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, June 07, 2004

Coral Gables Regional News and Notes - Unofficial

Since I’ve found coverage of the college baseball regionals hard to come by, I thought I’d share some of my experiences at this weekend’s regional in Coral Gables with you today, in case you were looking for some highlights too. Yes, there is coverage by the NCAA here and the Miami Herald covered the games to a degree here, but there are just some things that don’t quite make it into the paper. Honestly though, I've found the ESPN coverage to be more accurate than the official NCAA information, which seems to be corrected semi-frequently.

Saturday’s early contest may have started too early for St. Bonaventure. Not only were they the decided underdog in this four team race, but they were also forced to play late on Friday night (due to a nearly two hour rain delay during the NC State – FAU opener), meaning that their Friday night game ended at close to midnight. With Saturday’s game starting right at noon, this was a decided disadvantage for the Bonnies. When FAU jumped out to an early lead, you could tell that the Bonnies were still at least a little bit groggy when one of their relievers through a ball in the bullpen to a catcher who had not yet put on his glove. Needless to say, the catcher was immediately fully awake (and able to elude the ball).

Later Saturday, during the winner’s bracket game, a larger crowd turned out (as many were likely sleeping in after the previous night’s late running show – although the FAU faithful were well represented for the early game underneath the trees). Admittedly there was not much tension or strategy employed during Miami’s 19 – 5 defeat of the Wolfpack – except for NC State’s removal of their starters relatively early, in order to rest them for their next game, which would immediately follow their game with Miami. However, there were a number of celebrities and notables in the crowd.

I was impressed to see that not only did Miami Heat head coach Stan Van Gundy attend the game with his family, but he stayed for the duration of the game, despite the blistering heat and the blowout nature of the game. Equally impressive, and probably more entertaining, was University of Miami President Donna Shalala’s interaction with the Miami Maniac during the contest (for those of you who don’t know, read about the Maniac here – the short version is that the Maniac is the baseball team’s version of Sebastian the Ibis, who is normally seen at Miami football games). Feel however you do about Shalala’s politics, but her resume is more than impressive. Regardless, try to put your favorite politician/academian’s name in place of Shalala’s here: First, Shalala offered to get a bottle of water for the maniac. Everyone, the Maniac included, laughed this off. Surely the President of the University wasn’t going to walk from her seat to go and get the team mascot a bottle of water. But she did. And the Maniac left with it and came back shortly thereafter with a nearly empty bottle (for the sake of the children, it’s probably best if the Maniac drinks in private). When the Maniac returned, President Shalala introduced the Maniac – individually – to the various donors and high ranking university officials seated around her. Upon being introduced to the Dean of the Medical School, the Maniac pantomimed that he was interested in some reconstructive surgery for his Q-bert like nose. A fairly comical dialog then ensued with between the Maniac, Dean of the Medical School, and the President of the University. You probably had to be there to appreciate it, and maybe the sweltering heat added to the comedy, but to me it still was funny.

In the night cap, Florida Atlantic showed complete disregard for their pitcher, Will Mann, by allowing the starter to throw nearly 150 pitches. FAU won the game and reached Sunday’s championship. Mann’s performance allowed FAU to preserve some of their bullpen for Sunday, but hopefully there won’t be any permanent damage to Mann’s arm.

Entering Sunday’s championship day, the Florida Atlantic team and their faithful talked of things like putting FAU baseball, if it isn’t already, on the national map by beating the Miami Hurricanes in their home park and by reaching the round of the Super Regionals. The Owls, or Blue Wave depending on which you prefer apparently (are there other colors of waves?), saved their ace pitcher, Randy Beam, for Sunday’s contest. In Sunday’s Miami Herald, the FAU coaches alleged that their plan all along had been to save Beam for Sunday. I am pretty sure they meant that they had saved Beam for Miami.

Regardless, it was Sunday and to advance to the next round (it’s double elimination remember), Miami needed to win once, and FAU would have to beat the Canes twice. So even if Beam pitched a gem and knocked off the Canes, FAU would still have to come up with another win.

Sunday’s first, and possibly only, game slated FAU’s Beam against Miami’s J.D. Cockroft. This was a re-match of a game from last year’s regional, where to the two lefties faced off in the winner’s bracket. What ensued last year was a 1 – 0 pitching duel, which Miami one – in large part due to Cockroft’s two pick-offs of runners on second base. This year’s game would resemble nothing of the sort, although nearly everyone would expect it to at the outset.

What we got, but that no one expected, was a two-hour rain delay. Rain delays in South Florida, particularly during this time of year, are not unique, but what made this rain delay unique was that during the entire two hours, it did not rain. Initially we were told that there is an NCAA rule that prohibits games from being played when there is lightning within ten miles of the stadium (somehow folks who have attended Miami and FAU games for years were unaware of this “rule” until Sunday). Later, after many of us had retreated to the covered parking lot beyond right field, an announcement was made encouraging fans to exit the grandstand (few had left by this point because it was actually quite pleasant out, and it seemed like the game might be resumed at any moment). Some time later a different public address announcer came on and urged everyone to “take shelter immediately.” This prompting seemed quite serious, and for anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time at Mark Light Stadium knows, there really isn’t any shelter to be had anywhere. Oddly enough, nothing ever came, well, at least not until the game resumed, at which time it did begin to drizzle lightly.

When play resumed, Miami led 3 – 2 in the top of the fourth. There were two runners on and none out (for more details, go here). Both teams left their original starters in the game (remember, pitching staffs are starting to run thin and both teams have one of their aces on the hill) at this point, although questions about the impact the rain delay would have on the two young arms were significant. Miami managed only one run in the inning, giving them a two run lead. That lead held until the bottom of the fifth, when FAU struck for three and a 5 – 4 lead.

At this point, it appeared that the rain delay hadn’t impacted the outcome of the game very much, but in reality it had to. FAU saved Beam for Miami and now Beam had a to wait through a two-hour non-rain, rain/lightning delay in order to do his job against the Hurricanes. Somehow, he managed to do well through six full innings.

The first batter was retired in the top of the seventh, and then the wheels fell off for Florida Atlantic. With one out, nine consecutive batters reached base. Eight runs were scored. The death blow to the Florida Atlantic season came somewhere in there, but no one is really sure where it happened. For good measure, the Canes scored six more runs after recording their second out in the 7th (one more in the 7th, four in the eighth, and one in the ninth).

In the end, Miami defeated Florida Atlantic by a score of 19 to 6. This sounds like a blowout, and on many levels it was. But in reality, it was simply a testament to what the college baseball post-season is – a test of depth, ability, and good luck. Miami came up strong on luck (or timing) on Sunday and Florida Atlantic ran out of depth (they were playing their fourth game in about forty-eight hours and were hoping for a fifth).

It's onto the Super Regionals, in Coral Gables on Saturday, Sunday, and possibly Monday against the Florida Gators. Miami took two of three from the Gators earlier in the year at Mark Light Stadium, but that doesn't matter in the post-season. It should be an exciting series. More on this series, and the other seven Super Regionals (as well as a re-cap of the predictions made here last week) tomorrow.


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