Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Tip of the Cap: 2004

"A Tip of the Cap" is SimmonsField.com's annual end-of-the-year awards tradition, named in honor of legendar MU coach John "Hi" Simmons' trademark gesture.

The Barbarian

MU's closer in 2004 was senior Mark Alexander, called "The Barbarian" by his teammmates". He came in from the bullpen each time accompanied by the "Braveheart" theme song playing on the public address system. Story goes that he once stood up on a cafeteria table in the athletes' dining hall and recited from memory one of Mel Gibson's soliloquies from "Braveheart" - several minutes long.

The first thing you notice about Al as he takes the mound is his ball cap. The bill is perfectly flat, unlike the curved bill most people sport. And it's not level -- he wears his cap slightly askew, pointing toward the visitors' on-deck circle when he faces home plate. It's not always at the exact same angle; I sometimes think the more cockeyed the angle, the more cockeyed mood he is in.

And does get in some cockeyed moods. He is definitely a character on the team.

But this season he has taken on a mound persona that is dominating, going after opposing batters like William Wallace after his English adversaries.

For those of us who have been around MU Baseball awhile, watching Al at his finest is very gratifying. This is a guy who has struggled through most of his college career with inconsistency. Sometimes he would be fantastic, other times he would be like a can of gasoline on the fire. But he has finally figured out how to be disciplined in his approach and become the #1 closer in the Big XII.

It's never dull at Simmons Field when The Barbarian enters the stage.

The Championship Season

2004 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1954 Baseball World Championship Season. Here at SimmonsField.com, we have been celebrating and commemorating that anniversary throughout the season, especially with our day-by-day re-creations of the '54 season (GO TO: Championship Season). Elesewhere, the "festivities" surrounding the occasion have been a bit underwhelming. But we do want to take this opportunity to tip our cap to the '54 Tigers and to...

Best celebration of the 50th anniversary

Brad Flanders, on February 21st, hit three home runs to lead Mizzou to a 21-4 victory over Coastal Carolina. He was only the second Missouri player to hit three homers in one game. The last time it happened was - you guessed it - in 1954, when Jerry Schoonmaker walloped a trio of round-trippers in a 21-1 victory over the Iowa State Cyclones in the last regular season game of that year. (Read the details of that game) Oddly enough, the following day Flanders and the '04 Tigers played Albany, whose roster included firstbaseman Dan Schoonmaker. The Tigers' starting pitcher that day against Schoonmaker and Albany was Nick Admire, whose grandfather has been a lifelong friend of Jerry Schoonmaker and his brother Bob.

Best ceremonial opening pitch

Prior to the annual wood-bat game vs. SLU at T.R. Hughes Ballpark in O'Fallon, four of the 1954 Tigers were introduced on the field. Ed Cook, who was the winning pitcher in the championship game against Rollins in the '54 CWS, was given the honor of throwing out the first pitch, which he did with grace and apparent ease, showing the crowd he still knows how to hit the catcher's mitt.

Cook, by the way, lives in the same neighborhood as MU freshman pitcher Nathan Culp.

The Jay Bell Award

I'll never forget the day in 1998 when senior pitcher Jay Bell took the mound against the Jayhawks in a mid-week game and pitched one of the quickest, most dominating shutouts I've ever seen. When the game was over and everyone was celebrating, my son asked me what was the big deal.

"It's just a shut-out," he said.

"No, Cody," I explained. "It's not just a shut-out. It's a shut-out of the Jayhawks."

I proceeded to explain to him the depth of the rivalry between MU and KU. He's been a diehard Beaker-hater ever since.
And so, we honor Jay Bell by invoking his memory as we honor the best performance against the Jayhawks.

This year's winner of the Jay Bell award is Garrett Broshuis, winner of the second game of the MU-KU series in Lawrence. The Tigers had lost the first game of the series the night before when Danny Hill inexplicably self-destructed. Broshuis came out and pitched 7 innings, surrendering just one run in what became a pitcher's duel. In the 5th inning, the Jayhawks had the bases loaded with nobody out, tied 1-1. Broshuis induced a come-backer to the mound, fielded it cleanly and threw to the plate for the first out in time for Cosme Caballero to whip it to Cody Ehlers at first for the second out. The next batter hit another one back to Brosh on the mound, who handled it nicely for the third out. The Tigers went on to win it, 2-1, Mark Alexander coming in to slam the door shut for the save.

Captain Donovan

Larry Donovan has been umpiring games at Simmons Field for years and years. A couple years back, it seemed that nearly every game at Simmons Field would feature either Larry Donovan or Bill Davis on the crew in blue.

Donovan stopped by one of the Saturday tailgate parties this April and told us that he is retiring from umpiring at the end of the 2004 season. His last assignment behind the plate at a Tigers game was at the MU-SLU Wood-Bat game in O'Fallon on April 28th. As usual his strike zone had more movement than the pitchers' fastballs. And, as usual, he performed the job with style and class.

Donovan is more than an umpire, though. He is also a Captain in the St. Louis Fire Department. Karen Rallo likes to tell the story of how she was at a parade in St. Louis not too long ago when several members of the Fire Department walked by. To her surprise, she recognized Larry Donovan and began to shout out to him, trying to get his attention. He did not respond to her outcry. She figures he has learned to tune out her voice yelling at him after eight years of calling balls and strikes on her sons.

Larry's bio at Umpire.org lists the following accomplishments: Captain, St. Louis Fire Department ... Division I Regionals, 1990, 1991, 1993-98 ... Big 8 Tournaments, 1991, 1996 ... Conference USA Tournament, 1997 … Metro Tournaments, 1982-90, 1992, 1994 ... MVC Tournaments, 1983-84, 1986, 1993 ... Currently works in Big 12 and Conference USA.

Umpire of the Year: McQueen of Diamonds

Ken McQueen wins this "coveted" honor, for his performance on April 16th during the Missouri-Nebraska contest.

During the 4th inning, Cornhusker Jake Mullanix took off from first base on a long double to right field by his teammate, Curtis Ledbetter. He rounded second, then rounded third and beat the throw home as he crossed the plate.

Two MU coaches sprinted from the dugout and pointed to third. The ball was tossed in to thridbaseman Jeremy Hernandez, who stepped on third. The umpire immediately called Mullanix, out, saying he had not stepped on third base.

Nattering Nabob Award

This year's winner of the "Tip of the Cap" for sports reporting is Kendall Rogers, founder and host of Big12Baseball.com. Now completing its third season of covering Big XI Baseball, Kendall's website began to really hit its stride this year. There is no better place for up-to-date information about everything involving baseball throughout the Big XII. Kendall manages to keep the craziest among us in check on the message boards, so that it has become a valuable forum for discussion and debate, as well as the quickest source of information and updates anywhere.

Good job, Kendall.

The Bermuda Triangle

The top three Tigers on the Errors list were, as usual, the shortstop, second baseman and thrid baseman. Gary Arndt (12), Zane Taylor (8) and Jeremy Hernandez (7) upheld a long-standing tradition, not only at MU but on most college baseball teams. The players that have to handle the most difficult plays are the ones who invetiably rack up the most errors.

Let it be said, though, that every one of these three showed themselves over and over again to be capable of making amazing plays. Jeremy Hernandez has been probably the best regular third baseman the Tigers have seen during the Jamieson years.

Best Road Trip

Speaking of J.Hern, this column would not be complete without mention of his spectacular base-running during the Texas A&M series. An Aggie fan noted online that it was refreshing to see a player with such a good attitude, since Hernandez appeared to be laughing as hard as the hecklers at his performance when he tripped over first base in his haste to beat the throw.

The most important part of that play, though: He was safe.

Taking one for the Team

Freshman 3rd baseman John McKee, pulled from the redshirt list in the second half of the season, lost no time in accelerating to the team lead in one category: HBP.
Johnny Mac managed to get plunked no less than 10 times in just 44 plate appearances. His HBP total matched that of Brad Flanders, who took about 192 plate appearances to rach that number (although I'm sure Brad would have definitely preferred to skip one of those - the one that broke his wrist).

If McKee earns the starting 3rd baseman's job next season, and matches Jeremy's 260 At-Bats, do you suppose he'll get hit 59 times?

Knucklehead of the Year

Without a doubt, the knucklehead play of the year occurred on the night of April 20th. When the game between MU and SMS was interrupted by a sudden torrential rain in the 8th inning, I had no doubt that the Tigers would wait out the storm to try to salvage a win, and that I wanted to be there when the game resumed.

So, I stood around under my umbrella and talked to the other few hearty souls who decided to stay. At one point I actually left the ballpark, drove to McDonalds for a cheeseburger and to Wal-Mart for dry socks.

The one thing I failed to do?

I didn't call my wife to tell her why I would be late.

I didn't even think about how I ought to have done so until my son walked into Simmons Field at about 11:15, asking me what in the world I was doing.
Knucklehead. That's me. And I'm not even a left-handed pitcher.

By the numbers...

Number of walks earned my MU batters
(#1 in Big XXI)

MU winning % vs. right-handers (24-9-1)

MU winning % vs. left-handers (14-14)

Average home attendance at Simmons Field

Average attendance at MU away games

Missouri's record against teams in the 2004 College World Series
2-1 vs. Texas
0-1 vs. Arkansas

Missouri's final RPI and ranking