Friday, June 4, 2010

Tip of the Cap 2010: And the winner is . . .

Best Hair

Today is the final installment in our annual Tip of the Cap awards. To wrap things up, we look at the winners and otherwise notables in selected categories.

Base Cadet

We give out the Base Cadet Award annually to the Tiger base runner who exhibits the most creativity (and sometimes the most fool-hardy daring) on the base paths. Former Base Cadets include Brock Bond (currently making a name for himself in the SF Giants' organization) and Ian Kinsler (currently an All Star-worthy second baseman for the Texas Rangers).

But can we give the annual Base Cadet award to a fielder and not a base runner?

Early in the season, Brett Nicholas, normally a catcher, was playing third base in the 9th inning against Florida Atlantic, in the Auburn Classic. Two outs, runner on second. The batter hits the ball between third and short and Nicholas fields it. Instead of throwing to first to get the final out, he takes off chasing the runner, who has advanced toward third base. Chases him all the way back to second base and applies the tag just a moment before the runner reaches safety.

Might have been an easier way to get that out.

Then again, Mr. Nicholas was on the other end of a fielder making a mad charge at a baserunner during a game on March 19th against the Fighting Sioux. When Nicholas made a dash for home, one of the North Dakota infielders came charging across the field toward him. Instead of trying to outrun the fielder to home, Nicholas stopped and then headed back to third. Perhaps a good decision for a catcher turned third baseman. But he ended up in a rundown that resulted in him being tagged out. In the meantime,freshman Eric Garcia tried to take advantage of the situation and took off from second toward third - and also ended up tagged out. Not one of the better base running displays by the Tigers this season.

The Jay Bell Award

We give out this annual award to the Mizzou player who distinguishes himself in action action the Jayhawks of Kansas. The award is named in in honor of a particularly memorable performance back in 1998 by former Tiger Jay Bell (96-98).

Unfortunately, the Tigers were 0-4 against the Ugly Birds in 2010. Looking back, though, one player's performance stands out and exemplifies his quietly consistent performance for the Tigers in 2010.

Infielder stays consistent for Missouri baseball team (Columbia Missourian)
Stay calm.

That has been important for Missouri freshman second baseman Eric Garcia, especially in the tough situation he was in to start the season.
. . .
In Missouri’s 10-3 loss to Kansas on Friday at Hoglund Ball Park in Lawrence, Kan., Garcia stayed consistent. While his teammates struggled batting, Garcia had two hits, including a solo home run, his fifth of the season.
. . .
“He’s real quiet,” Nicholas said. “He just goes about his business. He’s here every day, working hard. There’s not a day that goes by that he’s not getting better."
Over the 4 games against KU, Garcia had 5 hits in 16 at-bats (.312), with 3 runs, 4 RBI, 1 2B and 1 HR

Black & Gold Glove

Dane Opel was a workhorse and a wizard in the outfield, finishing the season with no errors, and many great plays.

Vs. Texas A&M, March 27
Trailing by one to start the inning, Tyler Naquin began the rally with a line single on the first pitch back through the box, and Brandon Wood followed with an 0-1 base hit through the left side to put the winning run on base. The next batter, Brodie Greene, drove a deep fly ball to the track in right, but Tiger outfielder Dane Opel made a great running catch at the wall. The out moved Naquin to third and brought Smith to the plate.
Vs. Texas, May 27
In the top of the eighth inning with the score tied at 4 and Texas was threatening to take the lead, a ball was hit towards the gap off the bat of Texas first baseman Tant Shepherd. But Missouri freshman outfielder Dane Opel ran and made a perfect dive to make the catch and keep the game tied.
To keep Dane humble, though, I'll provide a link to this great photo by Jeff Lautenberger.

The John McKee HBP award

Missouri is not known for getting hit by pitches quite like the team was a few years back. There's no one who racks up anywhere close to the record 35 HBPs collected by John McKee back in 2007.

But three Tigers seemed to be ball magnets, tying for third in HBPs at 12. It's not surprising that two of them are catchers - Brett Nicholas and Ryan Ampleman. The third is an outfielder with the tough mindset of a catcher, Dane Opel.

Best walk-up tune

Some of the walk-up tunes make me wince (I'm an old geezer), some of them make me tap my feet, but there was one that killed me over and over again. Whenever Kelly Fick entered a game in relief, the theme from the TV show Dexter was played - an appropriate theme for a reliever, since Dexter is about a serial killer.

The Mark Alexander "Phoenix" Award

Mark Alexander, aka "The Barbarian", was the Tigers' dominant closer in 2004. He had struggled through much of his time at Mizzou with consistency and resurrected his career from the "ashes" in his senior year with great success - and as one of the great characters of the game.

I was reminded of Al every time I watched Phil McCormick come into a game in the late innings. The crowd would perk up in anticipation, and the opposing batters would wince as they watched the first warm-up pitches.

Phil very nearly pitched himself off the team at one point, before he began toying with dropping his delivery lower. When he first tinkered with the new pitch, it was more side-arm, then dropped a little lower. At the beginning of 2010 it was obvious that during the off-season McCormick had studied and refined the craft of the submariner, because he now was staring in for the catchers sign from an already bent over double stance, and his motion seemed to be nearly dragging his knuckles in the dirt as he sent the wicked and wandering pitch somewhere in the vicinity of the strike zone.

Phil has been a joy to watch this season, and we're glad he stuck with the pitch and that the team stuck with him.

If you build it

Taylor Stadium underwent some renovations for the 2010 season. Actually, much of it was during the season.

On a sunny afternoon in late March, the construction crew decided the weather was perfect for pouring the concrete in the area of the new bleachers down the right field line. I'm guessing they didn't know about the game scheduled for 3:00.

They were only about a third of the way finished with the concrete pouring when the game started, and everyone was waiting to see what would happen when a foul ball headed that direction.

Which of course, it did. More than once. The photo above is borrowed from , where JJ Stankewitz was blogging live from the game.

In the end, there was a lot more to watch than just the foul balls plopping into wet cement. The Tiers beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff 28-2, in a run-rule shortened game.

Event Staff Not-so Nazi

In recent years, some of the Event Staff have conducted their duties in a way that has given rise to the phrase "Event Staff Nazis" among the regular fans. We understand they have a job to do, but do they have to take the power trip so seriously?

In 2020, however, there seemed to be a change. There still was the occasional over-zealousness by the crew in grasshopper green. But overall, this was a kinder and gentler Event Staff. There was even one fellow, whose name I never got, who was quite friendly and jovial about his job, which I appreciated.

Trrip Note: I later found out the friendly Event Staffer's name when he was featured in the Columbia Missourian: Ron Lueck

Stand By Your Son Award

A tip of the cap to all the parents of all the players, who do so much to support their sons and to support the team.

But a special tip of the cap to Jim and Kathy Senne, who have attended an outstanding number of MU games, considering they live in Minnesota, and have not only supported their son for four years, but have been leaders among the Parents' group through those years.

And a final farewell to the Big 12 Player of the Year

As a send off to Mr. Senne, the Big 12 Player of the Year and a Louisville Slugger All American, let me rerun something from the 2007 version of the Tip of the Cap Awards, Aaron's freshman year:
"We taught him how to do that!"

One of the small highlights of the season for me was the weekend when Jim Senne introduced to me a young man who had driven all the way to Columbia from Rochester, MN to watch Aaron Senne play ball. Turns out this was one of Aaron's coaches along the way, in Legion ball (I did not catch his name).

As the team played Texas Tech that weekend, I was not sitting far from Aaron's old coach, who had claimed a front row seat for himself. At one point, when Aaron hit a long ball that he stretched into a double, the coach's face lit up like the 4th of July. He turned around to Aaron's dad and I could easily read his lips amid the crowd noise as he shouted, "We taught him to do that! You and I taught him to do that!"
I also came across a web page by an assistant coach on Aaron Senne's high school team.

A tip of the cap to Aaron Senne's Legion coach - and to all the coaches in Little League, High School, American Legion, summer leagues, and wherever they toil, patiently training young boys in how to play the game. And they do it simply for the love of the game, which is where the boys learn to love the game so much.

There have been better seasons for the Missouri Tigers, but this was a team that showed over and over again that they love to play the game. And here's a final tip of the cap from an old fan who loves to watch them love the game.

259 days and counting . . .

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