Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Childress has Aggies on right track

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a fan of Texas A&M in anything. In fact, I almost abhor the Aggies (except a few friends who attended school there) in any sport.

But, as a journalist, I have to give credit where it is due. And so a tip of the proverbial cap to second-year Aggies baseball coach Rob Childress, a former NSU Demons assistant coach.

Less than a year-and-a-half after taking over a downtrodden program that had made little noise on the national scene since the mid-1990s, Childress has A&M back in the Top 25. TAMU carried a 10-game winning streak into this week and one of those wins came over then-No. 1 Rice.

Childress has implemented the same quick turnaround his ment0r, Dave Van Horn, did at Nebraska and now the Aggies are clipping at the Huskers' heels in terms of where they stand in the Big 12.

College baseball has become more about pitching the last couple of seasons and, given Childress' expertise in that area, it's no surprise he has the Aggies back to their old tricks.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Love for Louisiana

Baseball America released its preseason high school top 50 on its Web site Tuesday and there are a pair of Louisiana teams in the top 30. Well, the top 29 to be exact.

Barbe opens at No. 20 and Captain Shreve starts at No. 29.

Seeing the Bucs in the poll isn't a big surprise as Glen Cecchini's team has built a national reputation, but the Gators' inclusion is a tip of the proverbial cap to the job Ronnie Coker has done on East Kings Highway.

The capsule on the Web site says "Pitching always has been the Gators' calling card." The same could be said for all of Coker's teams. The dominant programs he built at Parkway in the mid- to late-1990s usually had at least one dominant pitcher and usually more. Now he has done the same at Shreve, coaching a staff that features an LSU signee (Austin Ross) and several other talented arms.

While Louisiana college baseball struggles through a second straight up-and-down season, it's good to know people outside the state are impressed with the younger talent here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

WAC voters love Tech; national voters don't like Louisiana

Another week, another weekly WAC award for Louisiana Tech.

This time, Tech reliever Andrew Alsup won the conference's weekly pitching award, keeping Tech's perfect record alive. The Bulldogs have collected at least one award (Pitcher of the Week; Hitter of the Week) in each of the first four weeks of the season.

But it seems the Louisiana love stops there. On the eve of its normally huge game with LSU, Tulane fell out of the Baseball America Top 25, leaving the state with no ranked teams.

Sheesh, what once was a given now is certainly a maybe. 2006 was a down season for Louisiana teams that much we know. It's too early to write 2007 off just yet, but it seems the state is headed for another down year even with the improvement at Tech, Southeastern Louisiana and Grambling.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Weekend wrap

Another weekend has come and gone in college baseball, here's what we learned as conference play gets closer and closer:

We learned Centenary still needs to learn how to win close games. Four one-run losses in the first 15 games will teach you that. We, well I, learned first-hand how nice of a job Ed McCann has done changing the appearance of Shehee Stadium. What once was a monstrosity is now a pretty quaint place to watch a ballgame, especially when the weather cooperates like it did Sunday.

We learned LSU is heading in the right direction, as long as it can stay focused.

We learned Louisiana Tech, despite its nine-game winning streak, still needs to find consistency.

And finally we learned Grambling is much improved this season. The Tigers came away with NSU coach Mitch Gaspard's respect after a taut 11-inning affair late Saturday after the torrential rains hit the northwest Louisiana area.

Here's looking to Tuesday's LSU-Tulane matchup.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Transfers anonymous? Not so much

The free transfer rule in college baseball -- where a player can transfer without sitting out a season -- is a source of debate between coaches, players, administrators and anyone who will listen.

But it also makes for a lot of fun matchups. Take this weekend in Baton Rouge for example.

Two former LSU Tigers are playing key roles for UCF -- shortstop Matt Horwath and pitcher Eric English.

Neither did much at LSU. Granted Horwath was injured and college pitching is always a crap shoot. Anyway, in a funny twist, Horwath made the last out in Friday's 4-1 LSU win and English was roughed up during LSU's 13-6 win Saturday.

After speaking with several coaches, it's easy to see both sides of the transfer argument. It's one of the issues facing college baseball -- the other being the APR, which was recently chided in one press box as Another Poor Rule -- that could cause the game to lose some steam.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Quiet weekend around the state

In his national college blog at, Aaron Fitt commented on how slow a weekend it is nationally in terms of marquee matchups.

Ditto for the area and state. The best matchup of the weekend comes half the country away when Tulane travels to Los Angeles to face Southern California.

With three weeks until conference play begins, this kind of weekend, thankfully, is an anomaly.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Baseball and brothers

Dizzy and Daffy Dean. Tony and Chris Gwynn. George and Ken Brett.

Baseball has been full of brother acts for many years. And, now, arbitration has its own brother act.

Todd Walker was headed for arbitration with the San Diego Padres, thanks in large part to his younger brother Mark. I spoke with the Walkers' mother, Donna, last night and she was as excited as she could be and not just because Todd won his case and notched the highest salary of his career.

No, she was excited because her two sons were on the same team for the first time since the early 1990s on the football and soccer fields at Airline High School.

And, now, thanks in large part to his brother, Todd Walker can be happy as baseball season rolls around.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Big win for Walker

The odds looked stacked against Todd Walker in his arbitration hearing with the San Diego Padres.

The owners held a 4-1 lead over players, entering the final day of hearings, and the Padres already had signed a former All-Star second baseman this offseason (Marcus Giles).

So what happens? Walker and his team come out winners with Walker netting a $3.95 million salary.

It seems Walker's contractural luck is finally shifting to the good side. Since his inital foray into free agency after the 2003 season, Walker has had buzzard's luck when it came to contracts.

A one-year deal with the Cubs. A deal with a vesting option that seemed a lock until suffering the first major injury of his career.

Maybe the win is a good omen for Walker's 2007 season.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Out of Walker's hands -- for now

Just spoke with Todd Walker's agent, Brian Carlin, after they presented their side in their arbitration hearing with the San Diego Padres.

Carlin seemed happy with their presentation before leaving Walker's 2007 salary in the hands of a three-person arbitration panel.

Tomorrow, we'll find out how Walker fared in a season where the owners entered Tuesday's cases -- Washington closer Chad Cordero was the other -- with a 4-1 lead over the players.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tech for real? Looks that way

Twelve baseball games don't make a season and I know Louisiana Tech head coach Wade Simoneaux knows that.

But forgive him if he's walking around grinning today because it seems like the Bulldogs are for real. Yes, we've been down this road before. Last season, the Bulldogs had a great March and half of April before running out of gas down the stretch.

The first 12 games of 2007, however, have been a great start for the Bulldogs, who swept the WAC weekly awards this week and have notched 4 of the awards in just 3 weeks.

Obviously, we won't know for sure how this Tech team will be judged until June, but so far so good for the once-downtrodden program.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Weekend wrap

Another weekend is in the books and what have we learned:

We've learned LSU is a work in progress. No one said Paul Mainieri had it easy coming in and cleaning up behind Smoke Laval. A tough weekend at Stetson (losing two of three) proves that.

Louisiana Tech can win games with pitching and with its bats. The last 10 years or so, that hasn't always been the case for the Bulldogs.

Northwestern State has a long way to go, but what else can you expect from a team with eight new starters and 14 transfers on its 25-man roster?

Finally, Centenary got an important win Sunday afternoon, shutting down Big 12 member Kansas State. The Wildcats aren't a Big 12 power, but Brad Hill has that program headed in the right direction and the Gents' win erased a bad taste from Saturday's blow lead in the eighth and gives Centenary some momentum heading into next week.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Maybe Clemens means it this time

Roger Clemens is at it again. The big right-hander said the odds of his not returning to baseball this season are "80-20."

Now, normally, that would leave any sane person to believe Clemens is not coming back. But, much like his devastating splitter, Clemens left himself an out.

He said if one of the teams he is looking at, mostly believed to be Houston, the Yankees and Boston, has someone "stub his toe and my phone rings in May I may have to listen."

Thanks, Rocket. As spring training unfolds across Arizona and Florida, it seems we'll have to keep one eye turned to Houston to see the annual saga that has become the Rocket's world.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Another ex-Cap gone

Keith Foulke announced his retirement today and so ended another local link to the big leagues.

Foulke probably is best known for fielding the comebacker that ended the Boston Red Sox' 86-year World Series champoinship drought in 2004. He was expected to compete for the Cleveland Indians closer's job this year, but decided to retire because his body, racked by injuries the past two seasons, was not responding the way he wanted.

In 1996, Foulke was the Texas League Pitcher of the Year while with the Shreveport Captains. Now his major league career is over and with it goes another big league link to this area.

And since the Shreveport Swamp Dragons departed in 2002, it seems the good old days of watching future big leaguers here are farther and farther in our collective rear-view mirror.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Strange doings at McNeese

McNeese State coach Chad Clement resigned from his job Thursday in the midst of an 0-4 start.

The short story sent by the AP didn't say much more than "his heart wasn't in coaching" anymore. Strange, strange, strange.

Clement was coming off a regular-season conference championship and his Cowboys were expected to compete for the SLC title again this season. It's hard, without knowing Clement or his family's situation, to know exactly what caused this.

What we do know is Louisiana baseball, McNeese in particular, lost an up-and-coming coach who had the Cowboys headed in the right direction.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Spring training reading

As spring training nears, well it begins tomorrow, here's a couple of book recommendations that should get you ready for the season:

"The Old Ball Game" by Frank Deford
"The Last Best League" by Jim Collins
"Feeding the Monster" by Seth Mnookin
"When You Can't Come Back" by Dave Dravecky

And of course, who could forget "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis.

Happy reading and happy spring training eve.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Richey hit it on the money

A couple of weeks ago, in preparation for our yearly previews of each local college baseball team, I spoke with first-year Northwestern State shortstop Brandon Richey.

Richey, like the majority of the Demons roster, is a junior college transfer in his first season at the Division I level. One of his responses he gave in a very well-thought out, enjoyable interview, was that baseball is baseball, regardless of what level it's being played at.

So far, Richey has been right on the money. The junior shortstop, whose name came up during a brief conversation with a scouting friend of mine, is 8 for his first 20 at the D-I level and has swiped three bases in four games.

Coach Mitch Gaspard has penciled him in as his leadoff man and Richey has responded. The Demons had plenty of voids to fill after losing quite possibly their best senior class ever in terms of careers. Richey, so far, has done a nice job filling two of those -- leadoff man and shortstop.

As the season progresses -- and the weather warms -- we'll see if he can keep it up and, come June, see if any major league team notices.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Family affair in College Station

Tim Hulett and his wife Linda can't lose tomorrow. Or is it they can't win?

Either way, the Evangel Christian head baseball coach will be a little torn when he and his wife travel to College Station, Texas, for Tuesday's McNeese State-Texas A&M baseball game.

That's because Joe Hulett, the Huletts' middle son, anchors the McNeese lineup and is the Cowboys catcher. He will be finding a way to pitch around Jeff Hulett, an A&M freshman.

The entire Hulett clan will be at Olsen Field, including oldest son Tug, a Texas Rangers farmhand who knows a little bit about high-level college baseball.

Baseball has always brought the Huletts together and, four-and-a-half hours from Shreveport, the game will do it again.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Weekend wrap

The first full weekend of college baseball in Louisiana is now behind us and here's what we've learned this weekend.

The Paul Mainieri hire at LSU is looking good so far. Granted, St. Mary's College isn't the class of the West Coast Conference. A sweep of, say, Pepperdine would have looked better on paper, but three wins are three wins. Even better, Mainieri said he wasn't happy with the way his team played in Saturday's 7-6 win. Apparently, he won't settle for mediocrity and that should make all LSU fans smile.

Louisiana Tech is a resilient bunch. The Bulldogs found out a former player -- and for some a former teammate -- died before Friday's game. Tech lost that game, but came back to win the next two games at a quality Southland Conference opponent (Texas-Arlington). Wade Simoneaux wanted his team to learn how to win on the road. For at least one weekend, mission accomplished.

Grambling just keeps winning. Could Barret Rey's hiring equal that of Mainieri? Maybe not in national scope, but program-for-program, it seems possible.

Dallas Baptist's three-game sweep of Northwestern State may look bad to the untrained eye. But remember the Demons have 14 junior college transfers and DBU was a Division II power.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Big day for Kentucky

The University of Kentucky baseball team won't start its season until next Friday, but the Wildcats have a big night ahead of them tonight.

It's one that has Kentucky coach John Cohen, a former Northwestern State head coach, jacked up.

ESPN College Gameday is in Lexington for tonight's basketball showdown between the Wildcats and No. 1 Florida at Rupp Arena and Cohen, being a supporter of UK athletics, is stoked about he game for more than one reason.

Unfortunately, the nation probably won't get to see Cohen's reason for joy. His Wildcats, the defending SEC champions, will be introduced during one of the TV timeouts to what almost certainly will be a rocking, rolling, rambunctious Rupp Arena crowd.

What Cohen has done at Kentucky has been remarkable. He has made athletic director Mitch Barnhart look brilliant with his success and has given Lexington sports fans reason to pay attention to something between March Madness and the Kentucky Derby.

Now it's time for him to get his due.

Friday, February 9, 2007

The final Classic?

As some of you know, the 2007 college baseball season will be the last one for the forseeable futuer that began before March. And with today's weather here in Shreveport-Bossier City, a balmy 50 or so degrees with a biting wind, that would seem to make sense.

However, look four hours southwest of here down U.S. Highway 59 and you'll see one of the biggest reasons the later start will hurt college baseball. It's called the Houstoon College Classic.

Since it began earlier this decade (2002 I believe was the first year), it has hosted the best teams in Texas and from around the region. This year, SEC member Vanderbilt is in the fold as is Arizona State. The Commodores and Sun Devils join the usual Lone Star fare (Houston, Rice, Baylor and Texas A&M) in an event that makes fans, players and especially scouts happy.

It's played at Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston, giving the collegians a three-day preview of big league amenities and has produced great games in its time. Now it is in jeopardy with the earlier start time. The compressed schedule means fewer oppportunities will exist for tournaments like this. And with a sport that is still trying to cultivate a truly national following, that's a change college baseball could have done without.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Strange time at NSU

When writing the Northwestern State season preview, I found it weird to be talking about guys like Brandon Morgan, Bobby Barbier, Scott Pittenger and Michael Palermo in the past tense.

Those four players were part of a deep, talented class of Demons who played the majority of the last four seasons. Day in and day out, you could find them in coach Mitch Gaspard's lineup.

But therein lies the beauty of college sports -- you get to watch players grow and mature on the field and off it, but after a certain number of years they're gone.

Of course, if I think it's weird to not see an NSU lineup with those names in it, I can only imagine how coach Mitch Gaspard is going to feel tomorrow between 3 and 4 p.m. when he fills out that lineup card.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Blast from the past

LSUS stole 21 bases Tuesday night in a doubleheader sweep of Texas College. That's right 21 steals in two games.

Even more impressive, the Pilots were 21-for-21 on the basepaths and that's enormously good news for coach Rocke Musgraves. Musgraves' best teams at LSUS have been the ones that have wreaked havoc on the basepaths.

It's too early to make generalizations. After all, those two games are about 1/28th of what the Pilots will play this season, but like most teams in the area, LSUS has already taken the first step toward improving on a 2006 season that ended in disappointment.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Hudson and Hudson

Louisiana Tech's Brandon Hudson earned the Western Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Week award on Monday and was an all-conference designated hitter last year.

Strange? Maybe a little, simply because most two-way guys in college baseball are starting pitchers or closers. Hudson really hasn't had a defined role in Ruston, though coach Wade Simoneaux expects him and Andrew Alsup to split the closer's duties this season.

Anyway, looking for a good comparison or career model for the Benton High product? How about another Hudson?

That's right, Atlanta Braves right-hander Tim Hudson. Both are slender 6-foot-or-so tall pitchers and both played two positions in college. And, though, Brandon Hudson probably won't match Tim Hudson's National Player of the Year award he won at Auburn, following his career path wouldn't be a bad thing at all.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Keep an eye on LSUS

LSUS may play in the NAIA but coach Rocke Musgraves has put together a program that has been as praiseworthy as any around here.

Year in and year out, the Pilots are in contention for the conference title as well as a national tournament berth. Musgraves has done it by mining local schools for talent and by working a pipeline to his western roots in New Mexico and up north in Canada.

The Pilots open their season tomorrow at home against Texas College and for more on LSUS you can read Tuesday's editions of The Times.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Weekend wrap

So the first weekend of the 2007 Louisiana college baseball season is behind us. What did we learn?

We learned Louisiana Tech looks poised to build on the preseason hype surrounding the Bulldogs. Fans still don't expect to win a series against Arkansas, but the reality is the Dawgs are getting closer to making that happen.

Grambling is in good hands with Barret Rey. He may not turn the Tigers around right away but he is a fine heir to the legacy of Wilbert Ellis.

Finally, Centenary is still learning how to win close games and if that doesn't change, it could be a long year on Kings Highway.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Congratulations Barret Rey

Barret Rey came to Grambling from a program that knew about winning and producing major league quality players.

The former Southern coach apparently has instilled some of that in his Tigers as they opened the season with a doubleheader sweep of Tougaloo on Saturday.

The wins were the first of his career for Rey, who learned from one of the more underappreciated coaching minds in Louisiana -- longtime Southern coach Roger Cador. If Rey's career path is anything like Cador's, Grambling baseball will be a force in the SWAC for years to come.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Opening day is here

Well sort of. Louisiana Tech and Arkansas are about 3 1/2 hours away from starting the college baseball season in Louisiana.

That still gives you plenty of time to jump in the car and head to Ruston. If you were to leave rigth now, you could even catch some of the pig roast in the parking lot of the apartment complex beyond left field.

The apartments, which were completed last season, make for one of the neater backdrops around and are just another improvement to J.C. Love Field, turning it from a very blah field into something the Dawgs can use as a real home-field advantage.

As for the action on the field, tonight's pitching matchup should be a dandy as Arkansas sends junior lefty Nick Schmid to the mound against Tech's Luke Burnett who, at 6-foot-8, would be a great get for Tech hoops coach Keith Richard, but instead was a steal for Wade Simoneaux's improving program. Saturday's matchup between Tech's Jericho Jones and the Hogs' Duke Welker (seriously, there may not be a better name matchup all year) should be excellent as well.

The 42-degree weather may not say it, but it's baseball season in Louisiana.