Category Archives: College Baseball

Thank you, Kentucky

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. — Last post from Kentucky. I am at a gas station/White Castle off Interstate 64, about 35 miles from the Ohio River and the Kentucky/Indiana state line. 

LSU lost to Kentucky yesterday 10-2, giving the Wildcats the series two games to one. Not much of a game. Kentucky scored four in the first, three in the third and three more in the fourth, and that was that. The Wildcats still lead the SEC East and are just one game behind Mississippi State for the overall SEC lead. LSU is now 10-8 in the league, which means it is more than likely headed for the one-and-done round of the SEC tournament. The top four teams–as of now, State, Kentucky, Auburn and Arkansas–will have a bye to the double elimination portion of the bracket. 

I’m going to miss Kentucky. Had a very good time. I enjoyed visitng with Bill Franques, who honestly put up with my crap much longer than any human being should put up with me. I really put him through the wringer more than a few times. He probably has taken more from me than anyone except my parents, and this includes Peggy, Caitlyn, Robb, Dawn, Liz, Lisa and even Crista. He’s a great man for doing so, and I’m very glad we still keep in touch. 

I picked up some White Castle in Shelbyville. Can’t get that in Kansas or Kansas City for that matter. St. Louis is the closest location to where I am. I can get Zaxby’s in KC, which I might do tonight when I get to my usual spot, the Fairfield at KCI. 

Okay, time to hit the road. Next stop, Indiana. 

Last go at the Cliff

We are less than an hour from the final game of the LSU-Kentucky baseball series. It’s a rubber game, as the teams split their doubleheader Friday, with the Wildcats winning the opener 12-5 and the Bayou Bengals the nightcap 4-3.

This is LSU’s final game at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The field has been here since 1969, but the stadium itself opened in 2002 as part of a renovation. The 2018 season will be the Wildcats’ last at Cliff Hagan, as they are moving into a new stadium off campus the next season. LSU and Kentucky probably will not play next year, but if they do, it will be in Baton Rouge. The next time LSU will come to Lexington will be either in 2020 or 2021.

Bill told me the likely SEC East road trips next year are Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The Tigers go to Auburn, Ole Miss and Texas A&M in the West. That leaves Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi State at home. plus Missouri and either Florida or Kentucky.

With no game yesterday, it was more like a typical Saturday I would spend in Kansas City. I treated Bill to lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings, then went about the rest of my day on the other side of town. I went to the other B-Dubs in Lexington and played three hours of trivia. I left at 7:30 and decided to call it a night.

It’s chilly in Lexington. The sun is not out, and the mercury is struggling to climb above 55 (13 Celsius). There’s a good wind blowing from left to right, which means the ball will carry very well to right field, which is already very short (310 down the line, 350 to the power alley).

Tonight is a working and packing night. Tomorrow I’m on Interstate 64 and Interstate 70 to Kansas City. If I’m there by 7 pm CT, I’ll be happy.  Other than returning the rental car to KCI, it’s pretty much normal in KC (read: trivia at B-Dubs and maybe Minsky’s) until I have to go to Hays Thursday.

Ten hours at a baseball park

As Crystal Gayle and Gary Morris sang in the mid-1980s, I have made up for lost time.

I can safely say that I have now had more than my fill of Cliff Hagan Stadium after not traveling to Lexington during my years working with LSU’s baseball program.

Seven hours, 34 minutes of actual baseball, plus the hour before the game and the hour between games.

It isn’t the longest day I’ve spent in a college baseball stadium–the regionals at LSU far surpass that–but it’s one of the longest days I’ve spent in a facility during the regular season.

For the record, Kentucky won the first game 12-5, and LSU the second 4-3. The Bayou Bengals were down 3-0, but rallied with three in the fifth to tie, then scored the winning run in the eighth on an RBI single by Antoine Duplantis.

Tomorrow’s game is the last of the series, and the last for LSU at Cliff Hagan, period.  LSU and Kentucky probably won’t play in 2018, and if they do, it would be at Baton Rouge. The Wildcats are opening a new stadium in 2019, the earliest LSU could return to Lexington, but I don’t look for that to happen until 2020 or 2021.

Finding an LSU road series to attend in 2018 will be difficult. Arkansas goes to Baton Rouge. If LSU plays Missouri, that will be in Baton Rouge too. Texas A&M is too far. So are Auburn, South Carolina and Georgia. Ole Miss? Maybe. Vanderbilt? Maybe. Tennessee? Less likely. However, I may be able to convince my dad to go to Nashville or Knoxville if my brother and his family could make it.

The games were the easy part of yesterday. The hard part, of course, was the flat tire on the Cadillac. The trade is going to work out better, since the Expedition has more room for my baggage to carry back to Kansas City. I’ll stow everything in the hotel room there and retrieve my Chevy at KCI for the drive back to Hays (I have an appointment with Crista Thursday at 10).

The bad part about the long, long, long games? Finding something to eat after.

There was good food in the press box at Cliff Hagan, but I was trying to be the good Catholic, so I passed on the entrees and stuck to chips, cookies and brownies. I did get a pretzel and a bag of peanuts at the concession stand, but passed on anything heavier, hoping the games would end before 11.

Nope.

My body was acting like it was still on Central time. I’m convinced Central time is better than Eastern. TV shows come on not too late, but not too early. The news at 10 p.m. might be late for some, but it beats 11! Sunday NFL games kick off at noon. Perfect hour. Buffalo Wild Wings opens at 11, when college football games kick off on fall Saturdays.

By time I got back to my SUV parked behind the right center field fence, it was already 11:15. Then I got lost and went through downtown, right past Rupp Arena. I finally found my way back to Interstate 75, where I went to Man O’War Boulevard to look for a grocery store.

If you’ve never been to Lexington, you would do real well to have a map handy. Interstate 75 goes right past the northern edge of town and then turns southeast. The University of Kentucky, Keeneland race track, and the airport are all well south of the interstate. This is in stark contrast to Louisville, where Interstate 64 passes right by the KFC Yum! Center, the city’s main arena, and Louisville Slugger Field, home of the Triple-A Louisville Bats.

I’ve also seen interstates cut right into downtown Kansas City, St. Louis, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Atlanta and Birmingham, among other places. In Nebraska, Interstate 80 bypasses downtown Omaha to the south and Lincoln to the north, but both cities have spurs directly into downtown. And Interstate 49 has made Alexandria, Louisiana almost disappear from the map. If you stay on I-49, you’ll never know you went through Alexandria. By time you realize it, you may be in Shreveport (northbound) or Lafayette (southbound).

I found the supermarket, stocked up, then stopped at one of the few establishments open very late, Taco Bell. Since it was after midnight by this time, I didn’t feel so bad about eating meat.

By time I got back to the hotel–which is not in the best part of Lexington–it was 12:30.

Today is the off day. I now recall during the SEC tournament having an off day on the Friday after winning the first two games, then having a whole day to burn in Birmingham. Same thing in Omaha during the College World Series.

Time to jump in the shower.

An (almost) four-hour tour

The first game of the doubleheader is over. Finally.

Kentucky defeated LSU 12-5 in a tidy three hours, 51 minutes. The second game will now start at 7:05 ET/6:05 CT. The Wildcats will end the night atop the SEC East regardless of the outcome of the second game.

LSU never led. The Tigers scored twice in the second to tie the game, but by time they scored again, the Wildcats led 7-2.

Kentucky second baseman Riley Mahan went 5-for-5 with three RBI, while Luke Becker, who entered the game as the designated hitter in the fifth, hit two home runs, including a grand slam in the seventh that shut the door on the visitors.

It has been a warm and muggy day. Reminds me some of my days in Louisiana, but nowhere near as oppressive. I knew it was coming; heck, the humidity gets bad once you get past Salina on Interstate 70.

I’m trying not to eat meat on all Fridays, even though Good Friday was last week. So far, so good.

Other than the tire dilemma, it’s been good. I can’t concern myself with the outcome of the games. I have no control over them, something I should have learned a long, long time ago.

Flattened

I’m finally at Cliff Hagan Stadium for today’s LSU-Kentucky baseball doubleheader.

The morning was an ordeal. 

In the hotel parking lot, someone pointed out to me my left rear tire was flat. Then Bill noticed it when he came to bring me my media pass. 

I deicded to try to put air in the tire. The two gas stations closest to the hotel did not have air machines. A station a little further down Newtown Pike did have an air pump.

Bad idea.

First, it was in a neighborhood which took me back to my New Orleans and Baton Rouge days, as well as a few places I’ve seen in Kansas City, notably around the Truman Sports Complex. 

The air machine was not good. I didn’t know how to work it. I panicked. Big time. 

I finally said screw it, drove back to the hotel and then called Avis to tell them about the problem. Someone came out to put the spare tire on, then I had to drive to Blue Grass Aiprot on the southwest edge of town to exchange cars. I traded the Cadilliac XT5 for a Ford Expedition. Not bad. 

I made it to the stadium just before 1. I’m parked behind the right field fence. It will be a long walk back, but it won’t be for quite some time. 

I should have been able to handle the tire better, but it’s resolved and I’m back on track. Thank God. 

This will be a welcome respite from my life in Kansas, if only for three days. Need it every so often. 

Time passages

It’s almost 7 a.m. in Lexington, meaning it’s almost 6 back in Kansas. Changing time zones can mess up your clock when you’re not used to it.

I’ve changed time zones a few times going the other way when I’ve gone to Goodland or Sharon Springs, which are on Mountain time. Goodland, Sharon Springs (Wallace County), Weskan, Tribune (Greeley County) and Syracuse high schools have to start games an hour earlier in most instances so their opponents don’t get home very late. For instance, if Hugoton played a football game at Goodland and it started at 7 p.m. Mountain instead of 6, the Eagles wouldn’t get home until 2 a.m. in all likelihood.

Anyway, there will be baseball and lots of it at Cliff Hagan Stadium today. LSU vs. Kentucky in a doubleheader starting at 2 ET/1 CT.

It turns out Kentucky needed a waiver from the Southeastern Conference to play a doubleheader today. SEC rules do not allow for a doubleheader on day one of a scheduled three-day series. Fortunately for LSU and Kentucky, Wildcats coach Nick Migione and athletic director Mitch Barnhart prevailed upon SEC commissioner Greg Sankey to allow the doubleheader today in light of the forecast for tomorrow, which calls for a 90 percent chance of rain, with rain of up to one inch falling.

Kentucky comes into the series 10-5 in the SEC, leading the East division by two games. LSU is 9-6 in the league, two games behind leader Arkansas, although the Bayou Bengals won two of three from the Razorbacks in Fayetteviile two weeks ago. There’s still a lot of baseball to be played, and a series win on the road against a strong team would do wonders for my alma mater.

UPDATE: Now 9:10 and I’m ready to roll. I won’t need to be at the park until a little after noon. But I’ve got things to do in town.

Mother Nature conspires with Ernie Banks

LEXINGTON — I’m 821 miles from Russell. I’m 593 miles from my hangouts on Barry Road in Kansas City, Buffalo Wild Wings Zona Rosa and Minsky’s Pizza. I’m in a state I’ve never been to, and one of the only two cities in the Southeastern Conferernce I had yet to visit until now. 

Yet here I am, sitting at the bar at a Buffalo Wild Wings, playing Buzztime trivia. 

It can mean (a) I’m a creature of habit; (b) a very boring person; (c) very dedicated to Buzztime; (d) somoene who doesn’t like adventure; or (c) all of the above.

My schedule for the weekend has been altered. I think it’s a good alteration. 

When I got off Interstate 64 in search of the Kentucky capitol (not a state capitol; Kentucky is a commonwealth) in Frankfort, I found I had a message from Bill Franques, LSU’s longtime baseball publicist and the man I am really here to see this weekend (along with Lexington and UK campus, because as I said before, I’ve never been). 

Instead of playing single games Friday, Saturday and Sunday, LSU and Kentucky will play.a doubleheader beginning tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT. Tomorrow’s game was originally scheduled for 6:30 ET. 

The National Weather Service has forecast a rainy weekend across all of Kentucky for a week. Now, the meterologists are saying it will be a gullywasher Saturday, with up to an inch of rain Saturday.

For some reason, Kentucky scheduled Saturday’s game for 6:30 instead of the daytime, which would have been much better to wait out a rain delay. Maybe with all the rain that is expected, it wouldn’t have mattered. 

Instead of playing a makeup doubleheader Sunday, the coaches decided to move the second game up a day. 

Southeastern Conference rules forced the hands of LSU coach Paul Maineri and his Kentucky counterpart, Nick Mignone. 

If the doubleheader were scheduled for Sunday, both games would have to be seven innings, not nine. The rule is in place ostensibly to allow the visitng team to catch its flight after the Sunday game. 

I understand the idea behind the rule. Airline tickets are non-refundable that close to the flight, and no team wants to be stranded at the airport or face an extrmely long bus ride home.

In the case of this weekend’s series in Lexington, the travel rule is totally unnecessray. LSU flew charter to Lexington and can leave whenever it needs to. 

I don’t see why the SEC cannot waive the seven inning game rule on Sundays if the visitor is traveling by charter flight or bus and both coaches agree to play two nine inning games. The NCAA Division I baseball committee has demanded teams play as many nine ining games as possible, yet the SEC won’t allow flexibility when it is available. 

Also, I don’t see why a team cannot stay over and play Monday if they receive permission from its school administration. Or in the case of Mississippi State vs. either Ole Miss or Alabama, travel back to Oxford or Tuscaloosa and vice versa? 

I would be in favor of all series staritng on Thursday so teams would have Sunday as the built-in rain day. But I understand not wanting to miss two days of class. 

Tomorrow will be a long day at Cliff Hagan Stadium. First game at 2, clear the stadium after the game, then start the second game at approximately 6. 

Saturday is now an off day, with the Sunday game still scheduled for 1 ET. It doesn’t affect me, because I’m not leaving until Monday anyway. 

I’m on Eastern time for the first time in almost 12 years. There was no sign on Interstate 64 in Indiana marking the change from Central to Eastern, but I set my watch ahead when I crossed the Wabash River, and then my iPhone and iPad adjusted when the GPS inside detected the line had been crossed. 

The drive from St. Louis to Lexington took seven hours, including stops at the Indiana state line, the Pilot travel center I blogged from, and then the Kentucky capitol. The hotel I’m staying at is full for the weekend, as is every other hotel in Lexington because of the horse racing season at Keeneland, the second largest horse track in Kentucky. Unless you’ve been living under rock, you can guess #1. 

If SIX weren’t the Buzztime game tonight, I probably would have skipped. But I love that game and didn’t want to go two weeks wihtout playing it, so here I am. I won’t stay after SIX. My body is still on Central time, but I have to deal with the reality of Eastern time, so I’ll get to bed and be ready for tomorrow. 

In the land of Hoosiers

HAUBSTADT, Ind. — I’m taking a break from the road right now. I’m at a Pilot travel stop just north of Evansville, approximately 25 miles (40 km) east of the Indiana-Illinois state line. 

Lot of driving yesterday. I left Crista’s office in Hays at 10:45. I got to Kansas City International at 2:45, parked my car at the bottom of the garage adjacent to terminal C, then rode the shuttle bus to the rental car counter. 

I thought as an Avis Preferred member, my car parking spot would be listed on the monitor. It wasn’t, and I was a little upset that I would have to wait some. Fortunately, it didn’t take long, and I got a pretty good land barge, I mean SUV, to drive. 

Kansas City to St. Louis on Interstate 70 was fine–until I tried to locate my hotel. I got off on Interstate 270 and thought I could reach it from there. Nope, but at least I got some drinks at QuikTrip. I got lost on the exit I thought I had to take, so I crossed the Missouri River and then went back across. Finally found it after looking it up on Google maps. 

Dead tired last night. No time for a visit to Buffalo Wild Wings. No time for anything, except sleep, which I did well. 

Left St. Louis at 9:45. I passed completely through Illinois and into Indiana. I attempted to blog from my iPad at the Indiana welcome center, but the Bluetooth on my iPad is a little funky since it interacted with the Bluetooth in the rental car.

The rental car is very neat. I plugged my iPod into a USB port, and it would play the music and show the full information–song, arist, album, and cover art. Very nice. 

I think I’m still on Central time, but I’ve set my watch to Eastern time in anticipation of the change coming up along Interstate 64. 

Lexington is about three hours away. I’ll be in Kentucky sooner than that, passing through the heart of Louisville. 

The forecast is pretty gloomy most of the weekend. Rain, and lots of it. I saw up to an inch Saturday. If there is no game Saturday, that means two 7-inning games Sunday. That would not bother me. I’m in Lexington until Monday morning anyway. 

I’m going to stock up on food and drink and keep on going. Not really that hungry, and besides, I want to eat good in Lexington. 

LSU vs. Ole Miss: ye olde memories

My alma mater, LSU, hosts Ole Miss in a three-game Southeastern Conference baseball series beginning tonight in Baton Rouge. The series is starting tonight in order to avoid playing on Easter if at all possible. Of course, if it rains one day, as it is want to do in south Louisiana this time of year, the Sunday can be used as a makeup date. 

The LSU-Ole Miss baseball series may not be as famous as the football series between the Bayou Bengals and the Rebels, but it has a intensity all its own, one which was ratcheted up several notches in 2001, when former LSU catcher and assistant coach Mike Bianca became Ole Miss’ skipper. 

Bianco has taken the Rebels to unprecedented heights, the longest run of sustained success in Oxford since Ole Miss began playing the sport in the late 19th century. The Rebels enjoyed spurts of success under Tom Swayze in the 1960s and early 1970s, and again under former Major Leaguers Jake Gibbs and Don Kessinger in the 1980s and 1990s, but Bianco has made the Rebels a consistent regional participant and brought Ole Miss on par with Mississippi State, something never dreamed possible when Ron Polk had the SEC’s dominant baseball program and the Rebels were just one of the nine other teams in the league. 

Even before Bianco arrived at Ole Miss, there have been some very interesting moments between the Rebels and Bayou Bengals on the diamond in the last quarter century. To wit:

1992–A line drive hits LSU ace pitcher Lloyd Peever in the head. Peever is knocked unconscious and is forced to leave the game, but miraculously, he is not seriously hurt, and does not miss a start. Peever would go on to finish the season 13-0 and earn consensus All-America honors in what turned out to be his lone season in Baton Rouge. 

1995–Many LSU players come down with food poisoning following a team meal in Jackson. LSU loses the opener 6-0 to Rebel All-American Jamey Price, and coach Skip Bertman is forced to scratch scheduled game two starter Brett Laxton in favor of Brian Winders, who has been exclusively used as a reliever throughout his career. Winders pitches the game of his life, firing a no-hitter until two out in the bottom of the ninth, when a Rebel pinch-hitter spoils it with a wind-aided home run. The Tigers win 2-1, but would lose the rubber game 6-2. 

1997–Two years after Winders’ near no-hitter, Patrick Coogan almost does Winders one better. Coogan, who would earn consensus All-America honors following the season, cuts through the Rebels’ lineup better than a knife through butter. He retires the first 11 batters he faces, then has a 1-2 count on Justin Huisman. Two pitches appear to catch the corner, but home plate umpire Larry Waggoner rules them balls, much to the disgust of Bertman. On the full count pitch, Huisman launches a home run. It would be the Rebels’ only baserunner of the game. Coogan sets an LSU nine-inning record by facing only 28 batters in a 7-1 victory. 

1998–LSU ends the season in Oxford. The Tigers need a combination of two wins and/or Florida losses to clinch the SEC championship. LSU wins game one 11-4. Then it goes south. Ole Miss wins 9-0 and 10-8, leaving the Bayou Bengals one-half game behind Florida, which swept Georgia at home on the final weekend. The Gators benefitted from a rainout at Alabama on opening weekend after the Crimson Tide won the first two games of the series. 

1999–In the rubber game of an otherwise mundane series, Trey McClure makes a leaping catch near the center field fence in the fourth inning. Ole Miss’ runners are on the move, believing there was no way McClure would catch the ball. The Tigers take advantage: McClure to Josh Dalton to Ryan Theriot to Jeff Leaumont for the triple play, just the third for LSU since 1965. 

2001–Bianco’s first Ole Miss team comes to Baton Rouge for Easter weekend in what will be Bertman’s final series vs. the Rebels. The Tigers crush the Rebels in game one 13-2, but the second game is a totally different story.  The Rebels take turns battering LSU pitching worse than a piñata. It gets so bad Bertman elects to let shortstop Ryan Theriot pitch in the ninth inning rather than waste any more arms for the series finale. Ole Miss wins 23-10, but Bertman’s strategy pays off when LSU wins the rubber game. 

In the SEC tournament a month later, LSU is caught with its pants down when Ole Miss turns a routine fly ball into a triple play. The Rebels lose, and would lose again to LSU two days later. 

2002–Smoke Laval’s first SEC road series is in Oxford. Following an 11-3 Ole Miss win in game one, LSU resorts to trickery to help it win the second game.

Wally Pontiff successfully executes the hidden ball trick at third base. I was the only person in the press box who knew what happened when the Rebel runner all of a sudden walked back to the dugout. Score it 5 unassisted, picked off. 

The next day, Ole Miss shells LSU’s bullpen for five runs in the eighth to win 10-8 and claim the series. The decisive blow is a grand slam, one which Tiger center fielder David Raymer almost fell over the fence chasing. The Tigers were 2-4 in the SEC after the series (LSU lost 2 of 3 in its opening series to Vanderbilt), but would recover nicely to host a regional (and win) before being shut out twice by Rice in a super regional at Houston. 

2003–Nothing really notable on the field, as LSU takes 2 of 3 in Baton Rouge. The biggest news comes on the public address system, where my man, Bill Franques, takes two days off to attend to personal business. The radio voice of the LSU women’s basketball and softball teams, Patrick Wright, fills in Friday, while the voice of Tiger Stadium and the Pete Maravich Assmebly Center, Daniel Stanford Borne, fills in Saturday. 

Bill Franques is now in his 29th season as LSU baseball publicity director. TWENTY NINTH season. If he isn’t inducted into the College Baseball and College Sports Information Directors Halls of Fame, I’m going to have to write some nasty letters. Just kidding about the nasty part, but I will inquire. God bless Yvette, his lovely wife, for putting up its Bill being gone so often. Lesser women might not have held up. 

There were so many good men (and women) I met during my years at LSU. I treated many of them very poorly. I feel beyond awful about it, and I still do. I feel like I should go to Birmingham during the SEC tournament and apologize. Maybe my mentor, Herb Vincent, who is now an Executive Associatie Commissioner with the SEC, can help. 

I cannot wait to see Bill next weekend in Lexington. I’m also looking forward to seeing Kentucky for the first time. I’ve heard nothing but great things, but I also hear there is too much smoking, which I don’t like. 

It’s almost noon. I’m at the Buffalo Wild Wings near Liberty (technically, the restaurant is inside the Kansas City city limits, but everyone terms it Liberty since it is in Clay County, and it avoids confusion with the B-Dubs at Zona Rosa, which is in Platte County). Maybe it’s time to order some food. 

LSU dusts off Mizzou

LSU will soon be leaving Columbia, and not a moment too soon for Missouri.

The Bayou Bengals completed the three-game sweep with a 15-2 rout, pounding out 20 hits. LSU scored five runs in the first and five more in the seventh as it improved to 11-0 all-time vs. Missouri.

LSU also scored five runs in the fifth inning of Friday’s 7-5 win, and again in the seventh of a 9-5 triumph.

The Bayou Bengals will return to Baton Rouge at 25-11, 9-6 in the SEC, and feeling pretty good heading into next weekend’s series with Mississippi State at Alex Box Stadium.

Missouri, meanwhile, has to lick its wounds all week before going to the other Columbia to play South Carolina next weekend. From the frying pan to the fire, that’s SEC baseball life.

I’ll see Bill, Chris Blair and David Landry off, then it’s back to the Courtyard for me. A lot of work to do tonight and tomorrow morning before I go to Kansas City. I’ll pack as much as I can; I already have my clothes ready. I just have to shower and shave in the morning and pack the rest.

Okay, that’s all from the Mizzou campus. I’ll try to post back at the hotel.