Monday, May 31, 2010

The last road to Rosenblatt

Congratulations UCLA. You have been awarded a home game in the NCAA baseball tournament. Your reward – the No. 6 national seed and a brutal opening round regional. The Bruins will welcome LSU and UC Irvine to LA this week with a trip to the Super Regional on the line.

The Los Angeles regional is the toughest of the draws with the defending champs coming across the country to begin its title defense. LSU has finished the year hot and is playing its best ball at the right time. With UC Irvine in the regional as well, there is a lot of Omaha experience in LA.

That is one of 16 regionals announced today as the start of the march to Omaha begins. The UCLA bracket will be a fun one to watch; unfortunately it was not picked up by ESPN. The two featured regionals will be the Coral Gables Regional and the Fullerton Regional.

The Coral Gables Regional will have Miami against Dartmouth and Texas A&M against Florida International. The story to watch in this regional will be FIU’s Garrett Wittles. He will bring a 54 game hitting streak into the regional, just four shy of the NCAA record. I watched Chris Andres finish the season with a 26-game hitting streak. These things are not easy, and the fact that he has a 54 game streak is amazing. While his chances of advancing are remote, I hope he gets four games and a chance to at least tie Robin Ventura’s record of 58.

The other televised regional I have virtually no interest in and probably won’t watch much of it.

I will of course be looking forward to the two Texas Regionals, but I am a bit bummed they are paired up against each other in the Super Regional.

Texas cost itself a shot at the No. 1 overall seed by dropping all three games in the Big 12 tournament and will host Louisiana-Lafayette and Rider to Austin along with perennial tournament power Rice. The Owls are down this year by Rice’s standards, but are no strangers to the tournament and won’t be fazed by the Longhorn crowd.

The Fort Worth Regional features this year’s lone Southland team, Lamar. The Cards made a great run in the Southland Tournament, but will probably be out in two here. Baylor got hot late and Arizona is kind of the surprise entry here. Two former SWC rivals will hook up for a trip to the Super Regional.

There are three other regionals that will be worth watching this weekend. The Charlottesville Regional, the Norwich Regional and the Norman Regional all have interesting stories that should be fun to follow.

In Virginia, the Cavaliers will welcome last year’s Super Regional partner Ole Miss. The two teams played a great three game series last season and will battle it out to get back there this season. Add in a 40-win St. John’s team and this will make for a good regional.

In Connecticut, we have the interesting situation where UConn is the host team despite not being the No. 1 seed in the regional. Florida State won the ACC Tournament and will have to make the trip up to Connecticut as the top seed. It is the second straight year the ACC Tournament champ has been sent on the road (Virginia).

The other intriguing regional is in Oklahoma. The Sooners get to play host to the other interesting ACC story. North Carolina makes it into the field despite not qualifying for the ACC Tournament. The Tar Heels advanced to Omaha the last four years and will try to make it five as the No. 3 seed in Norman.

I am looking forward to seeing it all play out as I, along with 64 teams start making plans for Omaha.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lima Time Baby, Believe It

I was never much of an Astro fan, but in the late 90’s and early 2000, you couldn’t help but be a Jose Lima fan. He was just fun to watch. I always have had two Lima Time stories that I knew were probably not unique to me.

I couldn’t believe when I had head of his passing this past weekend. Listening to talk radio today, it seemed like everyone had a Jose Lima story. I just wanted to share my two.

The first was at the dome in 1999. We were in the mezzanine for batting practice and Lima was shagging fly balls in the outfield. There was a guy on the front row who had a ball hit his bare hands and fall to the field.

Lima started giving the guy a hard time.

“How can you come to batting practice and not bring a glove?” Lima yelled at the guy with that great Lima accent. “That is why we have gloves. If it was easy to catch barehanded, we wouldn’t use gloves. This is just embarrassing. Use my glove.” And Lima tossed his glove to the guy. About five minutes later, another ball headed to the same guy. He reached out with Lima’s glove – and dropped the ball. Lima Time really let the guy have it after that, and said he wanted his glove back before the guy cursed it.

A year later when the Astros moved into Minute Maid, we were going to a lot of games. One day in the Crawford boxes, Lima was out shagging fly balls, and had a big bag of seeds in his back pocket. I asked him if he could come off a bag. At first he just laughed and said he didn’t think so. I told him I was a poor college kid and the Astros weren’t going to miss one bag of seeds.

About 15 minutes later, Lima came back out and yelled to me “seed boy.” I looked down and he tossed me a bag of seeds. I thanked him and told him he was awesome. The best part of the story is I was back about two weeks later in the Crawford Box for batting practice. After being there for about 20 minutes, I hear “Seed boy.” I look down and Lima Time is pointing at me. I give him a point back and he tosses me a bag of seeds. He then told me I better graduate college, especially for how much time I am spending at Astros games.

I don’t think there will ever be a cooler pro athlete than Jose Lima. About every five nights I was a Houston fan. He passed away much too soon. He still had a lot to give to the sport and the fans as well. He will be missed, “Believe It.”

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A little pressbox humor

I have spent my life around baseball and have seen my fair share of rain delays. In fact I have been on just about every end of a rain delay.

I have sat countless times in a dugout as a player wondering if we were going to get the game in. I have been in charge of the grounds and been the person to decide when to tarp the field and then at what point we take it off. I have pulled more tarps on and off fields then I care to remember. Most recently, I have been in the press box just sitting around waiting on a decision to be made.

One of the best parts of rain delays is seeing what everyone does to pass the time. In the press box, the stories start coming out about rain delays past. The longer people have been in baseball, the better their stories are.

I have my own fair share of rain delay stories, but what happened last night might top the list. The Bearkats were getting ready to play the first of three against Central Arkansas with bad weather in the area.

Just as batting practice was ending, the lightning hit and the tarp came out on the field. I had about three of my student workers in the booth and I start telling some rain delay stories. Finally, one of my students who will remain unnamed looks at me with a bit of a confused face.

“So how does this work?” she said.

“We will sit here and wait. They are going to try to get this game in,” was my reply.

Still not fully grasping what was going on, she asks another question.

“So how do they see the bases with the tarp on the field?”

Everyone else in the booth turned and looked at me. I wasn’t sure what to say.

“So I’m taking it this is your first rain delay,” was about all I could get out.

We had to then go on to explain the purpose of the tarp and that they in fact do not play with it on the field.

I texted a few people after the fact, and got some pretty good responses that I wanted to share.

I got a few “No ways” and “You’re making that up.” I got a “Is she blonde?’ text as well. One of the better responses was “Tell her that is what they have base coaches for.”

But by far the best response came from Mike Coffin, who works for the Corpus Christi Hooks and has a sense of humor like no one else. Coffin hit a pair of homers last night with two separate responses. His immediate response was “Tell her to go and find a box of curveballs.” And hour later, he followed that up with “I’m looking for the keys to the batter’s box at the moment.”

There is no telling how many more rain delays I have left in my life, but I now know I will always have a good story any time the tarp is on the field.