Sunday, June 9, 2013

MLB needs to show more respect to college game

Major League baseball does a huge disservice to the college game. While most major television networks and news outlets pretend college baseball doesn’t exist, you would think MLB would put a little more stock into a sport that supplies the superstars it will rely on for years to come.

But with NCAA baseball approaching its biggest event of the year, the College World Series in Omaha, MLB acts like they are two months into the offseason already. If they cared about the sport that feeds so much talent to their 30 teams, they wouldn’t hold the draft at the same time players are preparing for the biggest moments of their life.

Look no further than the effect on Adam Plutko at UCLA. Plutko was the Game 1 starter for the Bruins in the Super Regional against Cal State Fullerton. Two wins away from the ultimate goal of reaching Omaha, and Plutko shouldered the responsibility for taking the ball in the opener.

That is nerve racking enough for a college athlete. The postseason is a time where any athlete needs to be at their mental peak. But before Plutko would take the hill, he had another added pressure weighing on him – rounds 3-10 of the MLB draft.

As the all-time winningest pitcher for a school that has had some good ones (Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer to name a few) Plutko figured to hear his named called early on. He should have been with family and friends waiting to find out where he might be playing ball next. It is a time to celebrate.

But the call didn’t come on Friday. After two rounds on Thursday night, eight more passed on Friday and Plutko wasn’t selected. And after all that, he had to refocus and pitch. He responded and tossed a gem, UCLA won. But the emotions of the day took its toll on him in the postgame interview with ESPN, where he was nearly reduced to tears (really wish ESPN had this interview posted somewhere).

He was selected in the 11th round on Saturday by the Cleveland Indians, and there is no doubt they are getting a pitcher who won’t have a problem with mental focus.

But it should have never come to that. He should have never been in that situation to begin with and Plutko is not an isolated incident. Sixteen teams took the field this weekend, playing for one of the eight spots in Omaha. All 16 had players splitting their focus between their quest for a national championship and their professional futures.

On Saturday, Major League Baseball staged 30 more rounds of the draft. At the same time, all 16 teams were either playing or preparing to. Chances are most of those players drafted never got the chance to hear their name announced. They weren’t the first to know their professional destination – in fact thousands of people found out before them.

Most will tell you they weren’t thinking about it, and they just went out and played the game.  They shouldn’t have to make that choice. In all, 84 players who were drafted this weekend were participating in NCAA Super Regional play.

It is not fair to the players, their teammates or to the game of college baseball. The professionals should act like professionals and give the kids their moment on the field so they don’t have to worry about what is going on in 30 different board rooms across the country.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Mathenia left it all on the field

Here is the column I wrote two days after the Bearkats rallied for 21 points in the fourth quarter to beat Eastern Washington in the 2004 NCAA quarterfinals. Still the most thrilling finish to a game I have ever seen.

Originally printed Dec. 6, 2004
The Huntsville Item

Jason Mathenia didn't look at his performance last Saturday as anything out of the ordinary. He simply stepped on the field and did what he has done all season long - catch passes.

But whether he will admit it or not, Mathenia is special and there was nothing ordinary about the way he played in one of the biggest games in Sam Houston State history - in any sport.

Mathenia was a key player in the Bearkats' 21-point rally to defeat Eastern Washington this past weekend. He caught a school-record 13 passes for 226 yards, which stands as the second-best single-game receiving mark in school history.

Oh, by the way, he did it all on a bad ankle.

Early in the game, Mathenia and the rest of the SHSU receivers were having a hard time adjusting the to 30-degree temperatures and muddy/icy grass field. He caught two passes in the first half for 37 yards, and both times, limped to the sideline after the catch.

He was hurting, but that was nothing new for Mathenia. He has been playing on a bad ankle for nearly a month now.

He finally broke loose in the third quarter. Quarterback Dustin Long hit the junior receiver on a 10-yard pass. The defensive back dove for the interception, but missed, leaving the sideline open for Mathenia to run. Bad ankle and all, he beat everyone to the end zone for a 69-yard touchdown.

His night was just getting started.

With the Bearkats trailing 34-14 early in the fourth quarter, it took Mathenia just about everything he had to keep going back on the field.

"I was just so tired and I was hurting," Mathenia said. "It was so cold and breathing was difficult. I tried to come out and coach just sent me back to the huddle. I just knew I had to suck it up."

And suck it up he did.

Long hit Mathenia four times on the Kats' opening possession of the fourth quarter. Each gain was for more than 10 yards, with two going for 14 yards. The drive ended on a 34-yard score to Corey Roberts.

34-21 Eastern Washington, 11:04 to play in the game.

After the offense got the ball back, Mathenia was in for nearly every play of a 15-play scoring drive. He caught one pass for 10 yards and was Long's intended target four other times. Robert Garmon capped things off with an 8-yard run for the score.

34-28 Eastern Washington, 3:34 left to play.

Fellow receiver Vince Cartwright blocked a field goal with less than a minute to play in the game, giving Mathenia and the Bearkats one last hope. After two completions to Cartwright and one to Roberts, Long and Mathenia took over the game.

Mathenia caught a 12-yard pass at the Eastern Washington 42 and got out of bounds with 12 seconds left to play. With the secondary of EWU playing nearly 15 yards away from Mathenia, Long looked his way again, this time for a 19-yard gain. Mathenia got his toes down inbounds and then fell out at the 23-yard line with seven ticks remaining on the clock.

"I was so tired, but at no point did I even think about coming out," Mathenia said. "It was gut wrenching, but it was almost over. I knew I had to just finish it out."

But even he had doubts that was going to be possible.

"I thought I was going to fall over when I was standing at the line," Mathenia said about the last drive. "I was afraid I would get a false start because I was just so dizzy."

Dizzy and all, Mathenia continued to be a thorn in the Eagles' side. Expecting the Kats to take a shot at the end zone from 23 yards out, once again Eastern Washington gave Mathenia more than 15 yards and the sideline to work with.

Just like the two previous plays, Long hit Mathenia for a 16-yard gain to the 7-yard line. The time on the scoreboard read 00:02.

"We really just wanted to get close enough for a hail Mary," Mathenia said. "But Dustin did a great job of getting us in position for the last play."

Everything had happened so fast, Eastern Washington evidently didn't have time to think about who the Kats would throw the ball to on the final play of the game. Because had the Eagles thought about it, there probably wouldn't have been press coverage and no help on a guy who had already beaten them 12 times for 220 yards.

But the middle of the end zone was left wide open, and after Mathenia beat his man off the line, all he had to do was catch the pass from Long. He did and the Kats live to see another week.

Completely out of gas, Mathenia had just enough strength to get to the sideline. He never made it past the 10-yard line. He took a knee and watched as Lance Garner kicked the deciding extra point.

As the players stormed the field, Mathenia just sat there and cried. It was about the only thing left he hadn't done that night.

"There was no way I was going to be able to run out there," Mathenia said. "I was just happy enough to see all my teammates out there having fun."

The Kats will be on the road again this week when they travel to Montana. A berth to the NCAA Division I-AA national championship game is on the line, and if he has anything to say about it, the Kats will be celebrating once again. But don't be surprised if No. 21 goes to one knee again just to watch.

After all, to him, it is just an ordinary game and all he did was catch a few passes to help his team win. Nothing more, nothing less.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

2012 MLB Draft results

I don't think I did this last year, but I always like to go through the MLB draft results and see how many players I have seen play. I used to get a heavy dose of high school games to go along with the college games I see every year.

But I haven't seen a high school game in five years, so this list is all from the college games I have seen in the last few years. Assuming I didn't miss anyone, I saw 97 players who were selected this year play in college, which might be the most I have seen in a single draft. Of that group, 32 were at the College World Series in 2010 when I was there, and I saw 50 of these guys play at the Don

Here is the list:

3 Zunino, Mike                  Florida, FL            C
15 Naquin, Tyler               Texas A&M, TX OF
19 Wacha, Michael          Texas A&M, TX RHP
23 Ramsey, James           Florida State, FL                OF
24 Marrero, Deven          Arizona State, AZ             SS           R/R         JR
25 Shaffer, Richie             Clemson, SC       3B
31 Johnson, Brian             Florida, FL            LHP
45 Barnes, Barrett            Texas Tech, TX  OF
57 Gelalich, Jeff                                UCLA, CA             OF
61 Fontana, Nolan           Florida, FL            SS
63 Melotakis, Mason      Northwestern State, LA                LHP
71 Reynolds, Matt           Arkansas, AR      3B
72 Chargois, J.T.                                Rice, TX                RHP
74 Sanburn, Nolan           Arkansas, AR      RHP
82 Rodriguez, Steven     Florida, FL            LHP
96 Rodgers, Brady            Arizona State, AZ             RHP
132 Walker, Christian      South Carolina, SC           1B
150 Mejia, Alex                 Arizona, AZ         SS
159 Aplin, Andrew           Arizona State, AZ             CF
160 Duffey, Tyler              Rice, TX                RHP
169 Muncy, Max               Baylor, TX            1B
174 Kieboom, Spencer   Clemson, SC       C
175 Delatte, Brad             Nicholls St U, LA                LHP
176 Stripling, Ross            Texas A&M, TX RHP
178 Blach, Ty                      Creighton, NE    LHP
186 Beck, Preston            University of Texas - Arlington, TX
187 Refsnyder, Rob         Arizona, AZ         2B
200 Boyd, Jayce                                Florida State, FL                1B
209 Elander, Josh             Texas Christian, TX          C
219 Tucker, Preston        Florida, FL            OF
222 Price, Matthew         South Carolina, SC           RHP
232 Amaral, Beau             UCLA, CA             CF
234 Benincasa, Robert   Florida State, FL                RHP
244 Randall, Hudson       Florida, FL            RHP
262 Mejias-Brean, Seth U Arizona, AZ     3B
273 Marzilli, Evan              South Carolina, SC           CF
274 McVaney, Jeff           Texas St U, TX    LF
278 Ludy, Josh                   Baylor U, TX
279 Minor, Daniel             Texas A&M U Corpus Christi, TX
281 McGruder, Jamodrick            Texas Tech U, TX              2B
292 Pigott, Daniel             Florida, FL            OF          R/R         SR
297 Roth, Michael            South Carolina, SC           LHP        L/L          SR
302 Rickard, Joey              Arizona, AZ         CF
310 Baxendale, D.J.         Arkansas, AR      RHP
312 Hutter, Joel                                Dallas Baptist U, TX          SS
320 Sewald, Paul              U San Diego, CA                RHP
324 Manuel, Craig            Rice U, TX            C
353 Vick, Logan                 Baylor U, TX        OF
356 Rathjen, Jeremy       Rice, TX                RF
408 Von Tungeln, Kyle   Texas Christian, TX          CF           L/L          JR
409 Pudenz, Stuart          Dallas Baptist U, TX          RHP
424 Travis, Devon             Florida State, FL                2B
427 Pazos, James             University of San Diego, CA         LHP
431 Hebert, Brock            Southeastern Louisiana University, LA    2B
438 Broyles, Shane          Texas Tech, TX  RHP
446 Reckling, Matt           Rice, TX                RHP|
447 Johnson, Sherman  Florida St U, FL  2B
454 Scantling, Hunter     Florida St U, FL  RHP
457 Benak, Andrew         Rice, TX                RHP
510 Scanio, Joseph          Northwestern State, LA                RHP
517 Lopez, Stefan            Southeastern Louisiana U, LA     RHP
528 Stolz, Jason                 Clemson U, SC   SS
563 Head, Louis                 Texas St U, TX    RHP
567 Dalton, Ryan              U Texas San Antonio, TX               3B
573 Medrano, Kevin       Missouri State, MO         2B
576 Harvey, Ryan             Seton Hall, NJ    RHP
579 Elkins, Austin             Dallas Baptist U, TX          2B
608 Carver, Tim U             Arkansas Fayetteville, AR             SS
633 House, Jacob             Texas A&M U, TX             1B
637 Reynolds, Michael   Texas A&M, TX SS
640 Altobelli, Bo                Texas Tech U, TX              C
655 Turner, Colton           Texas State, TX LHP
695 Wall, Douglas             Rice U, TX            LHP
699 Ballew, Travis             Texas State, TX RHP
711 Kiser, Kale                   U Nebraska Lincoln, NE CF
714 Selsor, Casey             U Texas San Antonio, TX               OF
722 Redman, Reid            Texas Tech, TX  2B
733 Maggi, Beau               Arizona St U, AZ                C
737 Juengel, Matt            Texas A&M U, TX             3B
781 Cooper, Khiry            U Nebraska Lincoln, NE OF
826 Johansen, Jacob       Dallas Baptist U, TX          RHP
827 Jackson, JUSTIN        Sam Houston St U, TX    RHP
836 Gonzalez, Justin       Florida State, FL                SS
850 Goldsmith, Carson   Northwestern State, LA                RHP
852 Torres, Dennis           U Massachusetts Amherst, MA RHP
862 Wiley, Matthew       U Houston, TX   RHP
891 Coats, Jason               Texas Christian, TX          LF
893 Fant, Randall              Arkansas, AR      LHP
896 Cannon, John            U Houston, TX   C
929 Kalenkosky, Casey   Texas State, TX 1B
1000 Merck, Kaleb           Texas Christian, TX          RHP
1030 Haar, Brian                U San Diego, CA                OF
1053 Ray, Jared                 U Houston, TX   RHP
1067 Christensen, Chad Nebraska, NE     CF
1071 Martin, Kyle             Texas A&M, TX RHP
1122 Bleeker, Derrick     Arkansas, AR      RHP
1159 Drummond, Calvin                University of San Diego, CA         RHP

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bradley, US Soccer wasted 2011

I have taken a few days to digest the US Men’s National Team performance in the Gold Cup. First off, I was thrilled getting to see them play in person. Clint Dempsey scoring the game winner in the 77th minute was almost a storybook finish to the game.

But even during that game, the deficiencies of the US team became clear. They were slow, lacked any creativity up top, technically were not very good with the ball and tactically they were not very good either. Some of that falls on head coach Bob Bradley and rest falls on the US Soccer Federation.

The first question that gets asked is should Bradley keep his job?  That really depends on what the focus of the US Soccer Federation and president Sunil Gulati is. If the goal is to put a competitive side on the pitch that will play hard, compete and every few years surprise someone, then Bradley is the guy. If the goal is to win the World Cup, then a change needs to be made. Not just with the coach, but with the philosophy.

Bradley and US Soccer gambled big time in this Gold Cup, and lost not once but twice. In terms of player development, 2014 is not that far away. This is the summer they should have been identifying and preparing players for 2014. If that wasn’t going to happen then they HAD to win the Gold Cup. Unfortunately they did neither.

I think one of the main problems is they were blinded by the success of the 2009 Confederations Cup. Beating Spain and pushing Brazil to the brink was a great moment for the US. It was hailed as a huge success as a tune-up for last summer’s World Cup. I would be more inclined to believe it was that vital of an experience had the World Cup be a little more successful. It took a 93rd minute goal from Landon Donovan just to get out of a soft group and they then lost in the round of 16.

But Bradley and the US put all of their eggs in the Gold Cup basket this summer in hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup preview a year earlier in Brazil. (Side note: are there going to be stadiums for 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil?) So they rolled the dice and put out a veteran laden squad in hopes of earning that coveted 2013 invitation to Brazil. By losing, Bradley and US Soccer pretty much wasted an entire summer of international soccer for the US.  

Had they gone into the tournament with a goal of preparing for 2014 and started playing a few more guys who are going to feature in three years, then the loss to Mexico would not have been as bad. At least they would have been able to begin to develop the next crop of national team players. Instead, neither goal was accomplished this summer.

When looking at the way the team was put together, I have no problem with Donovan, Tim Howard or Clint Dempsey being on the squad. Those guys have been here before and know what it takes to win. They also will probably still be in the mix for 2014. Howard would be 35 at that point and doesn’t show any signs that he won’t still be a top keeper. Donovan (29) and Dempsey (28) both should be in pretty good form in 2014 (personally I am ready for Donovan to just go away).

With the exception of inserting Juan Agudelo (19), Eric Lichaj (22) and Alejandro Bedoya (24) into the lineup and Tim Ream (23) had a cup of coffee with the team, what else did Bradley do with his players to start preparing for the next World Cup?

Some of the biggest questions about decision made by Bradley and US Soccer come at the back.

Howard is one of the top goalkeepers in the world and is without question the US’s No. 1. He would be a great guy for a young keeper to learn from. However, the other two keepers on the Gold Cup roster are either his age or older.

First off, why is Marcus Hahnemann even in the player pool? He is five years older than I am, and by the time 2014 rolls around he will be 42. He got his last start in goal in March of this year. Who is that going to benefit? If Howard gets a night off, Bradley should be thinking about 2014 and maybe who the keeper will be when 2018 qualifying starts five years from now. Playing Hahnemann in a friendly does nothing for anyone, and was pretty much a waste.

Even the third-string keeper on the Gold Cup roster, Nick Rimando, is 32 years old and will be 35 when Brazil rolls around. He played in January of this year, earning his first cap in more than six years. Once again, if the goal is to win the World Cup, why is he on the roster? I can’t imagine he is in future plans past this year.

The situation in front of the keeper is beyond a disaster. Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra have been fixtures for the US backline for nine years. But they will both be 35 the next time the World Cup rolls around. Similar to Howard, I think both are guys who a young player can learn from, but unlike Howard, can’t see any way they are a significant factor in 2014. While Lichaj and Ream (who was benched) did play, no one else who played defense for the US this month will or should be in the plans for 2014.  

As for the rest of the guys on the pitch, I think there is a good group to build around. What they need is some consistency. At times the midfield looks like they have never played with each other (in Jones case, he hasn’t). There just doesn’t seem to be much chemistry or connection between the mids and the guys up top.

Finally, they need a finisher not named Landon. Is it Altidore? He hasn’t show enough to think he can get the job done. Is Agudelo the guy? While he has shown some flash, he disappears for stretches of the game. Maybe there is someone else? That is the question Bob Bradley and the US Soccer Federation need to answer by next summer. They can’t expect to plug a striker in sometime in late 2013 and expect him to be a force in Brazil, assuming they qualify.

Friday, June 3, 2011

NCAA Tournament predicitions

The NCAA Baseball Tournament gets underway today with 32 games going across the country. This will be the first time since 2006 I will not be attending any NCAA Baseball postseason games. But at the same time, I am going to attempt to predict the field anyway.

Charlottesville Regional – I think the clear winner here is Virginia. They are the No. 1 National seed and maybe the favorite to win the whole thing.

Los Angeles Regional – UCLA is the host as the top seed, but they are a little shaky with a 33-22 record. Fresno State has played the role of Cinderella before winning the national title as a four seed in the regioanal. They enter here as a No. 2, but in the end, UCLA wins.

Super Regional – South Carolina beats UCLA

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Twas the morning of the NCAA Tournament

Twas the morning of the NCAA Tournament and all through the land
The best days in sports are finally at hand

The brackets were hung around the house with care
In hopes of a Cinderella or two will appear

And mamas got her final Four, I have mine too
Should I be worried we have the same teams getting through?

The First Four has been played, so the field is now set
UTSA got in, are they thinking of pulling an upset?

The DVR is set. As the games are a must see
Does anyone know exactly how to find TruTV?

The experts are weighing in, giving locks and teams to watch
Yet when the show is over, they have the 1-seeds ruling March

I turn to CBS for a little pre tournament chatter
Hoping for some insight from Jay Bilas or Billy Packer

When what to my wondering eyes should appear
It was Charles Barkley, what’s he doing here?

He and Kenny Smith are Turner’s NBA gurus
What do they know of the Hoyas or the Purdues?

I’m a huge fan of Reggie Miller and he’s calling the Penn State game
But the last time he was in college the uniforms were pretty lame

The tournament will be seen on four different channels
Meaning I no longer will gripe because they are showing us the Vandals

So as the first tip draws near, let me leave you with my two cents:
May your upset bids come to fruition as we witness another year of shining moments 

Monday, January 10, 2011

National Championship game blog

Here is a running blog during tonights national championship between Oregon and Auburn.

I really don't have a rooting interest in this one, but I think Oregon will win this 37-35. Also, The uniforms are not as bad as they could have been.

Wow, I don't think I have seen that stat before about Newton. 19-of-19 passing on opening drives this season. That is pretty impressive.And then he throws an incomplete pass. Of course.