Around The Bases-April 1

April 1, 2010

Passion Buckets Full Of Baseball And Final Four

By Editor Sean Stires

April is here, and my Passion Bucket is overflowing.  For those who’ve never heard of a Passion Bucket, it’s a term that was coined by UCLA football coach Rick Neuheisel and made popular on the Dan Patrick Radio Show.  It’s also a term that was used by Cornell basketball player Ryan Wittman prior to last week’s Sweet 16 basketball match-up with Kentucky.

Wittman’s use of the term stirred-up some unwarranted controversy when John Feinstein took it to mean “we’re the smart kids”.   Turned out Wittman’s coach, Steve Donohue,  had just told him to drop the “Passion Bucket” during the presser at Patrick’s request.  Turns out Passion Bucket just stands for how much enthusiasm or excitement you have for something, and mine is overflowing with thoughts of college baseball and the Final Four…and even how they run together…

Brad Stevens

Butler’s in the Final Four.  How cool is that?  Their home floor, Hinkle Fieldhouse, is where the movie Hoosiers was filmed.  The college baseball equal would be Creighton making it to the College World Series.  Wait…that happened in 1991.  Butler’s coach, Brad Stevens, is home grown, just like Brian O’Connor, who pitched at the Series for the Blue Jays in ’91 and who took Virginia to Omaha last year.  Stevens looks so young he gets mistaken for the water boy, but he’s worked his way up the ladder since starting as Butler’s Coordinator of Basketball Operations ten years ago.  By the way, Minnesota Twins reliever Pat Neshek played college ball at Butler.

Tom Izzo is a guy you just have to respect.  He’s taken Michigan State to six Final Fours in 12 years.  His teams grind out possessions and games like a Polish lady with big forearms grinds out Kielbasa.  It got me thinking…what’s Michigan State’s college baseball counterpart?  I’m going with Texas:  Walk, sac bunt, infield hit, 4-3 RBI…Augie Garrido’s great pitching and small ball approach is college baseball’s answer to Izzo’s Spartans.  Augie’s obviously had some success at it too.  And how about Jake Boss, Jr.’s MSU baseball team?  At 16-4,  his Spartans open Big Ten play vs. Iowa this weekend with the best record in the conference.

Speaking of Texas, the Longhorns (18-7) leave their home state for the first time this season when they visit Oklahoma this weekend.  Texas has played road games at Rice and Texas Tech with three neutral site games at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Arizona State (23-0) and UCLA (21-0) are the only two remaining unbeaten Division One teams in college baseball.

Merrill Kelly

The Sun Devils visit Oregon this weekend in their second Pac 10 series, while UCLA hosts Stanford in it conference opener.  The most amazing thing to me about ASU’s unblemished record is the fact they’ve done it without Josh Spence (10-1, 2.37 ERA in ’09) throwing one pitch so far this year.  The Aussie has been out all year with an arm injury, but his teammates have more than picked-up the slack.  Sophomore Jake Borup pitched all of 8.0 innings last year, but he’s 5-0, while juco transfer Merrill Kelly is tied for the national lead at 6-0.  Meanwhile, Gerrit Cole (6-0, 2.63 ERA) and Trevor Bauer (5-0, 2.33 ERA) have lived-up to their expectations at UCLA.  Both teams have off the charts talent and numbers in the line-up.  Too bad they don’t meet until the end of the month.  Oh, if you want to read a good rant on these teams and the national rankings check out what Chase Titleman has to say at!

Who’s been impersonating as the three Conference USA teams that went to at least a Super Regional last year?  Last year’s CWS Cinderella, Southern Mississippi (14-9) , has lost five of its last seven games, including losing two of three last week to UAB.  East Carolina (17-9) just bludgeoned North Carolina Central by a combined 65-12 last weekend, but they just lost a 15-13 slug fest to UNC Wilmington and had losses to Monmouth and High Point.  ECU opens C-USA play this weekend vs. Tulane and then heads to Memphis next week.  Speaking of Memphis, the Tigers took two of three from Rice (14-12) last week for their first ever series win over the Owls, which are falling out of the polls with losses in five of their last eight games.  All three C-USA teams have played tough opponents, all three have hit in spots and consistent pitching has eluded all three as well.

Joe Godri

Villanova (17-4) is off to its best start since head coach Joe Godri arrived in 2002.  The Wildcats have a tough task ahead of them this weekend if they want to keep it going.  Godri’s ‘Cats will be “big game hunting” when they travel to Louisville (21-3) for their second Big East series of the season.  Godri has a tradition of plastering the logo of top-caliber teams his team has beaten on his office wall, and just one win at Louisville this weekend would go a long way.  Wildcats Justin Bencsko (.485) and Matt Szczur (.500) have names that are hard to pronounce, but they’re among the nation’s hitting leaders.  Louisville’s Thomas Royse (5-0, 1.42 ERA) and Neil Holland (4-0, 0.42 ERA, 6 SVs) might be the best pitchers they’ll face this season.

That series and many others start on Thursday this weekend due to Easter coming this Sunday.  Here’s hoping your Easter Baskets and Passion Buckets are full!

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