Sorenson: Off The Top Of My Head

Columns

WHAT WE LEARNED FROM THE MONTH OF FEBRUARY

Look fast. The first month of the season has already come and gone and we’re into month No. 2 for 2016. Well before we venture on, let’s take a look back at what we learned, since the first two weeks of the season are always the most eye-opening. But again people, it’s just two weeks. Don’t freak out.

1- These Preseason Top 25 Teams Are Better Than We Thought:
– North Carolina.
The Tar Heels are good (6-1 with wins over UCLA and Oklahoma State) and okay, maybe a little lucky (three one-run wins vs. OSU)

– TCU.
And here I was thinking this was going to be a “rebuilding” year in Ft. Worth. Freshman Luken Baker is already quite the phenom.

– Arkansas.
The Razorbacks blew through the Houston College Classic a perfect 3-0, with a lot of offense.

2- These Preseason Top 25 Teams Are Worse Than We Thought:
– USC.
Losing twice to North Dakota? Aye caramba. Oklahoma, Mississippi State and UCLA are up next.

– UCLA.
Like USC, this weekend’s Dodgertown Classic is an instant shot at redemption.

– Virginia.
It’s early, but losses to Coastal and East Carolina may shine a light into this being a tougher year than expected.

3- Still Not Top 25, But Probably Should Be:
– Fresno State
Coach Mike Batesole told me on opening weekend that “this could be the best team we’ve had here in a while.” That’s staying a lot.

– Florida Atlantic
They went 2-0 in front of 10,000+ fans at Dudy-Noble Field. C’mon, that scores plenty of point in my book.

– Stanford.
The Cardinal own two wins against Fullerton and Texas already. Isn’t that enough? Well fear not, Vandy visits this weekend.

4- Still Waiting For Proof
– South Carolina
Hey, they beat Winthrop, who is 5-3… annnnnnd the lowest rated team with a winning record at No. 271 in the RPI.

– LSU
The nonconference weekends of Cincinnati, Sac State, Fordham and Ball State are just… YUCK.

– Georgia Tech
The Techsters have raced out to an 8-0 start but before we say they are “back” again, let’s see how they do at Florida State in two weeks.

5- Best State So Far:
– The state of Oregon.
An argument could be made for the state of North Carolina to be the best in college baseball thus far, but two-thirds of the programs in the Beaver State are in the top nine of the rankings (Oregon State at No. 4 and Oregon at No. 9) and Portland is a very improved 5-3.

6- Best Off-The-Radar State So Far:
– The Peace Garden State.
If you go strictly by the RPI – which is equivalent to Sybil at this point of the season – the state of North Dakota is 2-for-2. The Bison of North Dakota State is 6-1 and ranked at No. 8 in the country. Yes, No. 8. (Though they still trail No. 2 Maine, so there). And UND, fresh off those two wins at USC on opening weekend, sits down at No. 27. Thanks in large part to their No. 7 toughest schedule in the country.

7- Best Section Of The Country So Far:
– The Carolinas.
Yes, UNC, N.C. State, South Carolina, East Carolina and Coastal Carolina are all in the top 18 of the rankings. In addition, Clemson is at No. 11 and UNC Wilmington is at No. 37 of the RPI. And Duke won the series vs. then-No. 9 Cal on opening weekend. Damn, it’s going to be an insane season in the mid-Atlantic.

8- Best Conference So Far:
– The ACC.
Yep, this one is an easy one. The obvious is teams like UNC, Duke, N.C. State, Miami and Florida State, of course. But also, Georgia Tech looks much improved, Notre Dame is going to be wicked and Boston College is still unbeaten. Keep an eye on Virginia Tech and Wake Forest too, those two could be really good off-the-radar teams in the weeks ahead.

9- Best State For Mid-Majors So Far:
– The Golden State.
We talked about Fresno State being high-quality already. And just to back them up, the Bulldogs are also the No. 1 ranked team in the RPI. Sacramento State should be the best team in the WAC and the Hornets already own a win over No. 7 LSU on a night when Alex Lange took the mound. Also, UC Santa Barbara was expected to be weaker with the losses of first round draftee Dillon Tate and Justin Jacome as mound monster, but they have raced out to an 8-1 start, which includes big blowout wins over Kentucky, San Diego and UCLA.

10- Mother Nature Has Been Kind:
These first two weeks of the season have been a complete 180 from last year. As I mentioned on one of the early Baldcasts, the first weekend saw only two games cancelled or postponed due to poor weather. And unlike last year, there haven’t been any change of venue series like when UCLA-UNC changed their site from Chapel Hill down to Orlando in week two of 2015 because of wintry weather. Also keep in mind that at last year’s Miami-Florida series in Gainesville the Friday game finished in 37-degree temperatures. In the Northernmost games of the early season, Bucknell and James Madison played in rather comfortable mid-40s temperatures in Harrisonburg, Virginia on opening weekend.

WELCOME TO THE SEASON
These teams are finally shaking the snow off their gloves and getting their 2016 season underway this weekend.

– UMass (at Charleston Southern)
Remember when the Minutemen program was going to be cut a few years ago?

– Princeton (at Louisville)
Oof, opening at Louisville? Who did they make so angry that this is their opening assignment?

– Pennsylvania (at North Florida)
Maybe this will be the year that Penn breaks through the Columbia grip in the Gehrig.

– Columbia (at Jacksonville)
Lions have tough test right off the bat as they shoot for their fourth straight Ivy title.

– Cornell (vs. Northwestern)
The Big Red will travel to Winter Haven, Florida to play a very well-tested and capable Northeastern team.

– Brown (at Irish Classic)
At the Irish Classic in North Carolina, they open with a winnable game vs. Bucknell.

– Harvard (at Wake Forest tournament)
The Crimson haven’t had a winning season in league play since 2007.

– Yale (at Texas A&M)
Will be a sacrificial lamb in three games in College Station this weekend.

THE UNBEATENS
As we enter the third weekend of the regular season, here is the list of the lucky dozen who are still perfect out there in college baseball-land. Let’s see how many survive the weekend unscathed.

– Hartford, 3-0
Best win: swept North Florida
This weekend: at Radford

– Boston College, 7-0
Best win: 5-3 vs. Indiana State
This weekend: at the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, Florida

– Michigan State, 6-0
Best win: 3-2 vs. Texas State
This weekend: at Cox Diamond Invitational (Auburn, Southern Miss, Troy)

– Gardner-Webb, 8-0
Best win: None really. Four wins over Delaware State and Iona each.
This weekend:

– UNC Wilmington, 6-0
Best win: 11-4 vs. VCU
This weekend:

– Florida Atlantic, 7-0
Best win: two at Mississippi State.
This weekend: vs. Georgetown

– Fairfield, 3-0
Best win: all three vs. Delaware State
This weekend: at North Carolina

– Fresno State, 9-0
Best win: three vs. Creighton
This weekend: at San Diego State

– Lehigh, 3-0
Best win: three at Norfolk State
This weekend: at Marshall

– Vanderbilt, 8-0
Best win: three blowout wins vs. San Diego
This weekend: at Stanford

– South Carolina, 9-0
Best win: 16-4 vs. Winthrop
This weekend: vs/at Clemson

– Georgia Tech, 8-0
Best win: 9-1 vs. VCU
This weekend: vs. Western Carolina

THROWBACK THURSDAY
The @NCAACWS twitter feed posted this gem earlier today of the 1964 College World Series championship game between Missouri and Minnesota. My how things have changed, of course. But the most striking thing about the whole video clip is how “on the field” the photographers were during the games at Rosenblatt back then. Lou Pavlovich of Collegiate Baseball told me that when he started photographing the CWS back in the early 70s, the photographers would just stand right there next to the on-deck circle during games. Sure enough, if you notice at the 1:48 point of the clip, not only are photogs standing in the on-deck area as the runner scores, but there is also a photographer with huge equipment running up to third base to take pictures. Of course there is no helmet or protective equipment for him either.

http://gophersports.com/sports/m-basebl/spec-rel/061313aac.html

THIS WEEK’S EIGHT FOR OMAHA
If the season ended today, these are the eight teams who would be in Johnny Carson’s home town:
– Florida
– Vanderbilt
– Miami
– Oregon
– North Carolina
– Florida Atlantic
– East Carolina
– TCU

THE HERO OF 2008
Almost forgot, when I went to the Sunday game between Creighton and Fresno State during opening weekend, I got the chance to talk to Bulldog legend Tommy Mendonca for a bit. In case you don’t recall, he was the star third baseman for the “Wonderdogs” who upset Georgia for the national title in 2008. After making it as far as the triple-A level, he is still playing baseball in the Independent League in Sioux City, Iowa and getting his baseball fix there. Here are a few of the highlights from our convo.

On the motivation he and his team felt during their post-season run in 2008:
It was funny because when you first get into the NCAA tournament you just want to win. Then, when we won the Regional, a couple of us were talking and saying to ourselves, ‘Hey, if we beat Arizona State, we can go to Omaha. And if we go to Omaha, we’re going to have a summer to ourselves because nobody is going to go to the Cape Cod League or the Alaska League that late into the summer. So if we keep winning we’ll finally have a summer to ourselves. I mean, that was MY motivation to keep winning. If we kept winning and won it all, great. But either way, the longer we played the better chance we would finally have a summer to ourselves where we didn’t have to do anything.

Comparing playing minor league baseball and with an independent league team:
Minor League baseball sucks. When I went back to independent league ball, baseball became fun again. In minor league ball there are scouting directors breathing down your neck and if somebody doesn’t like you, you’re screwed. You could be done in the blink of an eye. The pay is about the same, so it’s nice. I played at the triple-A level and the pay between that and the Indy league is about the same. There are some guys though that are getting paid one-hundred dollars a month and I don’t see how they make that work.

On playing Triple-A baseball:
It’s just a bunch of old guys picking on the new guys, a bunch of pieces of shit. I hated every moment of it. I really did. I was 24 years old and a hot prospect so I got hazed a lot. The old guys are all bitter at the young kids, saying “Why am I not in the big leagues and who is this young kid.” It just wears on you. And they also tried to make me a catcher there too. They invited me to the big league camp and they had me try out as a catcher. I had never played catcher in my life. The year before I had hit 25 bombs and done real well but they had Adrian Beltrey up there, so I wasn’t going to replace him. They were weak at catcher, so they said if I could play catcher I would have a shot to play the big leagues. Well I put so much of my concentration on catching that I suddenly couldn’t hit anymore. And plus, since I was at the big league camp I only got about 30 at-bats in exhibition play, meanwhile had I been down at minor league camp I would’ve gotten over 100. So I was behind there too.

On his future:
I am looking to get back in. I know my role, I’m an older guy now so if I can get back in it maybe that’ll land me a coaching job with the team or something. I still have a year left of my education. My thing is, do I wanna go coach right away? My grandfather just passed away so we’ve got some land and I like doing agricultural-based things. My other grandfather is in the sheet metal industry so two seasons ago I would do some welding for him, and if you’re certified as a professional welder you can make really good money. But we’ll see, I still love being around the game.

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