Distiller’s Dozen: Maker’s Mark Made Me Do It

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on December 10th, 2012 in Sunday summations
 

Shhhhh! Don't tell anyone, but the UCI Anteaters could be one of the biggest Sleepers to watch for the 2013 season.

Damn you Mark Etheridge. Damn you.

It’s 5:15am on Sunday, December 9th and for some reason I’m wide awake. I reach for my phone and turn it on. As usual, I am so wildly unpopular I have no Emails to read, no Twitter responses and no Facebook messages. I can’t even get arrested in this town… oh wait. Yeah I can. Nevermind, I digress.

I do notice in the twitter cue that SEBaseball’s Mark Etheridge has posted a recent article. I click on it. And in the dark din of my bedroom, with my dog taking up most of the bed near my feet, I’m reading Mark’s take on the rise of college baseball on ESPN.

Yep, this is one of those times where reading something really good, motivates you in a good way. It’s like all those guitarists and drummer who were inspired by The Beatles and decided to start their own rock band. So that motivated me to get off my lazy ass, take a break from the preseason stuff in The Cave and pound out a Distiller’s Dozen. Thanks Eth. You bastard.

So here we go:

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1- ON THE MARK.

In case you hadn’t seen the Mark Etheridge column I’m referring to, Here’s where to go to read it.

Interesting stuff. The two things that stick out to me are, 1- That ESPNU’s Thursday night SEC baseball games get similar ratings to their SEC basketball games. And 2- That 40% of the ESPN college baseball audience is in the Southeast.

I can just see SEC fans all across their 11 states in huddled circles with their heads hanging down, kicking the dirt slowly, “How can we ONLY be 40%?… That just can’t be. How can we do something to get it up to 80%? Damn!”

I also have to believe that, if you took away the Kentucky fan base in the basketball viewership, then baseball’s Thursday night ratings would be double what the rest of the SEC basketball ratings would be. C’mon, you KNOW that’s gotta be the case.

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2- ON THE WEBB.

Another bud of mine in this college baseball writing racket has done some cool off-season Q&A’s you might wanna check out. Chris Webb, who covers college baseball in Ohio and in the Big 10, has this interesting back-and-forth with ESPN’s Kyle Peterson…

Check it out by clicking on this link here.

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3- ON THE WEBB, PART 2.

Okay, okay, I admit, Chris also did a Q&A with me a few weeks ago as well. If you missed it, here it is:

Here’s the link to read my drivel.

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4- THE S.I.D. RESPONSES

First off, for the record, I LOVE my college baseball SIDs. Almost all of them are totally cool.

However… Ever since I started writing my massive team-by-team season previews back in 2008, I have sent out Emails to all 300 or so school SIDs, asking 10 questions about their teams for the coming year. And I have also constantly complained about the lack of responses from most of those SIDs. Though as I always point out, the ones who DO respond to them are always heroes of mine and always appreciated.

This time around I sent out my questionnaires to the school Sports Information Directors back on November 12th. To this day, I have received 113 responses. But keep in mind there is still time and I’m sure I will get more to trickle in between now and New Year’s. But we’re still short of last year’s 130 responses, which sadly was the best year of any since I started doing this.

BUT… get this, I am very happy to report that the usually slow-to-respond SEC SIDs have gotten the memo and have sprung into action. A full 10 of the 14 SIDs responded from the nation’s super conference. I’m giddy as a little girl about this. I could always rely on Florida’s John Hines and LSU’s Bill Franques (two of the best in the biz, hands down) and maybe one or two others. But this year, these SEC dudes are totally stepping up and I really appreciate it too.

Weird to think that the SEC may have gone from my least-responded conference to my most-responded. See kids, the moral of the story is: Bitching and complaining works.

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5- FALL BALL.

Another thing i’ve complained about ad nauseaum is that my college football work for ESPN and their college football twitter page keeps me from fully immersing myself into much college baseball stuff. And this year, the editors at ESPN.com didn’t choose to do any Fall Ball Notebooks for baseball like I did in 2011. Crap!

But a few Saturdays ago, before my shift on the ESPN twitter page began, I got to go see a few innings of the San Diego-UCI scrimmage at Anteater Ballpark in Irvine. It was scheduled to be a 14-inning game and I got to see the first five innings before I had to bail.

Here’s a few notes about each team:

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SAN DIEGO:

- “We don’t need new guys, we need YOU guys.”

That’s how coach Rich Hill described it to me. He said all the ingredients are still there for a great season and everything he needs is available with the returnees he’s got and their star potential. (Not that there won’t be a few influxes from the group of newbies in uniform too. More on that in a bit.). Coach Hill knows he’s got legitimate star power in 3B/DH Kris Bryant (who could be the top power bat in the country), OF Louie Lechich, and pitchers like former 1st-rounder Dylan Covey and national saves runner-up Michael Wagner.

- Looks like Wagner, who had 19 saves last season, will be moved to the rotation. He actually got the start in last June’s first round game vs. New Mexico at the Los Angeles Regional. “He’ll be a big time arm in our starting rotation this year” coach Hill said.

- Despite the return of Covey and Wagner, the biggest question for USD is on the mound. Covey is “hopefully gonna be at the top of his game this year” as he is still adjusting to life with Type A diabetes, though he’s improved his numbers each year. With Wagner moving to the rotation, it leaves a big hole in the bullpen. Building depth with quality arms in the ‘pen will be a top priority. Coach Hill is really high on incoming frosh Troy Conyers, a 6’4″ lefty with some pretty good zip and control who was named the San Diego high school Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012, and P.J. Conlin, who was an MLB draft possibility but sluiced through the meat-grinders and made his way to USD.

He's so good he doesn't even need to open his eyes! Freshman left-handed phenom Troy Conyers started the scrimmage at UCI and looks to be a huge key to the USD rotation this coming spring.

- Another big point of emphasis for the coming season will be finding guys to hit in front of Kris Bryant. Last year, Louie Lechich, AJ Robinson, Andrew Daniel and Dillon Checkal all were used in the 1-spot. On Saturday, USD used 12 hitters in the batting order and had Checkal at leadoff. The top two returners with leadoff experience are Daniel (hit .339 last year) and part-timer Lucas Hagberg (.333 in 57 at-bats).

USD's Kris Bryant, here running in for a go-ahead score, should be one of the top power-bats in the country for 2013.

- Two more frosh coach Hill is high on is SS Logan Davis (who got the start at short on that Saturday but unfortunately I didn’t get to see a ball hit his way) and C Spencer Dunlap (who is fighting for playing time behind senior Dylan Haupt.) I didn’t get the chance to see Dunlap in action, I’m guessing he came in after I left. If either of them find a groove at the dish they’ll be permanent fixtures in the Torero order.

- RHP Trevor Bayless was the second pitcher used on the day for the Toreros and held the ‘Eaters scoreless for his two innings. But Bayless, who pitched just one inning last year, got hit around a tad, giving up a pair of doubles and a walk. Interesting choice for the 2nd hurler of the day, Bayless has a good build (6’3″, 200) and seems to throw hard. So put the “potential” tag on him.

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UC IRVINE:

- The Anteaters have a sick amount of pitching coming back. In fact, I would even go so far as to say they could be a sleeper nationally if they avoid the injury bug that seems to bite them from time to time. Crosby Slaught (7-7, 3.63) and his 18 starts is gone, but every other pitcher of note comes back to the mound, including Friday ace Andrew Thurman (8-3, 2.66) and Saturday/Sunday starter Phillip Ferragamo (who also made eight relief appearances). But the big returnee that could buoy the hopes of the ‘Eaters is LHP Matt Whitehouse, who was 4-0 in 12 starts in 2011 and finished 42nd in the nation with a 2.12 ERA. Whitehouse pitched three games last year before getting shut down for the season.

- RHP Evan Brock started the game for UCI and threw two very controlled, pin-point innings, going 7-up, 6-down with two Ks and a minimum of pitches. Louie Lechich was the only Torero to get a hit off him, slicing a sharp single to centerfield. Brock was 2-1, 2.12 in 34inns last season and had two starts in his 18 appearances.

- Whitehouse pitched two of the innings that I saw on that Saturday vs. USD and looked to be pretty sound. He’s a typical Irvine guy, crafty, with crazy movement and not overpowering, relying on guile and guts instead of power. He had a nice showdown with All American Kris Bryant in the 4th inning with a man on. Whitehouse induced Bryant into chasing a pair of pitches in the dirt. But with the count possibly full (there was no scoreboard in use so it was hard to keep track unless you were watching the umps every call), Bryant jumped on a Whitehouse off-speed pitch and sent it screaming down the left field line, scoring the runner from 2nd easily. Great showdown.

Irvine's crafty-lefty Matt Whitehouse is one of the top pitchers in the country who was forced to sit out most of the 2012 season. Expect his return to be a huge factor in UCI getting back to national prominence in 2013.

- The big key to UCI’s hopes on offense will rest in the emergence of Taylor Sparks, the high-ceiling 3rd baseman who struggled to adjust to college ball last year hitting just .202, and newcomer Dominique Taylor who played centerfield and batted third on this day. I’ve read a lot about the imposing 6’4″ 215 pound Sparks and his development over the summer after being named the top prospect in the West Coast League. In his two at-bats on Saturday he popped-up to center and hit into a force out at 2nd base. But he did flash some good glove work at 3rd base and showed off that powerful arm.

As shifty as a Fiat. UCI's Taylor Sparks should be a stoic defender at the hot corner and how he handles the bat will be a huge key to the Anteaters post-season hopes in 2013.

- Dominique Taylor showed some of that advertised speed he’s known for when he ran down a pair of fly balls to centerfield. But at the dish he was 0-for-2 in his two at-bats I saw with a groundout and flyout. Be it good or bad he was aggressive, going after pitches early in the count and showing a confident, easy swing. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in a full season of D1 play. At 6’1″, 200 pounds, he’s strongly built after playing his first two seasons at Salt Lake CC in Utah.

Incoming JC All American Dominique Taylor is so good he doesn't even need to wear a hat! The Anteater centerfielder should be one of the biggest impact performers for the coming season. If he can live up to billing, UCI could have the makings of a big post-season run.

- After losing names like Crumlich, Ramirez, Fox and Reyes, the big question mark will be in the batting order for the coming season since those four represented four of the top five hitters on the team, all going .292 or better and accounting for 30 of the teams 45 stolen bases. But Connor Spencer (.303 last year) and Chris Robago (.286) will be big factors, joining Sparks as high-end sophomores for this coming season. Spencer was the star of the early part of the game smacking a two-run double to the wall in the first inning off of Troy Conyers. Robago ground out in his first at-bat but added a blistering double in the 4th inning, only to see Ronnie Shaeffer get thrown out at home on the play.

- As a general observation, the Anteaters looked very confident and patient at the dish for the most part. They picked their spots pretty well against USD’s Conyers, pecking out two runs by the first two batters of the game. Connor Spencer’s two-run single in the 1st inning and Scott Gottschling’s leadoff double in the 2nd were the big shots. Two-hole hitter Jeff Stephens (.288 in 2012) had a pair of doubles in the two at-bats I saw of his as well. So even though they didn’t face Dylan Covey and Michael Wagner (who were both not scheduled for use in the scrimmage), obviously the Anteaters will go into 2013 knowing they have the ability to put some numbers up. Now, if the Two Taylors – Sparks and Dominique – join the hit parade in the spring, then they’ll be cookin’ with heat.

- Some buds told me that Mitch Merten (1-2, 4.12 in 32.2 inns last year) came in to throw the 5th and 6th innings vs. USD and did very well, while JC transfer Andrew Morales came in, throwing mid-80s on the guns and giving up nothing to the Toreros for his two innings of work.

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6- MORE FALL BALL.

This one is courtesy of Dave Wright, a very good Stitch-Head who knows more about Fullerton/Big West baseball than my lame ass does. Fullerton hosted UC Santa Barbara for a 14-inning scrimmage on that same Saturday I was down in Irvine. Like the USD-UCI game, this Titan-Gaucho game saw plenty of players switched in and out all day long.

Here are a few notes Dave forwarded to me from it:

Fullerton beat UC Santa Barbara 9-1 at Goodwin Field today. Freshman RHP Thomas Eshelman went 4.0 innings giving up one run and four hits. Freshman LHP Bryan Conant went the next 3.0 innings (no runs, three hits) and Freshman RHP Justin Garza was warming up when I left in the 7th inning.

For UCSB, Sophomore Greg Mahle got the start and allowed six runs, two of them earned, in his 3.0 innings of work. Freshman RHP Robby Nesovic allowed one run in his 3.0 innings of duty.

Fullerton scored four runs in the 2nd inning after an E4 extended the inning, on an RBI single by Richy Pedroza, followed by a bases-clearing double by Matt Chapman. The Guachos scored their only run in the 4th inning on a single, double (the runner was thrown out at the plate on a botched relay from right field) and a single by Tyler Kuresa.

Fullerton’s starting lineup and offensive highlights:

- SS, Richy Pedroza, two singles, RBI, stolen base

- 2B, Matt Orloff, single, HBP

- 3B, Matt Chapman, single, double, 4RBI, HBP

- DH, J.D. Davis

- 1B Carlos Lopez, single

- C, Chad Wallach, HR, 2RBI, HBP

- RF, Greg Velazquez

- LF, Anthony Hutting

- CF, Austin Diemer

- PH Austin Kingsolver, walk, stolen base

Michael Lorenzen didn’t play and I haven’t heard why. I think it was Coach Vanderhook’s decision and not injury related.

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7- PROOF THAT COACHES CAN’T REALLY USE THE OLD “COME PLAY HERE IF YOU WANT TO MAKE IT TO THE MAJORS” IN RECRUITING.

if the MLB playoffs tell us anything, it’s that it really doesn’t matter where you go to college. If you’re good, the big leagues will find you. Simple as that.

Back during the major league’s post-season, the boys over at College Baseball Insider put together a list of all the former college baseballers who were playing in the playoffs. It’s a pretty varied sampling of players and teams from coast to coast.

Here’s the link to the breakdown.

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8- NOW THIS IS HOW RECRUITING RANKINGS SHOULD LOOK.

Talk about cool. A couple weeks ago, Aaron Fitt at Baseball America did an updated recruiting rankings of the 2008 classes. Yes, a post-career recruiting class to indicate who had the best class  in retrospect, instead of the wholly educated “guesswork” of predicting the best classes as we all do each year. So, interestingly, that is why you’ll find South Carolina’s recruiting class unranked in the fall of 2008, but ranked No. 1 here, since they were obviously the most productive class of the last few seasons.

So check it out here. Very interesting read for this off-season.

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9- AVOIDING THE PRICE GOUGE IN OMAHA

I’ve made the drive from L.A. to Omaha for the last three College World Series’. Part of the reason I’ve done that is because I actually like the drive, I have a brother who lives in Vail so it’s a good stopover and also because the last time I flew the rental car we got cost $875 for the 10 days there. I know, “OUCH!” right?

But not wanting to put another 3,200 miles on the Astin Martin this summer, I decided to take Jeremy Mills’ advice and call in a rental car in November instead of waiting until May or June and risk getting ass-raped by the rental car companies who jack their rates up for CWS suckers like us.

So here’s how it breaks down:

Jeremy suggested a rental car location other than the ones at Eppley Airfield. So I rented from a West Omaha Enterprise location near my bud’s house where I stay at each June. The total came to $420 for almost two weeks.

The price for a rental car from the Enterprise location at Eppley for those two weeks: $560

And again, the price for a rental car last time I flew to Omaha in 2009: $875.

So listen up Stitch-Heads. If you guys are going to go to Omaha for the Big Stage this year, do yourself a favor and look into a rental car now. Don’t wait until they realize it’s time to gouge the customer and make some serious bread from all those suckers who are stuck in Omaha for two weeks… or however long you plan to stay.

And be sure to send a booking fee to Jeremy at D1baseball.com

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10- BEANO COOK.

As you guys might’ve realized a long time ago, I have great respect for most Sports Information Directors out there. They do a shit-ton of work, put up with all kind of crap from coaches, players and bosses and are woefully under-paid. That’s just a simple fact of our sport. One of the greatest SIDs of all time passed away on Thursday October 11th; ESPN’s own Beano Cook.

He was a longtime analyst for the MotherShip and also for ABC in the transitive days of college footballs 70s, 80s and 90s, when the sport went from a regional love to a national obsession. Beano, known as the “Pope of College Football”, started out his career as the University of Pittsburgh football SID in 1956.

Beano Cook, the ultimate college SID, here as the Pitt football sports information director circa 1960, cigarette and all.

He went on to become an in-studio analyst before that position ever became a permanent fixture on our ESPNs, CBSs, NBCs and Fox’s of today.

Beano also gave me one of the great mantra in life, which I still live by today as a “journalist”. During a studio show before the Michigan-Ohio State game in 1985, he said, “As you get older, you start to cheer for people more than you do teams.”

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11- “BUSTED”

I have seen every one of the “30 for 30″ documentaries on ESPN and I can honestly say I have loved every one of them. (Okay, except the one on fantasy football, I just don’t dig on that fairy-tale stuff). But my favorite episode may have been “Busted”, the one on how so many of the pro athletes we think are millionaires for life, are soon broke in most cases. ESPNU will replay those 30 for 30 episodes from time to time and the entire series is also available on Netflix., so if you haven’t seen this one be sure to check it out when you can. Fascinating stuff.

Here are the two stats that resonated with me:

- By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress…

- Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke.

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12- ATHLONS PRESEASON MAGAZINE

As I tweeted about a couple weeks ago, Athlons magazine has asked me to write their college baseball Top 25 feature once again for this year’s upcoming Athlons Sports Baseball Preseason Preview. I agreed to do it again, but I have to admit to you guys that I had a few pauses for thought on whether I should or not.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Athlons. I still have every one of their college football preseason magazines from when I was a kid, so it’s an honor to be asked to contribute to the rag. And I don’t mind the money they gave me too. That’s cool. But take a look at last year’s college baseball page – there was actually two pages but I didn’t include the second page because it’s just the rest of the rankings, with no pictures or sidebars or anything. Just teams 4-through-25 on a plain white page.

So check out the lead page here:

Notice anything odd? Yes, there is no mention of me at all. No by-line. No nothing. Unlike every other column in the Athlons magazine that had a byline, there was no “by Eric Sorenson” mentioned here at all. And obviously there was no lead paragraph and the picture of Preston Tucker was the only visual with it.

So I told them I’d love to write the feature again for this coming 2013 season, but they had to give me SOME pub on it. And along with my name, maybe a mention of “Find his work at www.CollegeBaseballToday.com” too. I have no guarantee that they’ll do that for me, but I’m hoping it gets done this time.

Again, the lesson here is… bitch and complain and you’ll get your way. Ha.

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13- THE DUNCE CAP

Before i fell into this college baseball racket, I had spent years on the creative side of advertising, writing commercials, print ads and radio copy, etc. And I spent my entire career trying to avoid making men look like blundering idiots… the kind of dolts you see rampant in TV commercials nowadays. And I’m not exactly sure when this degradation of American males started. But it’s out of hand now. TV commercials have gone so far out of their way to make men look stupid and incompetent. You’ve seen them many, many times over the years. Whether its a Home Depot commercial where the woman knows her way around the store and the husband has the plunger stuck on his head or the one where dad is in charge of dinner and he resorts to Domino’s pizza to save the day because he can’t operate a can opener.

Now, here comes the mad rush of diamond ring spots for the Christmas season. Yes, you see them every year and every football game on TV is deluged with “He went to Jared” or “Every kiss begins with Kay” onslaught of slogans.

The supreme winner of this month’s “Dunce Cap” Award for male idiocy goes to Macy’s.

Guy wearing a hat walks into the diamond ring store of Macy’s and the helpful salesman behind the glass counter says, “I bet she’ll be surprised you’re giving her a diamond ring.”

Man in the hat says, “Actually, she’s been giving me hints”

Diamond salesman asks, “Hints. Like what?”

Guy takes off his hat and shows him his bald head with THIS written on it in magic marker…

Thanks a lot Macy’s. Your award winning creative team at the ad agency known as J. Walter Thompson has found a way to make the modern American male look not only mentally stupid, but PHYSICALLY stupid as well. That’s a whole lot of awesome.

Okay, that’s enough for now. I’m going back into The Cave to finish my 2013 season preview… with the majority of SID’s cooperation or not.

cheers

E.

 

COMMENTS:

December 11, 2012 at 9:02 pm
Matt says:

Thanks Eric. As long as football is filling my head with useless crap, I can get by without the necessity that is college baseball. But now, man I’m jonesin’. So, Ima go check out the links. Thanks for the diversion from, you know, all that garbage in life between fishin’ trips and church. Have a good winter, looking forward to February.


December 12, 2012 at 4:51 am
FullertonBaseballFan says:

Another guy to watch at Irvine is SR Kyle Hooper. He was pitching great early in the year (1.30 ERA in 27 2/3 IP, 17 H, 3 BB, 28 K in five apps) before injuring his elbow and being lost for the season.

Irvine figures to have an outstanding staff if Hooper is able to come back healthy along with Whitehouse being healthy (he was ready at the end of last season but it was decided he should redshirt when a regional was out of the question), Brock bouncing back to being close to what he was in 2010 before his shoulder surgery (34 H in 63 IP) and Thurman pitches like he did once the conf season rolled around with 8 no-hit IP against Fullerton before giving up a hit followed by a no-hitter the next week at Long Beach, a 4-hitter vs. UCSB two weeks later and a 1-hitter vs. Bakersfield two weeks later. All of that is before you get to experienced guys like Ferragamo, Mertens, Litchfield and Parmenter.

Irvine’s lineup will probably look like this:
C – McClanahan/Shaeffer
1B – Spencer/Shaeffer
2B – TBA (Paulino played there vs. USD)
SS – Rabago
3B – Sparks
LF – Stephens
CF – Taylor
RF – Gotschling
DH – McClanahan/Shaeffer/Spencer

The only changes to Fullerton’s lineup vs. UCSB would be Lorenzen in CF (duh) and either Diemer or Williamson in RF. Diemer has more speed and is the CF of the future in 2014, Williamson has a little more pop. Williamson hit a pinch-hit 3B in the 7th vs. UCSB and was singled in by Hutting. Garza finished up the final two innings in the scrimmage.

Fullerton’s SP’s figure to be Wiest, Garza, Eshelman and Davis with Gauna and Cardona the RHP middle relievers, Conant and Peitzmeier the LHP middle relievers with Kuhl closing.


December 12, 2012 at 9:30 pm
NECBLfan says:

Thanks for the heads-up about b1gbaseball.com. Great to see some more cold weather coverage.


December 18, 2012 at 9:56 am
Piracetam says:

The longest college baseball game was played between Texas and Boston College on May 30, 2009, during the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship regional tournament at Austin, Texas . Texas – which was designated the visiting team despite playing on its home field – won the game, 3–2, in 25 innings. The game lasted seven hours three minutes.