Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Tip of the Cap to Oklahoma Sooners Baseball

It was April of 1995 when the Antlers showed up for a Mizzou Baseball game.

The Oklahoma Sooners were in town, including their first baseman, Ryan Minor, who had caught the attention of the Antlers when he played against MU in basketball.  It was a rowdy night at the ballpark as Mizzou's designated hecklers entertained the crowd.

The records show Missouri lost, shut out 8-0, but it stands out as a representative rowdy game out of many battles between MU and our old Big 8 rival, the Sooners.

I also vividly recall a Saturday double-header against Oklahoma at pre-Taylor-Stadium Simmons Field.  The game had been rained out or snowed out or just plain frozen out the night before, so a few crazy fans showed up for a Saturday twin-bill in the cold and wind, with occasional spitting rain and snow flurries.  I recall taking a tarp to the game with me and constructing a makeshift tent on the top row, up against the old press box.  I left a hole just large enough to watch the game through, and soldiered on through all of game one and about half of game two before I finally gave up and went home.

Missouri Baseball first played the Sooners of Oklahoma in 1912, losing 2-1.

Oklahoma joined the original Missouri Valley Conference in 1920, and stayed with the new Big 6 Conference that was formed in 1928.

1938 was the year for a remarkable game between the Tigers and Sooners, one that almost resulted in a no-hitter for legendary Tiger pitcher Carl Miles, and featured one young man's grandfather at a key moment.

From the 1920s through the '50s, the Sooners were perennial contenders in the conference, winning the conference championship 16 times in a 29-year span.  That era, led by coach Lawrence Haskell and then Jack Baer, also saw their first National Championship, in 1951.  That year the Tigers lost to the Sooners in a 5-4 contest.  That was the year before John "Hi" Simmons' '52-'65 Tiger dynasty began to dominate the conference and make repeated appearances in the CWS.

In the '70s Head Coach Enos Semore led OU to another string of conference championships (6 out of 7 straight years).  In the 80s the Sooners were still a great team, but consistently came in 2nd place to the powerhouse Oklahoma Sate teams of Gary Ward, while the Tigers consistently came in 3rd or 4th.

The Sooners won the National Championship again in 1994 under Larry Cochell.  On the way to that improbable CWS win, OU swept Missouri in no less than 6 games, including a 15-2 bludgeoning in the Big 8 Tournament.

Larry Cochell was always appreciated by MU fans, since his presence meant Tim Jamieson was not the shortest person on the field.

When Larry Cochell was abruptly removed from his position in 2005, many so-called experts considered Tim Jamieson to be Sooners' Athletic Director Joe Castiglione's first choice for the job.  Castiglione had originally hired Jamieson when he was AD at MU.  But that was not in the cards.

Instead, Joe C. unwittingly kicked off a screwball comedy when he announced the hire of Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson (an MU alum, although not much loved by MU Baseball fans), who then backed out and tearfully returned to his Shockers.  Castiglione then hired OU assistant coach Sunny Golloway to replace Cochell, a choice that has turned out to be pretty good for the Sooners.

♦ I witnessed one of the best plays I've ever seen at Simmons Field in early April, 2009, in a game against Oklahoma.
For all the miscues that put the Tigers in a hole, center fielder Ryan Lollis produced a highlight-reel play.

In the top of the ninth with a runner on second, Oklahoma first baseman Aaron Baker smashed a Gibson pitch high into the Columbia sky.

Lollis ran to the warning track and leapt into the air, while extending arm over the outfield wall, to snag the ball as it went over the fence. The play would rob Baker of a home run and kept two runs off the scoreboard.

Lollis then threw the ball to second base to get the double-play and was mobbed at third by teammates.

"I was on cloud 10," Lollis said. (Columbia Missourian, 4/3/2009)
And speaking of that highlight-reel:

Conference realignment will force a road more traveled for baseball (, 5/29/2010)
"Don't think I haven't thought about it," admitted Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway. "When I first heard about it, the possibility of Nebraska and Missouri leaving, I started thinking, who could potentially be. ... right then, I stopped. I'm the baseball coach. We understand, we're a baseball program within the athletic department. We're proud of football. It's the program that drives (the athletic department). It's the engine. We understand that.

"My bosses, Joe (Castiglione), President (David) Boren, they're going to tell us who we're going to go play. What needs to be done in the best interest for our university will be done. I just hope it works out for the best for all of our sports, including baseball."

Here's a Tip of the Cap to the Oklahoma Sooners and Big 8 Baseball. May we meet again.  Diamonds are forever.

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