Thursday, January 26, 2012

SEC Dixie-nary: SEC is for ...

“It’s both an incredible challenge and an incredible opportunity,” Missouri Coach Tim Jamieson said. “I think it’s something, having witnessed what we did when we went from the Big Eight to the Big 12 and the necessity to step up, we did it. I have no doubt that we’ll do it again when we go from the Big 12 to the SEC.” (Columbia Daily Tribune, 11/18/2011)

Coach Jamieson is obviously approaching the move to the SEC with a great attitude.  But the question remains:  What will it take to successfully "step up" to the SEC?

is for Simmons Field

3,630 fans at Simmons Field
2007 Regional
We've taken a look at the incredible game day atmosphere at many of the SEC ballparks, and at the huge crowd that come to see college baseball at stadiums that hold 5,000, 6,000, even 10,000 fans.

Surely the fans from those schools will laugh out loud when they see Simmons Field at Taylor Stadium, won't they?  A ballpark that holds a mere three thousand fans?  That will most likely have somewhere between 600 and 2,000 fans?  (MU's largest home crowd in 2011 was 1,176;  the average 2011 crowd was 476).

Well, yes they might.  I would if I were them.
@Ranger222 on Twitter: #SEC Baseball smack! LSU BASE vs. UF (3/18/11) 12,076; Mizzou Total 2011 Home attendance 13,344”
But we can do better.

The fans of Mizzou Baseball can spread the word and show up for the games.  Take as much  pride in supporting the team on a brisk day in mid-March as we do in supporting the football team on a chilly Saturday in November.  Savor the sunshine on those great spring afternoons.

The promotions staff in the athletic department needs to get serious and get creative about attracting not only the people of Columbia but the MU student body to the games.  Football and basketball are marketed like big events and are surrounded with an atmosphere of excitement.

The Athletic Department could learn from some of those SEC ADs, who learned from the Minor Leagues.  Going to the ballpark needs to offer more than just good baseball.  That's good enough for the hardcore fans like me.  But to really attract the attention of the students and to pull in the families from the area, there's got to be a party going on at the ballpark.

People are more than willing to sit in the autumn cold at Faurot Field to watch a football game, because it's an exciting experience, beyond the game itself.  A football game offers cheerleaders, Marching Mizzou, a big drum and a cannon, entertainment on the giant screens, and Truman the Tiger.   Not all of those will translate to the baseball field, but there are other things that can be offered to the modern baseball fan.  People need to be given a reason to endure the cold of March and the dreariness of April for the sake of being a part of the experience that is Mizzou Baseball.

That excitement factor regarding Simmons Field can start with the team.  I know the job of the coaches and the players is to put a quality product on the field, to play the game well, to win.  But they can also have an effect on the crowd and on the stadium atmosphere, too.

When a team lays claim to a stadium as their home turf, they will fight for it, defend it and be fiercely loyal to it.  Their devotion to their "house" will be contagious.  The fans in the stands will pick up on it and become fiercely (and noisily) loyal to their home turf as well.

Call it Taylor Stadium or Simmons Field.  Or Johnny Hi.  But call it home.

There's a huge Under Armour sign on the west face of the Devine Pavilion, visible just past the right field wall of Taylor Stadium.  The slogan on that sign should be the pledge and oath and rallying cry of both the Tigers and the Tiger faithful:
   Protect This House
Once the fans and the students are showing up in ever-increasing numbers, the pressure will be on to expand and upgrade the capacity and amenities at Taylor Stadium.  I don't expect Mizzou will ever need a 10,000 seat baseball stadium.  But Taylor Stadium could be increased to five or six thousand.  With luxury boxes and expanded concession selections and whatever else it takes to put fans in the seats.  Plus whatever facilities are needed to knock the socks off prospective recruits when they come to visit.

There's no place I'd rather be than at Simmons Field.  It shouldn't be too difficult to make it the destination of choice for other Tiger fans as well.

is for Edge
#22 Ian Kinsler has the EDGE

What is it that gives a player or a team an EDGE over the competition?
The eighth week of SEC baseball brought a sole team to the top of the conference standings. Vanderbilt gained a one-game advantage in the rankings thanks to series losses from South Carolina and Florida, giving the 'Dores a slight edge for the regular season crown with just two weeks left to play. All three teams will face struggles this week, as Florida will travel to Nashville to face Vandy in one of the season's most highly anticipated showdowns. The Gamecocks will have their own test, as a surging Arkansas - who just defeated Florida in a series last week - travels to Columbia. (, 5/11/11)
Losses by other teams can certainly give a team an EDGE, but you'd better have more going on for yourself than just sitting around hoping someone else loses.

One definition of EDGE is to have a mental EDGE, an unrelenting sharpness of the team's focus and determination to execute and attack.  Lose that, and you'll lose games.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri said he called off the dogs a bit when the Tigers were leading 10-1 Friday night, and his squad was never able to turn it back on for the rest of the series. 
“Our guys stopped swinging the bats with aggressiveness. They just kind of lost their edge,” said Mainieri. “The guys just kind of lost their intensity, I think, because we weren’t pushing forward, and we just never got it back the whole weekend.” (, 5/10/11)
Sometimes it doesn't take much of an EDGE.  A win by a single run is as good as a blow-out win.  A record with one more win than the second place team still means you're in first place.  For now.
Last year, the Gators traveled to Columbia, S.C., on the final weekend of the regular season and won two of three to edge the Gamecocks for the SEC title.
"But they got the last laugh," said Florida catcher and SEC player of the year Mike Zunino. "They got to hold the national championship trophy up." (, 6/27/11)
Too often, though, baseball coaches, players and fans respond to being on the downside of the EDGE by chalking it up to luck.  "That's just baseball."

And that is true.  There's always luck.  But teams who have a real EDGE find a way to turn the luck in their direction more often than not.

The EDGE doesn't come by accident.  You can't just show up at game time and hope your team has the EDGE tonight.  You can't just send your pitcher to the mound and hope he has his EDGE.

The EDGE doesn't come from TRYING to gain the EDGE.  The EDGE comes through TRAINING for the EDGE.

♦ Train for the EDGE by training to EXECUTE

Skip Bertman, legendary coach at LSU, wrote:
"The System" that we use at LSU focuses on playing high-percentage baseball in the most efficient manner possible.  You want your team to have more ways to win a game than your opponent.  It's just that simple.  Every time we play, I want our players to statistically have a better chance to win.  If we do this consistently every pitch, every out, every inning and every game, we'll obviously have a better chance at winning.  Assuming both teams have an equal talent, I would still want an "edge" for my team.  Our system works to find that statistical edge. (Skip: The Man and the System, Victory Publishing, 1992)
Eric Sorenson, CollegeBaseballToday, wrote this at the end of the 2011 College World Series, which came down to a final series between South Carolina and Florida, a pair of SEC teams:
"I really dig how bunting, defense and execution had such an impact this year. Simplify man. Simplify."    
John Cohen, Mississippi State Head Coach, talks about training for precision on
"There's a lot of hitting philosophy out there. Precision is what gets the job done, though. Let's take a look at the battle between a pitcher and a hitter to illustrate this point. A pitcher is trying to load up his energy and deliver it to a precise target. The hitter is trying to do the same thing - load up his energy and release it right back up the middle. The pitcher's job is to disrupt the hitters flow of energy with either pitch placement or by changing speeds. Take a curve ball - the curve ball reaches its apex and most hitters will follow the pitch up and their flow of energy is up instead of straight back toward the pitcher. Have you ever seen a hitter miss underneath a curve ball? Hardly, they miss above it and the pitcher has accomplished his goal of disrupting the hitters energy. Philosophy says stay back to hit the curve ball. Precision says work beneath the plane of the breaking ball." 
♦ Train for the EDGE by training for MENTAL TOUGHNESS
“Get it (the game) down to one inning, pitch by pitch, play by play. A winner or loser on every pitch. Now it’s about who is mentally the toughest.” (Augie Garrido, Head Baseball Coach, Texas)
Is there any team in the country with better leadership or greater mental toughness than the Gamecocks? I doubt it. The team chemistry is off the charts, and veterans like Scott Wingo, Adrian Morales and Michael Roth provide exemplary leadership by keeping everybody loose with their antics. We saw the 'refuse to lose' mentality on several occasions this season, especially when they faced crucial rubber games at Florida and against Vanderbilt. By winning those games, USC delivered a clear message - we're still the defending national champions. (, 5/23/11)
♦ Train for the EDGE by training to FINISH WELL
USC was 6-1 in rubber games this season, including 3-1 on the road. They swept three series (UK, at UT, Aub), but the outcome of seven series boiled down to Game 3 and the Gamecocks usually came through in the clutch. It started in March when USC followed a rubber game win over Georgia at home with a memorable 4-3 victory at Florida the following weekend over the No. 1 ranked Gators. Another celebrated Game 3 occurred April 17 when the Gamecocks beat No. 1 Vanderbilt, 5-3, at Carolina Stadium. One week later, they smashed Miss. State, 13-4, in the rubber game, jumpstarting a five-game conference winning streak. (10 Reasons USC won the SEC Titlte,, 5/23/11)
The Cal Bears 2011 season exemplifies what it means to Never Give Up, as told by Eric Sorenson in From Six-Feet Under to One of Eight Teams Left (, 6/12/11):
When I walked into Cal coach Dave Esquer’s office back in October to interview him about the impending demise of his program, he was all dressed out in his usual game-day uniform and immediately talked about never giving up. 
His team and his program were staring down at the final season of their existence and worrying about where they were going to play baseball the following season, but there Coach was, in his full game togs, talking about his team never quitting all fall long, not on the practice field, not on their hopes and not on each other. 
Cal celebrates making it to Omaha
“I’ve not seen a single hint of them quitting or getting discouraged despite everything that’s going on around them,” coach said at the time. “None.” 
Fast forward to the first weekend in June. That same never-quit mantra manifested itself in the ultimate payoff every coach wants to see: Omaha. 
Late on Sunday night, the Bears took down Dallas Baptist for the second straight time, by a 6-2 score, holding a potent Pats offense which came in hitting .311 to just four hits in all. That defensive/pitching clampdown led to an improbable celebration that no Cal baseball fan could’ve seen coming for this team this season. 
“To take this team this far is so gratifying.” Coach Dave Esquer said. “Before our first practice we learned that our program was being discontinued. So we gave our players the option, if they to skip practice and needed a day or two to collect their thoughts and talk to their parents then they could. But to a man, they all said ‘We’re practicing today.’ So they weren’t going to back away one inch from being with their teammates and doing what they do.” 
“I remember as a coaching staff we looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve got a different team here.’” 
That no-quit attitude has never subsided. Not through months of anguish, hints of reinstatement and promises of vanquishment again. Finally, in early April, the program got a boost when it was permanently brought back from lame-duck status.
South Carolina Head Coach Ray Tanner sums up what it takes to gain that EDGE:
One word- INVEST. If you want to get better, you have to invest. You have to put in the time that’s necessary to make it to that next level. Is that a guarantee that you will get a good return on your investment? No, but the guarantee is that if you don’t invest it’s not going to happen. That’s almost a definite. You can’t just say, I want to do this or I want to accomplish that. You actually have to live it. You have to show it. And if you do invest, than just maybe it comes to pass, but if it doesn’t work out, at least at the end of the day you can look yourself in the mirror and say, “You know what- I did the best I could.” (
Mizzou Baseball can be that kind of team that gains an EDGE in the SEC.  Tim Jamieson can be that kind of coach.  Conner Mach and Eric Anderson and Rob Zastryzny and Blake Holovach and every other player on the roster can be that kind of player.

is for Challenge
All the talk has been about what a challenge Mizzou faces playing against SEC competition.

@KendallRogersPG on Twitter: Joining the #sec gives the baseball program more challenges than it even had before. Not sure coach Jamieson should like this move. #mizzou

@BallPhid on Twitter: Mizzou joins SEC East baseball meat-grinder. Raises recruiting stakes. Jamison's 2 new Assts have big job

And that is no doubt true.

But the true challenge is for Mizzou Baseball to step up to the new level of competition.

Mizzou recruit Griffin Goodrich seems to be eager for the challenge:
"When I got the news Sunday morning, I woke up and right away it was pure excitement," he said. "It was awesome. The Big 12 is a great, prestigious conference, but to move down to the SEC for baseball, that's baseball country down there. You've got the top teams fighting for a trip to Omaha every year out of that conference. It's great competition."
Goodrich also is looking forward to the move as a sports fan. 
"Being an athlete, it will be great to play against great competition," he said. "But also being a student, to go watch those games. To come see Kentucky or Florida come to Mizzou for basketball, those are the top teams in the nation. Come see Alabama (football) take a visit to Columbia. That would be awesome to see. You're seeing the top teams in the country. It will be a great experience to watch and be a part of as well." (

The only way for the Tigers to be a success against the SEC is to Bring the Challenge to our new opponents.  Challenge them to play up to Mizzou's level.  Challenge them on every pitch, every at-bat, every play.

Tim Jamieson and his team need to put the SEC on notice that the biggest challenge they'll face every season is to do battle with the Tigers of Mizzou.

Just as the Tigers need to make the small step up to compete in the SEC, the converse is also true"
“We've gotten better, but as I reminded the team there is just a few steps between the outhouse and the penthouse. You've got to play with heightened awareness all the time.” (Ray Tanner, Head Coach, CWS Champion South Carolina Gamecocks)
Only a few steps.

Perhaps the question should be this:
Is the rest of the SEC up to the Challenge?

To read the rest of our SEC Dixie-nary posts, click HERE

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