You StitchHeads out there have a right to be hacked off at me. I spent five months documenting the college baseball season from my perspective and writing all about what was going on with our sport. Then, after the College World Series was done, I shut down. Usually I like to put out one last column that tells you guys about my favorite moments and least-favorite experiences to sort of put a bow on the season.
Well this time around I got lazy. Actually REALLY lazy. I spent the entire month of July out in the desert with an Indian shaman and a sizable amount of his “magic dust.” So I’m just now finally putting this column out to you. Again, mea culpa boys and girls.
Without further ado, here is my list of notables, and some best-ofs and worst-ofs for this 2017 season…
THE FIRST PITCH OF 2017 THAT I SAW
- Blake Redman of LMU to Clay Fisher of UC Santa Barbara
Due to impending weather that was going to wash out Friday and Saturday in the Los Angeles area, the NCAA allowed a special exemption to a handful of west coast games to be played on Thursday February 16th, the day before the actual opening day to the 2017 season. So that made the UCSB-LMU game, and Redman’s first fling to Fisher, the first pitch of the entire D1 college baseball season.
THE SECOND PITCH OF 2017 THAT I SAW
- Clay Fisher’s solo home run over the Blue Monster at LMU
Yes people, it was the second pitch of the entire 2017 college baseball season. Fisher picked out a Redman fast ball and blasted it beyond left field. What a way to start the season. Unfortunately, Fisher would befall an injury 16 games into the season and would not return. The good news for the Gauchos is that Fisher turned down a 27th round draft pick by the Reds and will come back to campus for 2018 as one of the top shortstops in the country.
BEST DOUBLEHEADER I WENT TO
- Friday, March 3 in Minneapolis
Day one of the Dairy Queen Classic was a beauty, with Iowa holding on to beat a hard-charging Hawaii team 7-6 and Minnesota outlasted Oral Roberts 4-3 in 13 innings. Yep, day one of the DQC was a white-knuckled. In game one, Hawaii actually entered the ninth inning with a 7-3 deficit, before plating three runs off the Hawkeyes. Adding to the intrigue was the Rainbows’ best hitter, Dustin Demeter, who came to the plate with runners at first and third, but harmlessly ground out to end the game. In game two, ORU all american catcher Matt Whatley – who was a Johnny Bench Award finalist – crushed a Brian Glowicki pitch deep into the end zone stands beyond left field to tie the second game at 3-3 in the ninth inning. And up till that point, Glowicki had allowed just ONE HIT all season long. The Eagles were able to stay in the game for a few more innings by getting rally-killing double-plays in both the 10th and 11th innings. But Minnesota would mercifully end the game in the 13th on a bases-loaded RBI flyout to center field.
- LSU’s comeback win at Arkansas.
Because I had driven from the DBU-Missouri State game, I only caught the last bit of the game, but what a game to catch the end of. I walked into the stadium with two out in the 8th inning to see LSU cut the Hogs’ lead from 8-3 to 8-5 on Greg Deichmann’s two-run dinger. Earlier that inning, the Tigers had scored twice, so that comeback started with an 8-1 deficit. The Tigers ended up scoring five more runs in the top of the ninth inning with the help of two plunkings, a walk and a huge (and rare) throwing error on Razorback shortstop Jax Biggers. All five runs scored with two out. LSU would lock up the bottom of the ninth and post a stunning 10-8 win. I tried to get the Tiger fans to dub this #RallyStitchHead as their boys went 32-9 the remainder of the season. (Hey, I was better than that weak “rally possum” that didn’t even get them to Omaha in 2016).
MOST INTENSE ATMOSPHERE
- The Texas-Long Beach State Regional Final
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Blair Field this intense as game seven of the Long Beach Regional came down to the final pitch. I guess the Dirtbag fans were “hangry” for their first post-season title of any sort in over 10 years because they were locked in all game long in Game Seven of the Long Beach Regional. Appropriately, the final game was a white-knuckler, won by The Beach 2-1 as six pitchers combined on a four-hitter with only two walks. That win sent the Dirtbags to a Super Regional showdown with rival Cal State Fullerton. I’m sure game three of that Super was probably even more intense, but I didn’t make it down to Blair for that one since I was in Corvallis.
BEST STADIUM TO HAVE FULL ACCESS AT
- US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
This year marked the triumphant return of the Dairy Queen Classic in Viking-Town because of the opening of the new Minnesota Vices stadium. I was lucky enough to make it up there for the first two days of the four-team get-together, Hawaii, Iowa, Oral Roberts and the homestanding Minnesota Gophers. Getting a media credential for that tournament meant I had carte blanche to go anywhere in the facility. And it’s an incredible joint. I equated it with the JerryWorld Stadium the Cowboys play in, except without the giant overhead scoreboard that would only get in the way of a pop fly. US Bank Stadium is also home to seven clubhouse-style bars throughout the stadium. Very posh.
BEST OLD STADIUM I WENT TO
- Stan Galle Field, Spring Hill College
Spring Hill has been playing games at this location on the Mobile, Alabama campus since the late 1800s. The field itself is buttressed up against the school’s nursing building, but is makes for a unique perspective. I caught a game there between Spring Hill and Miles College before making the trek a few miles away to see Coastal Carolina take on South Alabama in mid-April. Only argument? There was no access to the top two floors of the building. I would’ve loved to have seen the viewpoint of the game from up there.
BEST NEW STADIUM I WENT TO
- Dunkin’ Donuts Park, Hartford, Connecticut
On May 18th UConn started their AAC weekend series vs. East Carolina by playing their first game at the home stadium of the Hartford Yard Goats at a facility that had just opened a few weeks before. It was a nice park and the Husky fans really came out to support their team. The announced attendance was just 2,828. But as head coach Jim Penders said after the game, there HAD to be more than that in the park that night. Lenders thought the crowd looked and sounded much louder than the 2,828 that was announced.
BEST RENTAL CAR EXPERIENCE
- The Ford Excursion I got from Alamo
When I flew into Hartford to go to the Ivy League Playoffs and the game at Dunkin Donuts Park, I reserved a compact car at the Alamo Rental Car joint. Well the dude behind the counter said the only two cars he had left to rent me were a Toyota Yaris and a Ford Excursion. Since I didn’t want to sit sideways to drive the Yaris I decided to get the beast with three rows, the Ford Excursion (at no extra charge, by the way). I might not’ve gotten the best gas mileage out of it but it did save my bacon big-time in the end. See, the last night I was there was for the ECU-UConn game. The next morning I was scheduled to fly back to Los Angeles, beginning with a 6am flight to Chicago. So I left the stadium at about midnight, went to a very cool bar called “Plan B” in downtown Hartford, which stayed open till 1am. But then, after making buds with the bartender, they let me stay till about 1:45 as they cleaned up. After that, instead of getting a hotel room for a couple hours at most, I just pulled my land-yacht into a parking lot not far from the airport, laid down in the middle seat and caught some zzzzzz’s for about three hours. And yes, it was comfy enough to accommodate me.
WORST RENTAL CAR EXPERIENCE
- Fox Rental Car in San Francisco Airport
Jesus H. This was one BAAAAD outfit. Fox Rental Car was far and away the cheapest rental car at SFO, but about 10 bucks a day difference. Well I took that bait, no problem, for my trip to see Arizona play at Stanford on a Thursday night. Well here is where I learn that you get what you pay for. I landed at SFO at 1pm for the 6pm game in Palo Alto. I took the tram over to the rental car building that was just off-terminal in San Francisco. I looked around for the Fox counter and found it on the second level. The line for the counter was a mile-long. And I also noticed, Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Alamo, etc, were all with one or two people in line, at the most three. But not Fox. I stood in that line for 74 minutes. Yes, I kept track. Then, after a long exchange at the counter, I went up to where I was s’posed to pick up my car and the same people I had been standing in line with at the counter were all standing around at the pick up spot waiting on their cars as well. It took another near-hour there just to have my car delivered and available to drive. In all, it was three hours from landing to driving my rental car via Fox Rental Cars. Luckily I took an earlier flight just in case there was a delay. I made it to the game in plenty of time, but I had to scrap my plan to meet a bud of mine for lunch beforehand.
MY TWO FAVORITE TWEETS OF THE YEAR.
- The Louisville Blondes…
- Oregon State’s Angry Beaver…
- The Sam Houston Hotel, Houston
The Doctor of College Baseball reserved a room for the Houston College Classic that was within walking distance of Minute Maid Park. Formerly known as The Alden Hotel, it is still a first class joint. So for one night I got to sleep in the lap of luxury. As I always say, it’s good to know rich people.
- The Astro Motel, Fort Worth.
Oh this one was a genuine piece of crap. Not only was it a run-down motel in the middle of a bad part of town, it was also being circled by ne’er-do-wells at all times of the night. After the Oklahoma State-TCU game on March 25th, I stayed at the press box to finish working on my write-up of the game. Then, I found a restaurant that stayed open till 2am and I worked on downloading my pictures. After that, I went back to the motel and – at 2:15am mind you – I drove up to see very dangerous-looking 20somethings, wearing hoodies and riding around the parking lot of the motel on BMX bikes.
- LSU/Florida State on Elimination Wednesday at the CWS
Here is what the temperature gauge was showing as I pulled into the parking lot that day in Omaha…
Thankfully there was only one game that day..
THE LAST PITCH OF THE 2017 SEASON
It was kind of cool to see both the first pitch and the final pitch of the season in person. So here was the final toss to the plate by Florida’s Jackson Kowar…
A COUPLE MORE PICS OF THE YEAR
A few more of my favorite images from the 2017 season.