Thursday, July 28, 2011

9 Reasons to Follow College Baseball: Rivalries

This is part 7 of our weekly series on 9 reasons to follow College Baseball.


Baseball knows rivalries. Cardinals - Cubs. Yankees - Red Sox. Dodgers - Giants.

But no Major League rivalry can hold a candle to college rivalries for history, tradition and fierce enthusiasm. Duke-UNC; Michigan-Ohio State; UCLA-USC; Army-Navy.

College Baseball has all those rivalries, plus a few unique to to the sport. For example, Nebraska-Creighton is bigger deal in baseball than in other sports. had a feature on some of the best College Baseball rivalries a few years ago (Rivals Five: College Baseball Rivalries) that included Tice vs. Texas, a rivalry pretty much exclusive to baseball, plus other baseball rivalries like Long Beach State-Cal State Fullerton, LSU-Tulane and Georgia-Georgia Tech.

Mizzou Baseball has its own set of rivalries, some of which are shared by other MU sports, and some of which are more specific to Baseball:
  • KU Still Sucks. The MU-KU rivalry is one of the biggest and fiercest college rivalries in the country, stretching back to its roots in the Civil War. And its no different for Baseball.

    MU-KU Baseball has spawned its own stories and legends and villains. Ritch Price leading his team in subbing the traditional post-game handshakes. Brock Bond and Ryne Price colliding and fighting at third base. The Simmons Savages talking trash with the famous father of former Jayhawk A.J. Van Slyke.

    I've mentioned on more than one occasion the midweek game that clued my young son into the severity of the MU-KU rivalry. Tiger pitcher Jay Bell pitched a quick (barely over 2 hours) shutout against the Jayhawks in one of those "non-conference" games against KU at Simmons Field. After the game fans were laughing and trading high fives. And the father of one of Bell's team-mates told his son to go invite the pitcher to go with them to dinner, because he had just earned "the biggest, best steak he ever had".

    My son, who was about 10 at the time, asked men "What's the big deal? I thought you said this one doesn't even count in the conference?" And so I had the traditional father-son "facts of life" conversation - the facts about the evil birds from Lawrence and the necessity of always affirming the eternal truth that "KU Sucks".

    The football and basketball rivalries get more press, but the baseball rivalry is no less intense.

  • Texas is a rival of the Tigers in all sports, simply because everyone at UT from the lowliest fan up to their store-bought conference commissioner thinks the Longhorns are God's gift to college athletics. They're the BMOC and they don't care who knows it or who gets knocked aside when they throw their weight around.

    In Baseball, a great rivalry has developed since UT was grafted into the Big 12. Texas has a well deserved reputation for success in baseball over the years, with a long historic tradition. And as with everything else, they act like they own college baseball, the Big 12 and even Taylor Stadium. No other team hijacks the stadiums they visit by standing in front of their fans before and after every game and singing their silly school song. No one wants to hear "I've Been Working on the Railroad" from the visiting team.

    But what makes this rivalry especially good is that, while Texas has certainly thumped the Tigers decisively many times, Mizzou has done more than its expected share of roping and branding the Longhorns, too.

    And there's nothing quite so special as seeing UT Coach Augie Garrido dressed up in 23 layers, turtle neck pulled up and ski mask pulled down, shivering in the far corner of their dugout, wishing his boys would stop giving up so many runs to the Tigers and delaying his chance to get in out of the cold of Simmons Field and go have his bedtime drinks.

  • Missouri State: The Bears don't warrant much attention from most Mizzou fans. Their football team is non-existent and their basketball team is only worthy of attention if the ladies are playing. But in baseball, the Tigers and Bears meet each year in a home-and-away series, which is always a hard fought pair of games. MSU is not the force it once was in baseball, back before it stole Mizzou's name and one bad-seed player, and actually went to the World Series. But there's still enough equity between the teams - especially for mid-week games - to provide strong competition, a good game, and some in-state enmity.

  • Wichita State: MU and WSU haven't played head-to-head since 2004, in spite of the fact that their head coach is a former Mizzou Tiger player. Or is it because he's the head coach? There's definitely some bad blood between the two programs. Personally, I'd love to see a home-and-away series renewed. The Shockers are usually a decent team competitively, although they're not what they used to be. And the opportunity to heckle Gene Stephenson (who also isn't what he used to be) would make for some entertaining mid-week evenings.

  • Coaches we loved to bait: There are still some great coaches who provide ample opportunity for barbs and arrows - Augie Garrido, Ritch Price, Rob Childress - but regular fans miss the ones who have slipped away. Tom Holliday, who was once the OSU head coach and then the UT pitching coach, was by far the most heckle-able coach ever to set foot in Taylor Stadium. His insistence that we not make fun of his boys by heckling them may have been a bit counter-productive on his part, and his legendary temper providied at least one good show every time the Cowboys came to town. And now we'll be missing Mike Anderson, whose Huskers not only left for the Big 10 but left without him. Not too many coaches were sunglasses during night games. Not too many look like a yipping hyena when they go after an umpire. And not too many trot to third base like they're wearing a girdle one size too small.

  • Rival fans: I've already mentioned the Texas fans and their "Eyes of Texas" bluster. But there are other schools whose fans have provided great entertainment and rivalry at Simmons Field over the years.

    Nebraska fans travel in hordes like their football fans and they wear those ridiculous red outfits. Nothing makes me laugh harder than seeing a bunch of red-clad Cornhusker fans stand up in unison at a baseball game and act like they're at a football game, shouting out, "GO BIG RED!"
And then there's the guy from Kansas State, their own obsessive Super Fan who makes our loveable Larry seem like a calm and placid young man.

If it's a spirited rivalry that gets your blood going; if you're a True Son of Ol' Mizzou, the ballpark is the place for you.

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