“Welcome aboard ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain from the flight deck. We’ve now reached our cruising altitude of 36-thousand feet and it’s looking like we’ve got a smooth flight all the way to Los Angeles. At about 11-hundred miles in distance we expect our flying time to Los Angeles to be three hours, thirty-five minutes. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.”
Whenever I fly, it’s the captain’s announcement at cruising altitude.that always leaves me scrambling for my laptop and looking for the drink cart to come around with my brain fuel.
Since Lady Stitch-Head claims I tend to spend too much time writing my weekend previews – and she’s right, by the way – I’ve decided that I’m going to take the duration of today’s flight and use that as the only time I spend on this weekend’s preview. Okay, maybe I’ll add a photo or two and also proof-read it when I get home, but other than that, for as long as I’m as high as 35,000 feet, I’m writing. When it’s wheels down, i’m hitting the brakes on this column.
So let’s start with our usualâ€¦
THE 10 PLACES TO BE THIS WEEKEND
You know how to hot wire a Lear Jet? Then here’s where you need to go bro.
10- No. 25 CAL POLY (11-1) at KANSAS STATE (8-3)
Look at the Big West stats page and you’ll find an odd anomaly. The best pitching staff isn’t Fullerton. Nor is it UC Irvine. Even Long Beach State is down the rung. Nope, stats-wise, the Mustangs have the best pitching staff in the conference at a 1.60 ERA, with a league-best 107Ks. Joey Wagman leads the loop in strikeouts with 22 and Reed Reilly already has five saves out of the ‘pen. They’ll take that staunch staff to Manhattan, where the Wildcats fear no one. Hell, they’ve already beaten 10-ranked Kentucky. The Cats hit .318 as a team and have Shane Conlon hitting a stoic .465. Wow. Should be a great matchup, but give the edge to the Mustang arms.
9- LONG BEACH STATE (6-7) at No. 23 ARIZONA STATE (7-2)Â
The Devils have to be pissed. Really now. How can they make Deviled Ham of then-No. 2 Arkansas not once, but twice, and still be ranked only No. 23. Meanwhile, the piggies sit there at No. 16. Ack! I digress. Who knows what you’re gonna get from The Beach. They were beaten two-of-three at home vs. Seattle last weekend, but keep in mind that this is also a team that stole a game at Vandy, so don’t think they can’t turn this into a nightmare wake-up call for ASU if the Devils don’t stay on point. Though the Dirtbags are still a tad on the young, and injured, side, I still like ASU to come out ahead here. Their pitching is starting to bring the wood.
8- CLEMSON (7-4) at No. 12 NORTH CAROLINA STATE (11-2)
After last week’s series loss to SoCar, you know the Tigers want to grab some headlines with a series win here in Raleigh and kick off their Shock-The-World ACC tour. And don’t count them out either. Sure, if Carlos RodonÂ is throwing to his potential, the Tigers are as good as sunk. But CU beat South Carolina in game two last weekend and the offense has the potential to give the Pack fits. Yes, I did say “the potential” ‘coz their .254 average ain’t showing it yet. I’m still looking for Trea Turner to give us a head-slapping performance, since he’s hitting a torrid .490 and he and Brett Williams are both 8-for-8 in thefts. The Pack offense is clipping at a .300 pace so I like the batting depth of N.C. State to take two of three here. But again, don’t count out the youthful Tigers.
[Ooh! The in-flight movie will be Skyfall. I've seen it twice, but I always see 007 flicks a couple of times. And i actually think Skyfall is one of the better Bond flicks. I'll put it up there with Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me, and my personal favorite On Her Majesty's Secret Serviceâ€¦ Yes, George Lazenby.]
7- SAN DIEGO STATE (7-5) at No. 16 ARKANSAS (7-5)
This will be very interesting. How do these two teams react? The Aztecs have been a rollercoaster act. But even with the four-game sweep at the hands of Oregon State, they are still capable of pulling some wins here. Mssrs. Cederoth and Walby give them a legit one-two punch on the hill for the first two games. And if the Hogs are still in freak-out mode from going winless in the desert – and punchless with the bats. Look for the big key to be whichever bottom of the order comes up bigger. Neither of these teams really hit all that well, with SDSU’s team average way down at .249 and UofA hitting .285, but if they get some unheralded guys to step up, it’ll be anyone’s game here. Though home edge to the Razorbacks and their legions of woo-pig-sooies.
6- No. 22 RICE (7-6)Â at FIU (7-6)Â
This is redemption weekend for both teams. The Owls crapped the rug at the Astros College Classic last weekend, losing all three games to North Carolina, Texas A&M and Baylor and forcing me to imbibe more than i planned. But the Golden Panthers blew a golden opportunity, losing all three games at home vs. No. 15 Ole Miss. If they want to curry some love from the NCAA selection committee come this June, and gain some valuable attaboy points for the Sun Belt, they’d do well to get a W or two here. Gonna stick with the Owls hereâ€¦ the pitching vs. UNC and the effort Chase McDowell showed in the 1-0 win vs. Cal on Monday has them feeling good about the mound corps. And if their defense can shore up some misgivings I was privy to last weekend, they should survive here. Again, that’s IF.
5- TEXAS A&M (9-5) at No. 13 CAL STATE FULLERTON (11-2)
Okay, here’s the deal. I saw both teams play this past weekend. On Friday night the Titans took down Oregon 8-2 with their usual way of doing things; pitching squeaky clean, defending their ass off and getting the timely hit while playing station-to-station baseball. And A&M? Well I saw their pitchers giving away free bases like it was Halloween candy and Sunday vs. UNC was the 31st of October. Yep, the Aggies were getting run-ruled by No. 1 North Carolina and just looked bad in the process. So doing the deductive math here, I’m thinking this will be a Titan-ic weekend for the hosts. And a Titanic-like weekend for the visitors from the Lone Star State.
Oh, wanna see an incredibly detailed, almost savant-like preview of this one? Check out my bud David Wright’s thorough work at the following web address:
[By the way, the opening montage of Skyfall is unbelievable. When Bond (or his stunt double) is riding the motorcycle on the rooftop of the Bazarre in Istanbulâ€¦ unreal. As a motorcycle rider, I cringed at that scene, but it was incredible. And the opening musical number with Adele's sizable pipes and the effects-heavy visuals is one of the best in the series as well.]
4- No. 18 GEORGIA TECH (12-1) at No. 30 VIRGINIA TECH (11-2)
Opening weekend of ACC play doesn’t really offer us a lot of great matchups, as this is the only one which will be played with both teams ranked. But this Wreck of the Tech’s should be a good one. The Yellow Jackets have had their usual easy early-season slate to fine tune things and work out the kinks. But I’l give them credit, unlike a lot of seasons, at least they’ve dominated their early season lambs. VPI is on a hot streak themselves, having only a loss to Notre Dame as the only blemish in the past eight games. The Gobblers pitching staff has held opponents to a .239 average and features closers Jake Joyce, who is 2-1 with two saves, and Clark Labitan, who has three saves in six appearances. If VaTech gets a lead at home, the Jackets could be in trouble.
3- ALABAMA (8-4) at No. 20 LOUISVILLE (9-2)
I know that Baseball America has the Cardinals ranked up at No. 5 in the country, leaving college baseball fanatics everywhere screaming bloody one flew over the cuckoo’s nest at the boys sitting in their cubicles in Durham. But they may have a point, ‘coz I think the Cards are going to be legit this year. And here’s their chance to prove it. Now, to be honest, the Cards have the most to lose here. If they should falter, it’ll just elicit knowing nods of the head from SEC honks everywhere. That’s why, nothing short of two wins for UofL will doâ€¦ maybe even a sweep. Though I admit, Bama’s .238 team batting average isn’t go to scare these Cards flingers.
2- No. 2 VANDERBILT (13-1) at No. 11 OREGON (10-3)
I figure if there were a College GameDay-like Saturday morning show for college baseball, Chris Fowler and the gang would be set up in the dawn of Eugene, Oregon this weekend. And to be truthful, the GameDay crew would have one eyebrow raised on this oneâ€¦ for both teams. We’re always a little curious about how an SEC team does going on the road to a high quality opponent, especially a trip that will cross numbers time zones.
[Another Skyfall note: The silhouetted fist-fight scene between Bond and the assassin in the Shanghai skyscraper is really cool too. Good cinematography.]
1- THE DODGERTOWN CLASSIC.
Teams: No. 26 Notre Dame (8-2), No. 14 Oklahoma (11-2), No. 7 UCLA (9-2), USC (6-6)
Ooh! There’s a LOT to like here. Is Notre Dame for real? Does Oklahoma have the bullpen? Will UCLA’s Adam Plutko regain his late-season 2012 form? Will USC play the spoiler and give its program a kick in the ass? By the way, despite the name, there are no games planned for Dodger Stadium as is normally the case here. The old stadium is getting some renovating done, so all the games will be played at USC and UCLA’s respective venues. Sunday’s DH will be played entirely at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
FIVE TEAMS THAT I’M KEEPING A PARTICULARLY CLOSE EYE ON:
Okay guys, we see your winning records, your mid-major cajones and your calls for respect. Well here you go, time to find out if you guys are contenders or pretenders on the national scene. Hoo-wah!
- Notre Dame, 8-2Â
Their assignment: Irish have toughest road of all here, playing at UCLA, at USC, vs. Oklahoma in DodgerTown Classic.
- Central Arkansas, 12-1
Their assignment: The Railsplitters, as Mike Rooney and I would like to re-name them, go to No. 6 Mississippi State
- Florida International, 7-6
Their assignment: Panthers don’t have a glossy record but get a mulligan from Ole Miss and host No. 22 Rice.
- Illinois, 7-4
Their assignment: The suddenly-hot Illini go to Baylor, looking for some Big Six wins in Waco.
- UNLV, 10-3
Their assignment: The rejuvenated Rebels go to No. 9 Stanford, looking to do better than Texas did.
[I love all the old school nods that "Skyfall" director Sam Mendes and company pulled for this episode of the 007 saga. Bringing back the old school Astin Martin sports car was probably my favorite. Man, what I would give to be behind the wheel of that car on an open road in the Scottish highlandsâ€¦but I'd probably forget about that whole driving on the left side of the road thing and get in a nasty wreck. So nevermind.]
[Flying over the Phoenix area now. Wanna see Arizona State's Packard Stadium from 36,000 feet? Here's what it looked like out my window seatâ€¦]
OFF THE RADAR:Â
INDIANA (6-2) at FLORIDA (7-7)
Don’t put too much stock into that “snowbird vs. SEC monster” blueprint here. The Hoosiers have gotten off to a very good start, particularly with Joey DiNato on the hill on Fridays. But I’m not sure they have the depth to win all three here – yes, I know FGCU pulled the trick, so why can’t the Hoosiers, right? Well, the bad news for IU is that the Gators seem to have found some confidence in their series win vs. Miami last weekend. So this will be very intriguing to see how it turns out. And the other thing is this ain’t basketballâ€¦ Gators – gulp! – in a sweep.
OFF THE RADAR 2:
- The Big West.Â
Will be an interesting weekend for the “Big Six” conference who has had a few down years of late. In fact, things have gotten so bad recently that I’ve even questioned out loud if the Big West still deserves it’s Big Six designation. Well here we go. Here’s the weekend they could throw a big lemon meringue pie in my face. Other than the heavily-favored Titans hosting Texas A&M, here’s a few of the big tests facing the other Big Westernersâ€¦
- Long Beach State (6-7) at No. 23 Arizona State (7-2-1)
We shouldn’t harsh the Dirtbags, they’ve already beaten Vanderbilt and Arizona. Typical of the Beach, they just need to get above .500 to get to the NCAAs.
- No. 25 Cal Poly (11-1) at Kansas State (8-3)
As discussed above, this could be the best Mustang team in 30 years. But the Cats have the home freeze advantage and also have beaten Kentucky.
- Pacific (4-7) at TCU (3-8)
Though the Tigers are only 4-7, look at their wins so far: UNLV, Gonzaga and Arkansas. And you know how TCU has struggled so far.
- Gonzaga (6-4-1) at Hawaii (1-12)
Rainbow coach Mike Trapasso complained about his teams’ lack of pitching depth in the four game series vs. Rice. This one will be a five-gamer. Yikes.
- UC Riverside (7-5) at New Mexico (4-6)Â
The Lobos have struggled, while the Highlanders have quietly played pretty good lately, sweeping St. Mary’s and also beating LMU in mid-week.
- UC Santa Barbara (8-4) at Texas (7-5)
Pitching will be at a premium here as the Gauchos have the arms to keep the Longhorns at bay. Then again, at .247 just about anyone can.
THE HALL OF FAME STORY.
When I was at the Cal-Rice game on Monday I got the chance to meet Jana Howser, the daughter of the late Dick Howser and the Executive V.P. of Development of the College Baseball Hall of Fame. She gave me the good news that the building of the Hall is “almost 90% funded” and should be breaking ground in the very near future. It’s been a long time coming since I went through Lubbock on my way to working the 2008 Final Four in San Antonio only to disappointedly find out there was no physical address to the place. That’s been five years now. But again, it looks like we are now close to having an actual building full of displays and history as an homage to our sport.
But again, about that part where it has to be located in Lubbock?â€¦
It was interesting talking to Ms. Howser. She had some great old stories about her father, including the fact that Dick and Rice coach Wayne Graham actually knew each other from playing minor-league ball in the Dakotas back in the early 60s. She also said she has a picture of her father playing against former LSU skipper Skip Bertman when ole “Slip” (as Mickey Mantle once allegedly called him) was playing for Miami and sliding into second base while Dick Howser was making the tag as an infielder at Florida State. Wish I could’ve been there to see that one. Classic.
[Just got this over the plane's P.A.: "Ladies and gentlemen we have started our decent into Los Angeles, so if you are using any personal devices now would be a good time to closeup your applications and begin to stow them for landingâ€¦"]
So it looks like this is the end of our preview for this weekend. Go out and find a game or two to go to if you can. Support our sport as much as possible.
One last thingâ€¦ I don’t think I’ve ever been on a flight where all three flight attendants were dudes. Yep, the stewardesses are all male on this flight from Houston to Los Angeles.
How does the old adage go?â€¦Â “There’s a first time for everything”