Crisp, flat bills. High, striped socks. A springtime spectrum of colorful bats, and youthful public address announcers. That's what I think about when college baseball comes to mind.
From my days watching games at Dedeaux Field in the 90s, to currently watching the NCAA tournament on the ESPN family of networks, I've devised many questions and formed many mental notes about the game. Surely, it is America's pastime, but slightly different from your grandma's Mickey Mantle days.
1. Why do all college baseball players look alike?
Whether it's Hofstra, Nebraska, or Fullerton, for some reason every college ballplayer looks like a mirror image of the rest. Their dusty, and tattered pants hang at the knee, and their faces are covered in eye black like ancient native warriors.
Why is this? Few players in the major leagues are dressed in such a way, and yet college nearly parallels the lower rungs of minor ball.
2. Why do big colleges rule in the East, but smaller funded schools reign supreme in the West?
Miami, Florida State, Texas and LSU all are big time programs in every sport they field. UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton, and Long Beach State however, are full of Orange County kids that all want to stay home for college. They lack the 80,000 seat football stadium, and the big time hoops matchup on Tuesday nights, but these are the schools that put out the Evan Longorias of the world. How? Why?
Why is it that USC, UCLA, and Cal Berkeley are not loaded with the crop of talent that they are in every other sport? What makes the smaller schools more attractive to the typical high school kid? And why are the big name coaches going to these schools?
USC legend Mike Gillespie left the school to go coach at UC Irvine, a baseball program that is still in its infancy, and he's been a big part of their rise to prominence. What makes the Anteaters more appealing than USC? I don't get it.
3. Why is it that teams score so many runs?
In a regional game last week, Florida State pulled a Gator move on Ohio State, beating the nutty Bucks 37-6. It was 31-0 in the fifth inning, and they still kept hitting home run after home run. Yes, they use metal bats, and what have you, but does that really explain for 37 runs?
While that many runs are not commonplace, seeing a team reach the 10 or even 15 run plateau is nearly routine. LSU used to pride itself on "Guerrilla Ball," a style of play that based a team's offense almost solely on the long ball. Is pitching really that bad, that swinging for the fences can win you games? Too bad LSU couldn't offer a scholarship to Alfonso Soriano.
4. Why can't professionals care about the game as much as college players?
For all nine innings (or 26 innings if you root for Texas or Boston College), college players wrap around the perimeter of the dugout, a la managers in spring training, as the fence is just a suggestion. They spit seeds like the pros, but they have more passion than Papelbon and Valverde combined.
Gone are the days of sitting on tubs of seeds and balls, college players stand nearly all game long and clap and cheer like their life depends on it. (Soriano, A-Rod, Manny and company, please take note).
5. Lastly, who gave press credentials to Phil Nevin?
Phil Nevin, known for his no-trade clause, several injury rehabs, and the ability to hit a ball a mile, somehow has landed himself on ESPNU. I've been stuck twice with the man, and I must say that I'm baffled at his appointment as an analyst.
Not only is his bias towards Cal State Fullerton worse than Peter Gammons and the Red Sox, but his voice irritates my ears of its awkward timbre, while his expertise is rather minimal. Please, let me enjoy the Super Regionals without Phil Nevin. Please.
What is it about College Baseball that is so maddening? This game is crazy, odd, and yet awesome at the same time. Too bad it's only out-shining the Stanley Cup Finals. Kobe Bryant, Randy Johnson and Roger Federer have taken the spotlight from baseball that is still played with fire and determination.