Friday, June 15, 2012

A Tip of the Cap 2012: And the Winner is . . .

On the final day of our 2012 Tip of the Cap series, we take note of some of the special achievements by players, fans and others involved with the Tigers' 2012 season.

The Ian Kinsler Base Cadet Award
The nimble Ben Turner

For the first time in years there was no one player who stands out in my mind as being a true "base cadet" on the basepaths.  Sure, there were players who got caught between bases, but you never really know whether that was their fault or if the batter didn't come through on a called play.  Even the time Jake Ivory was inserted as a pinch runner and almost immediately got himself caught in a rundown between first and third - even that wasn't extraordinary.

And while the biggest base running blunder of the year was probably the full-speed-ahead charge toward home by Andreas Plackis in the season's final game, I think I'd have to give that award to Coach J.

So this year we're awarding the coveted honor to the Tiger who was without a doubt the most entertaining base-runner on the team:  Ben Turner.  The 6'4" catcher runs somewhat better than most catchers, but the sight of him lumbering around the bases at full speed would be enough to make any infielder or catcher think twice about getting in his way.  Kind of like trying to reason with a stampeding rhinoceros.

So here's a tip of the cap to "Big Ben", less of a Porsche and more of a Hummer on the basepaths.

Black & Gold Glove

I could go the easy route and pick Blake Brown for this one: 1 error in 59 games.  He's surely deserving.

But I doubt even Blake will blame me for choosing instead the player who is now playing with him in the Atlanta Braves organization:  Eric Garcia. The Tiger player with the most errors on the season: 22.

Garcia started at shortstop in every game of the season from Auburn through Tucson.  In the first 22 games, he piled up an incredible 13 errors.  Much of that was played out during the long March home stand, in front of the home town crowd.  That fumbling streak stuck in the minds of many fans, who remember only the missed grounders, the overthrown balls past first base.

But starting with the two games against Central Arkansas, and carrying on through the bulk of the Big 12 season, Garcia was a different man.  (See Garcia uses glove, bat to lead MU Baseball, Columbia Tribune)  He made some amazing plays so deep you'd have thought he was the left fielder.  And no one who was at the 2nd game of the Tigers' sweep of Kansas State will forget the incredible grab-and-flip play behind second base (see video below).

He did make another 9 errors . . . in 39 games.  But for a college shortstop and the most demanding position on the field, that's a great achievement.

Garcia's glove work in the Big 12 Tournament was as impressive as his .500 batting average, and probably went a long way to getting the attention of the scouts and boosting his draft ranking a bit higher.

So here's a Tip of the Cap and a Black & Gold Glove to Eric Garcia, the Tiger player with the most errors.

Jay Bell Award

This award is given annually to the player who achieves the greatest success against the Kansas Jayhawks, named in honor a former Tiger pitcher who mowed down the KU batters during a mid-week game back in the 90s.

Dane Opel (#47) and teammates
The final conference match-up between Missouri and Kansas turned into a depressing experience for the first two games, as the Mizzou offense picked a poor time to be "off again" rather than "on again".  They did salvage Game 3, though, which was billed as the final match-up between the two Big 12 rivals.

Except it wasn't.  MU and KU met again in the semi-final game of the Big 12 Tournament.  OF Dane Opel led the Tigers' charge, going 3-for-5 with 5 RBI and 3 runs scored.  He lacked just a home run in a shot at hitting for the cycle.

Dane earned the Jay Bell Award for that performance, but especially for driving the nail in the coffin of the rivalry, scoring the final run that put the Tigers up 12-2, run-ruling the Jayhawks.

John McKee HBP Award

Dillon Everett got himself hit 15 times in 2012, accounting for over 17% of the team's 86 HBPs.   Missouri led the Big 12 in offensive HBPs.

An example of the value of an HBP came in the March 9th game against Charlotte, when the Tigers racked up 5 HBP.   In the second inning, Dillon Everett reached base with one out after getting hit by a pitch, then stole second on the following pitch. Everett reached third on Brown's groundout to the left side, and Champagne walked to put runners on the corners with two outs. Mach's single to center scored Everett

Mark Alexander Phoenix Award

A year ago in my 2011 Tip of the Cap series, Jake Walsh's picture was prominently featured, sitting with some of his fellow former Tiger players, holding up the tradition of the "Simmons Savages" heckling group. Apparently, between opportunities to sit in Taylor Stadium's Section B and laugh at the Tiers' opponents, Walsh was dominating opponents as a member of the Missouri Club Team.  So much so that when he convinced Tim Jamieson and the MU coaching staff to give him a tryout, they were impressed by his newfound discipline and improved "stuff".

Walsh went on to post the third best ERA on the team, 3.44, and led the team in appearances on the way to a  2-3 record with 8 saves.  He had the 2nd best opponents' batting average at .240.

Read the details of Jake's comeback at Missouri Student Athlete Spotlight: Jake Walsh (

Here's a hearty tip of the cap to the Cinderella Man, Jake Walsh.

Stand By Your Son Award

I have to tip my cap to all the parents of the Tiger ballplayers.  They go to the games, they support their sons, they talk proudly about them with a light in their eyes that has been burning for 18+ years.    Dave and Regina Mach have been driving to Columbia and following their sons, Kyle and Conner, around the country for more than half a decade.  Elwood and Robin Brown, along with others, have been organizing tailgates and picnics and other events to support not only their son, but the Mizzou Baseball program.

But the parents who stand out in my mind are Tim and Sheryl Clubb.  They've been showing up at Ryan's ballgames for four years now, faithfully.  Even over the past two years, when they knew very well that it was a near certainty that their son would not be playing, they have been there week after week, supporting him and cheering on his team.

Here's a Tip if the Cap to the Clubbs, and to all the parents who have given so much to their sons.

Superfan Award

Brandon Weiss and Gracie Duggan, spurred on by Baseball SID Shawn Davis, created a new student fan group for MU Baseball, Tigers on Deck.  Here's a tip of the cap for their efforts and strong hopes taht they will continue to develop the program leading up to the Tigers' first SEC season.

"by a landslide"
The day after the final home game, Brandon tweeted the following "Non-Important Baseball Team Superlatives":

Best walk-up (batters): 1) Scott Sommerfeld 2) Blake Brown 3) Ben Turner

Best walk-up (pitchers): 1) Jake Walsh 2) John Miles 3) Dusty Ross 4) Jeff Emens 5) Rob Z. Solid showing from pitching staff.

Worst walk-up (batters): 1) Patrick Quintanilla 2) Dane Opel 3) Decades Weekend (all of them were bad, considering what could have been)

Worst walk-up (pitchers): All solid, but have to go with Ryan Yuengel for a two-year-old song that lacks creativity.

Worst Headshot: 1) Ben Turner (by a landslide), 2) Nick Moore. Everyone else looked like a real headshot.

Most Memorable Game
I already talked about the run-rule drubbing of the Jayhawks above, so instead I'll recall a game much earlier in the season that had all the drama, action, and occasional slapstick humor that any sports fan could ask for. 
The Charlotte 49ers came to Taylor Stadium on a chilly Friday night (March 9th).  The Tigers were ready to avenge the arrogant running up of the score by the 49ers a year ago.

Eric Anderson started the game, but he left in 5th with an elbow problem (the beginning of the end for EA's season).

Jeff Emens took over, pitched through to the 9th, giving up just 4 hits and a single run.  At one point a ball was hit like rocket back to the mound.  Emens dropped his glove hand down behind him and the ball hit the glove and dropped to the mound.  Emens calmly picked it up and threw the runner out at 1st.

The whole game was a comedy of errors by the 49ers (4 official, several more not classified as an error).  More than one 49er ended up on the ground due to collisions or missteps on the basepaths.

Ben Turner had a memorable, albeit painful, game.  At one point a batter hits a short dink in front of the plate and runs into Ben Turner, the immovable force. Turner threw out the runer going from 1st to 2nd, and the ump called out the batter for interfering with Ben's right to field and throw the ball.

Another batter overswung (overswang?  overswinged?) and lost hold of the bat, which went spinning into Turner, hitting him in the face and body.  Ben shook it off and got back behind the plate.

Just a minute or so later, a runner coming from third came in hard to the plate and bowled Turner over.  Ben tagged him out.

The Tigers won, 10-4, and went on to sweep the series.

Most Memorable Defensive Play
Many of the Tigers made great plays in 2012 (see Eric Garcia's above), but only one of them ended up on ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays.   First baseman Gavin Stark, in the seventh inning of the Tigers' 4-1 victory over Oklahoma State, chased after a foul ball into foul territory and flipped head over heels into the dugout while making the catch for the out. That earned him the No. 5 spot on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays that night.
TAKE TWO: MU first baseman earns his 15 minutes of fame (Columbia Tribune)

"We were all going crazy. I was on the phone with my mom," Stark said. "The first thing she asked was if my teeth were OK."

Roommate Turner was not among the crowd.

"I went to bed," the senior said. "He said, 'Dude, I'm going to be on "SportsCenter." ' I was like, 'I'm going to bed, dude.' "

Junior outfielder Brannon Champagne got his own dig in.

"I said, 'Way to make "SportsCenter." Way to make the Top 10. But you didn't have to jump.' It was awesome, though," he said.
Michael Wacha, Texas A&M's #1 pitcher, was drafted by the At. Louis Cardinals in the 1st round, the 19th overall pick.  It's a good pick for the Cards.  Wacha had an impressive 2.06 ERA on the season. 

On the other hand, in the two times Wacha faced the the Tigers, back on March 30th for 6.1 innings and then again at the Big 12 Tournament for 7 innings, he limped away with a 5.50 ERA
Worst Ballpark
It's a toss-up between the second place the Tigers played in 2012 vs. the last place they played.

Back on the second weekend of the year, the Tigers traveled to the University of San Francisco and Benedetti Diamond, a ballpark without field lights, with an off-center press box, and with the surrounding neighborhood so close the entire field was surrounded with high fences like acage match.  See some pictures HERE.

But that ballpark seemed absolutely hospitable compared to the brand spanking new Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, with a playing surface as hard as rock.  The Arizona Wildcats had spent all season long getting used to the heat and to the playing surface, learning to take advantage of the hard earth in the infield to deliver multiple Baltimore chops bouncing over the heads of the fielders.  Dan Pietroburgo's tweet while watching the Tucson Super Regional says it all:

"Hi Corbett strikes again... #worstfieldever #joke #waterplease"
Mizzou '39 Award

Andreas Plackis
Mizzou first baseman Andreas Plackis was the recipient of the 2012 Mizzou `39 Award, an award given to 39 seniors at the University of Missouri based on their outstanding service, academic achievement and leadership.  By the end of the season his teammates and the fans were calling him "Doc" and "Doctor Plackis", after he let it be known he would forego playing baseball next year in his final season of eligibility, in order to devote himself fully to Medical school.

Great Ballpark Conversations

  1. Tim Wolfe, University of Missouri President
  2. Frank Graham, former Tiger pitcher (1940-1942)
  3. Robert J. Lipscomb, Kansas State Superfan:  I sat near Robert during the Sunday K-State game and asked him about the teams, players and coaches he'd seen.  He declared Mizzou's Mike Kelly "the best radio announcer in the conference."
  4. A family from Iowa, here with their son on an official recruiting visit, who asked a lot of questions about Mizzou Baseball, and told me a lot about the unusual summer schedule of high school baseball in Iowa.
  5. The Tri- Delta sorority, the whole lot of them, who showed up for a mid-week game en masse and chose to fill Section E - except for my seat and the seat next to me.  Heard and participated in some unexpected ballpark conversations while I tried to keep my allergies from going crazy amid the excess of perfume.
  6. Flavio Garcia, Tim Clubb, Elwood Brown, and many other family members of the ballplayers.
  7. Tyler McSparran, the Mizzou student from San Diego who I catapulted into his 15 minutes of fame as a new MU Baseball recruit last November.  We laughed, we talked about how crazy it all was, we went back to watching the game.
  8. The Tigerboard All Sports guys in Section B - "where everybody knows your name, but not your real name"
  9. Larry Wyatt II - a true Mizzou Baseball treasure, and a true friend.  Always good for a chat about the team, or whatever else is on his mind.  And always enthusiastic about the Missouri Baseball Tigers.

That's it for the 2012 season.

Bring on the SEC.

Bring on some fresh faces and another shot at living the dream.

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