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, January 31, 2005

Hurricane Baseball Season Opens

There’s one night every January that’s my favorite. It’s typically the last Saturday of the month. This particular night is my favorite of all of January – and possibly of all of the year – because it marks the start of baseball season.

Most fans count down the days until “pitchers and catchers report” to major league camps. But for those of us in the South, college baseball season usually starts even sooner than that (at least it has in the past and continues to do so – and it will until the Northern teams garner enough votes to move the start of the season back another month or so).

Baseball season started on Saturday night for me and for all of us in Miami, as the University of Miami men’s baseball team opened up its 2005 season with a scrimmage against its Alumni.

Here are some highlights and tidbits from Saturday night’s game:

Current Players
Danny Figueroa led off and played centerfield for the Canes. This was a very encouraging sign, as Danny missed nearly all of last season due to various injuries. Reports throughout the offseason – even from head coach Jim Morris – had given Danny’s progress mixed reviews, and it wasn’t clear how much of a contributor Figueroa would be to the 2005 club. He made good contact, showed good speed, and reached base multiple times – all of which was encouraging. On the flipside, Danny did not throw much before the start of innings with the other outfielders, and even deferred to the right fielder on a fly ball early in the contest. While the ball was hit into the right-center field gap, normally it was a ball that the center fielder would take. However, it seemed that the two fielders talked about the play while the ball was in flight, and the right fielder caught the ball. This was apparently done as there was likely a play on the base paths after the ball was caught (and the right fielder would be in better shape to make the throw than Figueroa.

The lowlight of Figueroa’s performance was getting picked off of first base in the first inning by a lefthander with a tough pick-off move. Actually, it wasn’t just that Danny was picked off, it was that the normally speedy Figueroa was run down before reaching second base by the bulky former Cane, Jim Burt.

The other starters for the game were Danny Valencia at 1B, Paco Figueroa at 2B, Roger Tomas at SS, Ryan Braun at 3B, Jon Jay in LF, Brendan Katin in RF, Eddy Rodriguez at C, and Alex Garabedian at DH.

Dan Touchet started for the Canes on the mound. Touchet was worked back into the rotation last season following arm surgery and he was an effective starter for the Canes. In my casual observation of Saturday’s outing, I felt his delivery causes him to be overly dependent on his upper body to generate velocity. Given that he appears to have a strong lower body (and has had arm troubles in the past) this is somewhat worrisome.

Highly touted freshman recruit Alex Garabedian, who was a seventh round pick by the Yankees in last year’s draft, started at designated hitter. While his role for the Canes is likely increased as long as former starter Gaby Sanchez is suspended, given the reputation that Garabedian has earned in his career up to this point, it seems that he might take this opportunity to solidify his place in the lineup for the next three years. Despite being highly touted and well known even amongst fans, Garabedian appears to be a team player with a good attitude. Before the game he was in the bullpen warming up pitchers and came out to the field between innings to help warm up the right fielder.

Ryan Braun homered to right-center field in his first at bat.

Alumni
Aubrey Huff simply looks like a major leaguer. He carries himself differently from nearly everyone else on the field. Also, despite hitting with a wood bat (as nearly all of the alumni did), Huff somehow gets nearly the same sound out of the bat when he makes contact with the ball that a normal person gets when using an aluminum bat. There simply is a difference between a major league quality hitter and the rest of us. You might not be able to tell the difference from the swing, but you can certainly hear it.

At one point while Danny Gil, younger brother of former Cane David Gil (who also played for the alumni Saturday night), Huff called over to Gil in the bullpen (Huff was playing right field). He playfully asked Gil when he was entering the game. After Gil responded, Huff said something to the effect of “Good – I’ll get to hit against you.”

Fortunately for Gil, Huff's swing and timing are not yet in mid-season form. During their encounter Huff grounded out. While it's been awhile since I've watched Huff bat in person, it seemed to me that Aubrey had a very long stride (and this was starting from a wide stance). This, combined with the relatively poor lighting (certainly by major league standards) at Mark Light Field, did not make for great hitting conditions for Huff or anyone else.

Jim Burt (Junior of course – and yes, he’s the son of the former 49er of the same name that you probably remember; and yes, he’s the same son who paraded around the Super Bowl field on his father’s shoulder pads twenty or so years ago) started at first base for the alums. While Burt was surely not the most talented Cane baseball player ever (he may have done better professionally if he’d played football in college instead of baseball) and he didn’t have the gaudiest statistics of all time, you have to applaud Jim Burt’s hustle (well, and his defensive ability too). If you just watched Burt and the effort he puts into each play of each game, you wouldn’t know if you were watching the College World Series, a key game in a playoff race, or a friendly game of current Canes versus Alumni. Jim Burt plays the game as it was meant to be played.

Julio Solis started for the alums behind the plate. While Solis has been out of the competitive game for awhile, he still impressed me with his strong arm from behind the plate. Granted, he may need a different chest protector to help cover his belly, but at times he seemed to be daring Canes to run on him by dropping the ball.

It was announced before the game that former Cane Russ Jacobsen had been traded on Saturday to the Devil Rays organization. Out of respect for Aubrey Huff, no snide remarks were made and no condolences were given to Jacobsen.

Marcus Nettles flashed his trademark speed and what seemed to be a much more compact stroke at the plate.

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