Thursday, August 11, 2011

9 Reasons to Follow College Baseball: It's Baseball

Part 9 of our weekly series on 9 reasons to follow College Baseball.

It's Baseball!

I've been a baseball fan since my dad took my brothers and me to semi-pro games in Sioux City, Iowa when we were little kids. We had the run of the ball field, played with friends, and watched the games from time to time.

Then we moved to Columbia in 1965 and I became a Cardinals fan because all my friends were Cardinal fans. In 1968 and 1969 I actually got to go to Busch Stadium with a busload of my fellow Safety Patrol boys. I saw Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton pitch, and became an instant fan of Tim McCarver (because his name was Tim, like mine).

I never made it back to see the Cards again until the 80's, when I made a point to go to one game every year during the Whitey-ball era. I became a fan of Ozzie Smith and Vince Coleman.
During all that time I listened to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon several nights a week, and arranged my work schedule so I could listen to day games while I worked.

And in all those years, living in Columbia, following and loving baseball, I never considered checking out Mizzou Baseball.

My boss got involved as a fan for 2 or 3 years in the mid-80's. Her husband had coached high school basketball at one point, and one of his former players was on the team, so they went to see him play. They got excited watching another kid they described as one of the best shortstops they'd ever seen.

I nodded my head and told myself they were crazy for settling for amateur baseball when the Cardinals and Royals were just down I-70. They lost interest after the shortstop, Dave Silvestri, got drafted and left the Tigers, and I returned to ignoring MU Baseball.

Then in 1988 I read an article about an Oklahoma State star named Robin Ventura. I checked the schedule and discovered the Cowboys were coming to Simmons Field soon. I bought a copy of Baseball America and read about college baseball and went to see the game. Ventura looked every bit as good as some of the players I was used to in the major leagues, but I very nearly froze to death at the game, and didn't make it back for awhile.

And then, in the spring of 1994, I read an article in the local paper about MU Baseball and their new coach. I went to a game and was cold again, but found myself enjoying myself. I went to 3 or 4 more games that season (more appropriately dressed) and learned more about college baseball.

The metal bats bothered me, with the crazy PING, but soon learned that those bats meant lots of offense, especially when players like Tom Buchman and Steve Bell were at the plate. I was bothered for awhile that the outfielders didn't get to balls that Willie McGee would easily track down. Until I realized these guys weren't Willie McGee, and that they were actually making some very good plays.

As the years went along I began to plan my days off from work around MU Baseball. Aaron Jaworowski had the sweetest swing I've seen. Ryan Fry was a hitting machine. Torre Tyson tore up the basepaths like the second coming of Vince Coleman. J.R. Warner had a rocket for an arm, throwing out runners from deep right fields, and he kept the dugout and the fans laughing with his antics. Jayce Tingler approached the plate with so much energy he would jump over his bat too loosen up, loosened his batting gloves and refastened them between each pitch, then would lay down a perfect bunt for a hit before disrupting the opposing team's focus by stealing base after base. W.T. Hoover hit the first home run ever to hit the roof of the Devine Pavilion - while it was still being built.

Justin Stine stymied batters and Chris George finished off the games. Garret Broshuis outwitted the hitters, Justin James scared them out of their cleats, and Mark Alexander (The Barbarian) intimidated them.

And all of that was before the team got really good and rattled off seven trips to the Regionals.

I could kick myself for all those years that I lived in the same town as Mizzou Baseball and never went to the games.

I missed Greg Cypret, Rob Pietroburgo, Tim Laudner, Phil Bradley, Tom Heckman, Dave Otto, Mike Rogers, Dave Silvestri and John Dettmer.

I never saw the 1976 and 1980 Big 8 Championship seasons.

I never saw John "Hi" Simmons coach a game.

It's baseball, the greatest game on earth, and it's right here on the Mizzou campus.

You don't want to miss what happens next.

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