Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gophers' Fornasiere Is Lauded

Rob Fornasiere, of the University of Minnesota, won the 2008 Assistant Coach of the Year Award. The honor is given annually by the American Baseball Coaches Association and Baseball America. BA's Aaron Fitt submitted this piece highlighting Fornasiere's dedication.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Rogers' Ranks Each State

Kendall Rogers, the big cheese at Rivals/Yahoo! college baseball, is in the process of evaluating each state's college baseball programs. This is admittedly an unscientific endeavor. As such, his rankings aren't exactly going to warm the hearts of the stat geek community -- not lots of numbers and equations to back up his opinions.

And, as they are merely Rogers' two-cents on this issue, they will no doubt generate some level of debate. We all know I don't much trust the perspective of college baseball's media elite, as their vision seems to extend no further west than Austin, Texas and no further north than about Knoxville, Tennessee. However, that doesn't mean the evaluations are void of merit.

Rogers has been watching this game longer than most sitting in front of a computer and knows lots of people in college baseball. I'd hesitate to toss his opinions aside out-of-hand. At minimum, his rankings should provide us with some indication as to the perception each Big Ten program has nation-wide. (Which both you and I realize isn't very good.)

I'm not going to provide links to every single state, just those in the Big Ten footprint. As of December 22, neither Minnesota or Wisconsin were included. I'm presuming that's forthcoming.

Read and discuss at your leisure.


More All-America Attention

'Tis the season for pre-season All-America Teams. This one is courtesy of Collegiate Baseball and Louisville Slugger. The Big Ten names remain the same. Indiana's Josh Phegley and Michigan's Chris Fetter have both claimed All-America status. Once again, Phegley, IU's catcher, is a member of the first team and Fetter has grabbed a second team pitching honor.

Monday, December 22, 2008

CB Has Michigan At # 29

Earlier today, Collegiate Baseball released its pre-season poll. One Big Ten side did manage to slide into CB's rankings. Michigan finds itself starting the season at number twenty-nine in the nation.

I'll admit that I'm surprised that Michigan made the Top 30. I thought many would take one look at the talent that left Ann Arbor this summer and dismiss them as just another northern school. Yet, it would appear that several at CB like Rich Maloney's side again in '09.

Two other Big Ten programs found themselves amongst the ever-popular "Others Getting Votes" category. Ohio State and Purdue both caught the attention of the CB pollsters.

At this point, I would be remiss in my self-appointed duties (not to mention bypass a shameless opportunity to appear to be an "insider"), if I didn't offer a word of advice to the poll voters. Take note of Indiana. That's all. Take note of the Hoosiers. The rest is up to you. (And, yes, them.)

Nonetheless, for the Big Ten to have one Top 30 program and two others garnering votes is a small victory in my book. Even if it is only the pre-season poll.

(While I'm sure all of you will click on the link provided above and review the entire poll, as a customer service, I'll let you know that Louisiana State claimed the top spot overall. LSU was followed by North Carolina, Rice, Georgia and Stanford.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Columbus To Host '09 Conference Tourney

I didn't see this one coming. Yesterday, the Big Ten Conference announced it's going to hold the 2009 conference baseball tournament at a neutral site. Huntington Park, the home of the Columbus Clippers, will host next year's conference tournament. I'm pleasantly surprised.

Regular readers of BTH will confirm that I've lobbied for a neutral site conference tournament for about as long as I've run this blog. The reasons for my desire for a neutral site venue are numerous, but let me allow Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany's comments from the press release highlight a few of them.

“Moving the baseball tournament to a neutral site will allow the conference office and the local organizing committee to promote this event throughout the season. In addition, playing at an outstanding facility like Huntington Park will enhance the experience for our student-athletes, coaches and fans. We’re looking forward to the first pitch of the tournament in May.”

I couldn't agree more. I can't believe I just agreed with Jim Delany. I must have spent too much time out plowing snow today. Regardless, having the conference's regular season champion host the tournament was a logistics nightmare for all the programs. Knowing where the tournament will be and not placing such a large burden on the host school's athletic department should be warmly greeted by everyone across the Big Ten.

While this seemed like an obvious move to me, and quite a few others, I was told routinely that such a transition wasn't on the horizon. What changed the thinking around Chicago? Here's my guess.

This move was motivated by the conference's new baby -- the Big Ten Network. As the conference now operates a television network, they need live programming. Let me re-phrase that just a bit. They desperately need programming. The conference baseball tournament could be one of those live events, but the conference simply cannot afford to have a university host the tournament when their ballpark doesn't have lights. No lights = no television. That's not an equation the Big Ten Network embraces.

In addition, I can't imagine the conference would want to broadcast their premier baseball event from a glorified junior high school ball field -- with or without lights. It is kind of quaint to see such simple surroundings for college baseball, but as we heard in the marketing days of old, image is everything. I doubt anyone in the Big Ten office really wants the rest of the nation to see just how limited some of the program's baseball facilities really are. (Yes, most are improving, but not all are up to par quite yet.)

The bottom line appears to be this. In order to maximize their product's (both BTN and baseball) visibility and reputation, the conference office conceded to common sense and moved the baseball tournament to a neutral site. Whatever the rationale, it's still a good, long overdue move and one I whole-heartedly applaud.

Now, before the comments and email starting popping up, let me say that this plan isn't perfect. Many will rightly argue that having the tournament in Columbus is a home game for Ohio State regardless of what field in the city they play upon. I can't disagree.

Would I have preferred -- strictly from a perception standpoint -- the tournament being held in Toledo, Dayton, Indianapolis, Grand Rapids or some other slightly more truly neutral location? Yes. However, I'm thinking the Columbus folks might have made a bigger, better pitch for the event than anyone else. Quite possibly, they made the only pitch for the event.

Let's not toss the baby out with the bathwater here. There's no mention of anything beyond 2009, so I'm going with the notion that another host city can be found in the future. Yes, it's in OSU's backyard next year, but that doesn't mean a neutral site championship isn't a good idea.

I also do have concerns about attendance if Ohio State gets eliminated from the tournament early or if, cover your eyes my Buckeye friends, they don't make the field at all. However, that's the case even if the regular season champion hosts the tournament. If the home team is out, attendance drops dramatically. Columbus is centrally located in the conference's geographic footprint, so I'm hoping that will make travel more appealing to fans across the region, thus minimizing some of that affect.

First, the conference disposed of those seven-inning Saturday doubleheaders I disliked in favor of a single nine inning game. Now, after years of my complaining about it, they've opted for a neutral site conference tournament host. The Big Ten has eliminated two of my biggest pet peeves about the way it runs it's baseball schedule. I wonder what should I campaign for next?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Phegley, Fetter Get NCBWA Nod

Indiana catcher Josh Phegley and Michigan pitcher Chris Fetter have been named National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association's pre-season All-Americans. Phegley grabbed a first team selection and Fetter was tabbed as a member of the second team.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Ebert Talks Big Ten

Patrick Ebert, of PG, talks about Indiana's dynamic battery mates -- Josh Phegley and Matt Bashore -- and wonders if the door to the Big Ten title has opened with Michigan losing so many impact players in his most recent column.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Wallace Award Watch List '09

The 2009 Brooks Wallace Award Watch List has been released. The College Baseball Foundation's pre-season list of nominees for their annual Player of the Year Award has been released. This year's crop is littered with names familiar to readers of this space.

Indiana tops the list with two players -- Matt Bashore and Josh Phegley. The Hoosiers' duo is joined by Illinois' Brandon Wikoff, Iowa's Justin Toole, Michigan's Chris Fetter, Minnesota's Matt Nohelty, Northwestern's Jake Goebbert, Ohio State's Justin Miller and Purdue's Dan Black.

I'm pleased to see so many representatives from the Big Ten dotting the initial list. Yet, and you knew there was going to be a "yet" tossed in, I'm immediately struck by the omission of Michigan State's Chris Roberts. That's just a gut reaction, however. There could be others that merit the honor, but as you know, I've been away from BTH and I could be forgetting someone.

Roberts' omission doesn't diminish the fact that there are nine players from the conference on the list. That's a strong showing from a conference routinely ignored.