the season's end.

My initial reaction to Arizona State's two triumphs over Michigan was that Omaha seemed much further away from Ann Arbor than it did before last Thursday. However, my overall feeling is that Arizona State is just crazy good. There are very few programs as loaded as the Sun Devils are this year and they have come out of the gate on fire.

Even if ASU is the class of the college baseball field this year (and that's not a given), I get the feeling Michigan needs to play better baseball in 2008 than it did in 2007, if they hope to play in Omaha this June.

Michigan can swing the bats with almost anybody, but the questions about their pitching (especially the bullpen) and their ability to win low scoring games will remain until proven otherwise.

Editor's Note (3/8/08): Eric Sorenson at CBS College Sports, formerly CSTV, emailed me to clarify his position on the universal start date. (Mostly 'cause I sort of implied he didn't at the top of this post.) Big E actually loves the USD. He does poke some fun at it, but fully embraces the idea as one necessary for the overall health of college baseball.