The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Where April means something...

In contrast to the Major League Baseball season, college baseball is pretty much in full swing by mid-April. It’s something like the time after the trade deadline (end of July) and the expansion of rosters on September 1st in the majors. Some teams are still fighting for conference and possible postseason positioning. Who will make their conference tournament and who will host a regional is all still up in the air. At the same time, other teams already know they’re just playing out the string.

What also happens every April in college baseball is that the Miami Hurricanes play the Florida State Seminoles six times. Three games in Tallahassee followed by three games the following weekend in Coral Gables. For those of you who aren’t big followers of college baseball, playing six games in a season against a single team is a lot of games. Most teams don’t face each other more than two or three times per year. And when the Hurricanes move into the ACC next year, they will only face the Seminoles three times per season (Miami’s baseball team never joined the Big East, so the 2005 season will be their first as part of a conference).

If you didn’t know that six games was a lot for college teams to play against each other, you might also not know that Miami and Florida State are powers in college baseball much like they are in college football. Actually, the more you think about it, the more similar the teams are to their football counterparts. Both are perennial contenders with long streaks of postseason appearances. As in most every year, both clubs entered this year’s series ranked in the top 20 of the various polls. Also similarly to how things play out in football, Miami’s baseball team has won 4 championships (all since 1982) and Florida State has won none (although they have appeared in the college world series many times, including losing the championship game to Miami in 1999).

Like in football, these programs also turn out future professional stars. In recent years Miami has produced Major Leaguers such as the Phillies’ Pat Burrel and Jason Michaels and the Devil Rays' Aubrey Huff. Florida State has produced Braves’ outfielder J.D. Drew (and after this year, likely his little brother Steven as well), Twins’ first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, and if you didn’t know it already, former Major Leaguer Deion Sanders. The Major League baseball draft, as it exists today, started in 1965. Miami has had a player drafted in every draft and Florida State has had a player drafted every year since 1966. Granted, the baseball draft is longer than those in the other professional leagues, but nonetheless, those are some pretty impressive feats.

Back to the games themselves…

This year’s series was much like those in year’s past. Hard fought, close games that could go either way. The stands are packed and both teams are fighting hard to position themselves for postseason play.

Florida State won the first game on April 9th 6 – 5 after scoring three runs in the bottom of the 8th to take the lead for good. Miami came back to win on Saturday and Sunday in Tallahassee, 17 – 11 on Saturday and 4 – 0 on Sunday. Sunday’s shutout was the first time in series history that the Hurricanes shut out the Seminoles at Dick Howser Stadium.

This past weekend started out much the same way the previous weekend ended, with the Hurricanes shutting out the Seminoles 10 – 0 on Friday night. The Canes were led by a 2 hit, 3 RBI performance by former NFL great Jim Burt’s son, Jim Burt. On Saturday night, the Canes ensured a win of the season series by outscoring the Noles 7 – 3. Highlighting (or low lighting as it were) this game was Florida State Manager Mike Martin’s accusation that the Canes were stealing the Noles signs by watching the game on TV in the clubhouse and relaying the catcher’s signals to the batter. Although the game was interrupted for more than fifteen minutes while the umpires “investigated,” no evidence of foul play was found (although I’m not quite sure how it could have been). Facing a sweep and a demoralizing trip back to Tallahassee, the Noles fought hard on Sunday and earned a 10 – 3 victory and their second win against the Canes this season.

Miami won the 2004 regular season series against Florida State 4 games to 2, but that’s not to say that these two teams won’t meet again this year. Both clubs are on course to earn trips to the postseason (Miami has been part of regional play for a record 32 consecutive years and FSU has appeared in 26 in a row), and it’s not uncommon for the teams to see each other in Omaha (Miami has been in 8 of the last 10 and 18 of the last 26 College World Series and Florida State has appeared in 11 of the last 17). In 2000, after Miami eliminated Florida State in the 1999 championship game, Florida State eliminated Miami in a three game Super Regional.

Hopefully we’ll see both of these two clubs in Omaha come June. Go Canes!


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