By College Baseball 360 Editor Sean Stires
We are just days away from a new year and that means we’re less than two months away from the start of the 2011 college baseball season. There was good and there was bad, and with that in mind here are 10 significant things we’ll take from college baseball in 2010…
1. Goodbye to Rosenblatt Stadium
What can be said about Rosenblatt that hasn’t already been said? After 60 years at the top of the hill in Omaha, Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium hosted its final College World Series in 2010. The move to the new TD Ameritrade Park in 2011 is seen by progress to some, but heartbreak to many. The new park will have all the amenities that Rosenblatt lacked, and maybe the future will be even brighter at the CWS and Omaha down the road. However, wouldn’t it have been nice if the new stadium had even a hint of nostalgia? The new Yankee Stadium has oversized high-priced seats and is swelling with luxury suites, but they still managed to keep the look from the House that Ruth Built. Too bad they couldn’t do the same at TDA. CLICK HERE to read a letter of thanks from Omaha native Paul Fiarkoski to Johnny Rosenblatt.
2. Cal Cuts Baseball
Septbember 28, 2010 could be remembered as “Black Tuesday” at Cal. That’s the day Cal-Berkley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Athletic Director Sandy Barbour announced the school would eliminate baseball and four other sports (rugby, gymnastics and lacrosse) at their school at the conclusion of the 2010-2011 season. The given reason was to “generate an estimated $4 million annual savings in direct and indirect costs for Cal Athletics, while limiting further growth in expenses.” The outcry was instant, and the “Save Cal Baseball” movement began. More than $10 in pledges have poured in to save the 118 year-old baseball program and the four other sports. The future is still uncertain, but head coach Dave Esquer’s Golden Bears are ranked 33rd in Collegiate Baseball’s 2011 preseason poll.
3. Arizona State Gets Probation
Our top story from 2009 was Pat Murphy leaving ASU, but Tim Esmay still led the Sun Devils to Omaha after the departure of the controversial head coach. That won’t be possible in 2011 after the NCAA slapped the program with postseason probation due to “lack of institutional control”. Click here for the full rundown. While Arizona State plans to appeal the postseason ban, the school has been sanctioned nine times since 1953 (in sports other than baseball). Murphy is currently working in the San Diego Padres organization, but the NCAA also ruled that if he were to return to college baseball he would not be able to make recruiting calls until December 14, 2011.
4. Garrett Wittels Chases History, And Then…
Heading into the 2010 season nobody was talking about Florida International, and they sure weren’t talking about Garrett Wittels. However, by season’s end the sophomore infielder who hit just .246 as a freshman was the toast of college baseball. Wittels batted .413 by hitting safely in all 56 games he started in 2010 (he didn’t play in five games) while helping his team to a Sun Belt Conference title and an NCAA Regional berth. He enters 2010 on the heels of Robin Ventura’s 1987 Division I record 58-game hitting streak. Things took a turn for the surreal earlier this month though when Wittels and a group of friends were charged with raping two 17-year-old girls on Dec. 20 in the Bahamas. Wittels is free on bond as the 2011 season approaches. ESPN is scheduled to televise FIU’s season-opening series against Southeastern Louisiana, but for now the question is will Wittels be in the line-up or behind bars?
5. South Carolina Wins The CWS
Ray Tanner’s Gamecocks became regulars at Omaha over the last decade, but they never won it all. In the 61st and final CWS at Rosenblatt, South Carolina changed that in a big way. South Carolina lost its first game, but stormed back to win six straight to claim the school’s first major championship in any sport. They also beat their biggest rival, Clemson, twice in the process. No player more embodied the Gamecocks’ team effort than soph. Michael Roth, who made his first two starts of the season on the Omaha dirt. Roth held opponents to a .167 average in 16 1/3 total innings at the CWS. It was only fitting that South Carolina won in dramatic fashion on Whit Merrifield’s walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th inning against UCLA.
6. Matt Curry’s CWS Grand Slam
With two out, a full count and his team down by two runs to Florida State, TCU’s Matt Curry jacked a grand slam to centerfield to stave-off elimination. The big hit made TCU an instant CWS legend in the the most electric moment of the 61st and final series at Rosenblatt. Not bad for a senior who played his first two seasons of college ball at Howard Junior College. Of that moment, TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle would later tell us “That’s a game and that’s a moment I think that if they were to do a history of the College World Series…it’s gonna be a very small part, but I think it would be a part.” Said Curry afterward “When I hit it, I knew it was gone, because I’ve hit home runs and I usually know when I get them. I look and I’m all fired up” CLICK HERE for more postgame reaction from Curry, Schlossnagle and FSU head coach Mike Martin.
7. TCU Beats Texas In Super Regionals
Before Curry had his shot at Omaha immortality, TCU had to beat Texas in Super Regional play. Many thought the Horned Frogs were deserving of a national seed and the chance to host a Super Regional that would come with that distinction, but that didn’t happen. Instead, for a second straight year TCU was matched with the perennial power in Austin with a trip to Omaha on the line. TCU won games one and three by giving-up just a run in each game against the #2 national seed Longhorns to send the Horned Frogs to the program’s first CWS. CLICK HERE for more from TCU’s historic win.
8. New Mexico And Oregon Make It To NCAA Regionals
For the game of college baseball to grow it has to prosper in places where it has not traditionally prospered. New Mexico made it to an NCAA Regional for the first time in 48 years in 2010, while Oregon made it in just its second season since resurrecting the program after a nearly 30 year extinction. The Lobos and Ducks reached the postseason with the distinctive styles of their head coaches. For UNM it was Ray Birmingham’s “Kick down the door” offensive approach, while UO did it with George Horton’s pitching laden formula. It should come as no surprise that both programs prospered under their skippers. Birmingham led New Mexico Junior College to a 2005 national championship, while Horton more famously won the 2003 CWS at Cal State Fullerton.
9. Kyle Parker’s Record-Setting Double Duty
Parker took being a two-sport college athlete to another level during the 2009-2010 season. The Clemson quarterback/outfielder became the first Division One athlete to ever throw 20 touchdown passes and hit 20 home runs in the same academic year. In fact, he was the first to even go 15/15. Parker helped the football team to a Music City Bowl win in the fall and then helped Jack Leggett’s baseball team reach the College World Series in the spring. Parker was taken by the Colorado Rockies with the 26th overall pick in the June, 2010 draft. He has signed a professional contract and will report to spring training in 2011. CLICK HERE for an exclusive podcast interview with Parker.
10. UCLA And Arizona State Get Off To Fast Starts
The Bruins and Sun Devils both ended their seasons in Omaha, and they both got their seasons off to blazing hot starts. UCLA road its pitching out of the gates to a 22-0 record that didn’t end until an April 2 loss to Stanford. Arizona State used its balance of pitching and offense to start 24-0 under new head coach Tim Esmay. Their first setback came a day after UCLA’s first defeat when they dropped a 12-inning game at Oregon. John Savage’s Bruins ended their season with a 51-17 mark and a second place finish at the CWS, while ASU finished with a 52-10 mark despite going 0-2 in Omaha.
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