Saturday, March 31, 2007

MLB predictions, part II

With pseudo Opening Day less than 36 hours away, here's my yearly stab at predicting the National League. (No guarantees here, nor in October).

NL East Champion: Philadelphia. The Phillies have a powerful core of young players and a surplus of starting pitching. Oh and Pat Gillick's in the front office. The latter is never, I repeat, never a bad thing.

NL Central Champion: St. Louis. Out of deference to the defending World Series champions, I'll go with the Cards, but don't be surprised if Milwaukee, Houston or Chicago is waving the NL Central title flag in October.

NL West Champion: Arizona. The D'backs added quality starting pitching and Randy Johnson to the mix. Factor in a bunch of precocious youngsters and bad karma in the rest of the division (wink, wink San Diego) and Arizona's Phoenix-like rise should be complete.

NL Wild Card Winner: Atlanta. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Braves will catch the Mets as New York's aging, Swiss cheese-esque rotation catches up with it. Atlanta rebuilt its shoddy bullpen in the offseason making it a strength instead of a weakness.

NL Division Series: Philadelphia over St. Louis; Atlanta over Arizona
NLCS: Philadelphia over Atlanta
World Series: Boston over Philadelphia in 6

NL MVP: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia. Howard won it last year when Philly finished second in the East. Imagine how writers' will vote if the Phils' win the East this year.
NL Cy Young: Roy Oswalt, Houston. The Wizard has won 55 games the last three seasons and had a sub-3.00 ERA while pitching in a band box last season. It's time everyone recognized how good the reticent Mississippian is.
NL Rookie of the Year: Chris Young, Arizona. Scouts love his 30-30 potential. The D'backs will settle for 15-30 and a division title.

We'll check back in October and see how woeful these look then.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Zoom, zoom Zumaya

Looks like Joel Zumaya, Detroit's flamethrowing setup man, is ready for the season.

The California-bred reliever touched 107 with a fastball against the New York Yankees on Friday in a spring training game. That's right 107. And that wasn't on a TV radar gun. That was on the stadium gun at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Looks like Zumaya put down the Guitar Hero and trips to the tattoo parlor this offseason and got really serious.

As for weekend college baseball in the state, the only series bringing any heat close to Zumaya's offerings is Tulane and East Carolina. The Green Wave and Pirates bring identical 3-0 conference records into the C-USA clash at Zephyr Field in Metairie. Given a truncated conference schedule this season, a sweep would do wonders for the winners.

LSU and Alabama used to be as important a rivalry in SEC baseball as any. In 1997 the teams met in the College World Series championship game. Of course, given LSU's sterling record in title games, we know how that worked out for the Tigers. For the unitiated, that would be 13-6 LSU and title No. 4 for Skip Bertman.

Now it seems as Alabama has the upper hand on the Tigers. Local fans could be split in their allegiances as former Ruston High standout Brandon Belcher is hitting .286 for the Tide and earned a win in his only pitching appearance of the year.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

MLB predictions, part I

One upon a time, when space was more plentiful in the print edition of The Times, Scott Ferrell, Roy Lang III and myself would take our shots at predicting Major League Baseball's division champions and individual award winners.

Alas, those days are no more. But through the wonders of the Internet (and this blog), I still get a chance to take my best shot (in the dark) at picking the winners.

So I'll break out the old crystal ball (circa 2000 from The Vermilion, USL's student newspaper) and see what it says.

AL East champion: Boston. It's no secret I don't like the Yankees, but the Sawx have too much pitching for the Bombers.

AL Central champion: Detroit. See above and remember the Tigers added Gary Sheffield to an offense that lacked only consistency last year.

AL West champion: Oakland. Yes, everyone is picking the L.A./Anaheim/Orange County Angels, but I foresee too much Rich Harden and Huston Street for the Angels.

AL Wild Card winner: Minnesota. Johann Santana's back and so are the Piranhas and Terry Ryan is a maestro in the front office.

AL Division Series: Boston over Minnesota; Oakland over Detroit.
ALCS: Boston over Oakland.

AL MVP: David Ortiz. Boston's Big Papi finally gets his due.
AL Cy Young: Santana, assuming his left arm doesn't fall off.
AL Rookie of the Year: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston. Technically a rookie, but Dice-K has been as advertised in spring training. Non-Japanese professional division: Alex Gordon, Kansas City. He pushed Mark Teahen to left field and should get ample playing time with the Royals.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Walker's next stop?

I was checking out one of my favorite Web sites,, earlier today when it mentioned former Airline and LSU star Todd Walker could be headed to Pittsburgh.

The rumor came from Bucco Blog, which apparently is a good source of Pirates' related rumors and innuendo. And it got me thinking, where would Walker fit right now?

Pittsburgh makes sense because Freddy Sanchez, last year's NL batting champion and a similar defensive player to Walker, will open the season on the disabled list.

Oakland could be a fit. General manager Billy Beane loves Walker and the A's could use someone like Walker behind Mark Ellis, who has been injury prone.

Atlanta and Boston both have young second basemen who are untested in the majors. The New York Mets are employing retread Jose Valentin at second base. Colorado has turned to Mets castoff Kaz Matsui.

There aren't any starting positions available right now, but Walker shouldn't have trouble finding somewhere to land starting tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Minor trade has major state implications

The trade between Houston and Washington that sent Danny Ardoin to the Astros and Wade Robinson to the Nationals is nothing more than a line in the transactions in many places.

Shreveport is no different, but in a few other Louisiana cities it matters. Ardoin is from Mamou and Robinson hails from Bastrop. Robinson also played college baseball at Louisiana Tech.

The trade should help both farm systems and it gives the Astros a little more catching depth in the upper minors. Given that Brad Ausmus is on the downside of his career and current backups Humberto Quintero and Eric Munson are shaky and injury-prone at best, the move probably helps Houston a little more, but don't discount Robinson.

He is one of a number of college seniors who signed with the Astros at the behest of scout James Farrar of Shreveport. Robinson is similar to current Astros shortstop Adam Everett in that he is a better defensive player than an offensive one.

Making the big leagues with a profile like that isn't easy, but Robinson is going to a team that has issues up the middle at the big league level. It should be interesting to see how quickly he progresses in a new locale.

Monday, March 26, 2007

More bad luck for Walker

A little more than a month ago, I wrote about how Todd Walker's luck was changing.

Oops, jumped the gun on that a little bit. On Tuesday, Walker is expected to be released by the San Diego Padres just more than a month after winning an arbitration case against the team.

While it seems like bad luck from the outside, maybe this could get Walker into a better situation. It seems far-fetched I know. But who knows? Walker could find himself in position to join a team with a chance to reach the playoffs and win more than one game.

On the other hand, Walker could find himself a chance to earn more at-bats and, in the process, set himself up beyond this season.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Weekend wrap

Another weekend of college baseball is behind us, putting the teams about halfway home in terms of the regular season.

Here's what we learned this weekend.

We learned Brian Rike at Louisiana Tech may no longer be a candidate for any under the radar mention. On Sunday, the quiet junior outfielder slugged a pair of home runs, including a three-run tiebreaking shot in the eighth that lifted Tech to an 8-6 win over Fresno State and to .500 in the Western Athletic Conference.

We learned Northwestern State continues to be Jekyll and Hyde. Mainly Jekyll on Fridays when former Airline High standout Jimmy Heard is on the mound and Hyde when anyone else is.

We learned Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette will probably carry the flag for the state this year, but Southeastern Louisiana is proving Jay Artigues is a pretty good coach as well.

Finally, we learned LSU isn't the WORST team in the SEC. Right now, that distinction belongs to the Auburn Tigers, who are 0-6 in the conference. Yeesh. Those hyped freshmen that decided to yell War Eagle last season better get going or AU could be looking for another head coach soon.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

No better face for the Astros

The Associated Press sent a story out Saturday about Lance Berkman becoming the new "face" of the Houston Astros.

Drayton McLane and Co. should be happy. They certainly couldn't have picked a better person on the squad to carry the legacy of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell into a new era.

Sure Roy Oswalt is as down-home and likeable as they come and Chris Burke is about a thousand times closer to a model than the Fat Elvis is. But certainly no one on the Astros' squad embodies what the franchise is about more than Berkman.

He has deep Houston ties, having played at Rice. He's Texan through and through, born in Waco. He's affable and entertaining as Biggio is and was and, on the field, he brings the same intensity Bagwell did.

And don't forget his personality. Berkman may not be in Shaquille O'Neal's class when it comes to one-liners (frankly who is), but he's close. This is a roly-poly baseball player who has coined the nickname "Big Puma" for himself. Ostensibly it's because a puma is graceful, athletic and agile, all things Berkman is not. But what do you expect from a guy who tore up his knee in a church league flag football game yet had enough goodwill built to be able to joke about it as the Astros made their World Series run in 2005.

So here's to the Big Puma, Fat Elvis, or whatever you want to call Lance Berkman, the new face of the Houston Astros.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Transfer rule giveth and taketh away

Imagine where Tulane's baseball team would be with the addition of a pitcher who owns a 4-0 record and a 2.38 ERA this season.

Now imagine where the Green Wave would be if you took away one of its pitchers who owns a 4-2 record and a 1.89 ERA.

If it wasn't for the free transfer rule, you'd have to imagine the Green Wave in that scenario. For years, coach Rick Jones has been a master of taking transfer players and watching them blossom with the Green Wave.

The second pitcher mentioned is current Green Wave right-hander Shooter Hunt, who transferred in from Virginia. Hunt joins Micah Owings, Cory Hahn and Wes Swackhamer as players who have made valuable contributions to Tulane after starting their college careers at other four-year schools.

The first pitcher mentioned is Stephen Porlier. Porlier is in his first season at Oklahoma after spending one season at Tulane. Neither Porlier or Hunt had to sit out a season after transferring because of college baseball's free transfer rule.

Now there is proposed legislation that would tweak the rule (read about it here). The rule has been good for almost every school and bad for almost every school. Want local proof? Ask NSU coach Mitch Gaspard, who has lost a No. 1 starter (Clayton Turner) to Texas A&M in 2005 and another solid starter (Dereck Cloeren) to Houston this season. However, NSU has a former Arkansas Razorback (Knox McQuorquodale) on its roster.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Cohen's back in Louisiana

John Cohen's back in Baton Rouge starting Friday.

The former Northwestern State head baseball coach leads his Kentucky Wildcats into Alex Box Stadium for a three-game series against LSU. And for the first time since he took over in 2004, the Wildcats are the favorites.

Kentucky, in a sense, is what LSU was -- granted without the five national titles. The Wildcats are the defending SEC champions and have an offensive attack reminiscient of the "Gorilla Ball" Tigers.

Much of that, Cohen will tell you, stems from athletic director Mitch Barnhart. Cohen told me in an interview earlier this year, Barnhart cares about Kentucky athletics as a whole. That means more than just Big Blue basketball.

How long Cohen stays at Kentucky is uncertain. He has turned around one of the SEC's most dormant teams in less than four years and made it into a regional host. He has ties to two other SEC schools (Florida, Mississippi State) and was born in another (Tuscaloosa, Ala.). And he's part of a growing coaching tree down the road in Natchitoches at Northwestern State.

What is certain is Cohen's star is rising and so is his team's profile.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Richey keeps it going

Some time ago, I posted a blog entry about first-year Northwestern State shortstop Brandon Richey and his quick start. I mentioned how it was just a small sample but the junior college transfer was hitting in the .400 range.

Well Richey has managed to stay above the .400 mark, checking in at .418 through 23 games. With 33 regular-season games to go, staying at the magical .400 mark may prove too tough for Richey, but the Sour Lake, Texas, native is well on his way to proving his preseason comment of "baseball is baseball" to be true for him.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Bad news for Rangers

Maybe baseball teams should be wary of the art of self-promotion. The Atlanta Braves, last season, released a radio spot that featured the phrase, "Is there a word for 15-peat?"

The answer was no. Atlanta's incredible streak of 14 straight division titles ended, rendering the point moot.

Less than two seasons ago, the Texas Rangers featured a trio of minor league pitchers whose last names lent themselves to the packaged nickname of the DVD trio. For the unitiated, the pitchers were John Danks, Edinson Volquez and Thomas Diamond.

Well the curse of being a Rangers pitcher struck again. Volquez has had up-and-down parts of two seasons with the big league club. Danks was traded to the Chicago White Sox for Brandon McCarthy. Finally, on Monday, it was announced Diamond, the team's No. 1 draft pick in 2004 out of the University of New Orleans, would miss the 2007 season because of Tommy John surgery.

It used to be winning the Nolan Ryan Award, Texas' award for its minor league pitcher of the year, was the only curse in the organization. Now, apparently, there is no pre-requisite for enduring bad luck as a Rangers minor league pitcher.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Weekend wrap

The first weekend of Southeastern Conference, Southland Conference and Big 12 Conference play is behind us now. What did we learn from the weekend?

We learned LSU has a very very talented arm in T.J. Forrest and Forrest has enough moxie to hold a hot-hitting South Carolina team to one run and two hits in five innings on only 58 pitches. That's good news for Paul Mainieri. What isn't good news for Paul Mainieri is he still doesn't have enough pitching depth to save Forrest, who his less than 12 months removed from Tommy John surgery, the wear and tear on his arm.

We learned Northwestern State is a scrappy team. This doesn't surprise anyone who has followed Mitch Gaspard's Demons in years past. But to do it with almost a completely new roster? That's pretty impressive. Look out for the Demons in SLC play.

We also learned the best Louisiana baseball players don't always stay in state. Josh Prince, a true freshman from Barbe in Lake Charles, followed his older brother Dooley to Texas. Less than 30 games into his freshman season, Prince is the starting shortstop for a top-10 team and he's hitting .564 in 39 at-bats and recently had a 5-for-5, two-RBI game. Nothing against Michael Hollander, a Jesuit High (New Orleans) product, who has been solid for the Tigers, but Prince is exactly the type of player who cost Smoke Laval his job. Laval's inability to keep top state talent at home contributed to the Tigers' precipitous drop in the last 16 months.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Congratulations to Maynor

Eric Maynor had the spotlight Thursday night when the VCU guard hit the game-winner to beat Duke.

Saturday it was Haughton High coach Glen Maynor's chance to soak up a little praise. The former Airline High and Northwestern State pitcher earned career win No. 300 when Haughton beat Parkway 18-2 in the Benton Touranment.

Maynor's win total is a product of both his longevity and his ability to adjust. The latter was honed under longtime Airline coach Clay Bohanan and NSU mentor Jim Wells. As a pitcher, Maynor typified the crafty left-hander stereotype, beating hitters with location, not velocity.

He's had to adjust during his decade-plus at Haughton, winning with teams who bludgeoned their way to victories and those who had to run, pitch and play defense to get into the win column.

So, as one of our favorite cliches in the office goes, a tip of the cap to Glen Maynor.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Rike rakes under the radar

Louisiana Tech outfielder Brian Rike and the Bulldogs don't play this weekend, but that doesn't mean the Bulldogs aren't getting some attention.

In its college preview, Rike is featured in the Under the Radar segment. Among the notable facts about Rike is he currently leads the nation in home runs with 12 and he is the second Tech outfielder to be featured in the post. Jericho Jones was on the Web site in early February.

Tech is not playing this weekend, but several other state schools are -- and most are opening conference play.

While LSU's trip to South Carolina is a huge test for the Tigers, the most interesting series may involve Northwestern State, which travels to Southland newcomer Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. NSU has been an up-and-down team so far and making the long trip to the Texas coast is never easy. TAMU-CC has given some good teams trouble this season, pushing Texas in a midweek game before falling. NSU needs to find its groove, but this may not be the weekend it happens.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Aubrey knows his fate

Cleveland optioned former Southwood High star Michael Aubrey to Double-A Akron on Thursday, meaning the first baseman will likely start the season at what has become a bump in the road for him.

This marks another year Aubrey will see time at Akron. He hasn't reached Calvin Murray levels there yet, but he could probably run for a seat on the city council.

Whatever analogy you want to draw, this could be a make-or-break year for Aubrey as far as injuries go. They have continually short-circuited what once was a career on the fast track.

If Aubrey can stay healthy, he could be in for a big season, making a name for himself in the Indians' organization or becoming a valuable piece of trade bait.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Cohen's Cats keep crushing

Sure the schedule hasn't been a gauntlet just yet, but former NSU head baseball coach John Cohen's Kentucky Wildcats are rolling.

UK is off to a 19-0 start. That's right, 19-0. Even if you're playing competition that is several notches below you, that's impressive.

Perhaps the most startling stat from the start is the Wildcats are doing what they're doing without preseason All-American Collin Cowgill. That's the same Cowgill who had 16 home runs and 61 RBIs last season. Still, the Wildcats are putting up relatively obscene offensive numbers.

Last season, Kentucky was seen as a bit of a fluke and the same could, but shouldn't, be said about the Wildcats program. A disappointing performance in a regional at Cliff Hagan Stadium didn't help national perception.

This weekend, the proving ground begins again for Cohen's Cats as Southeastern Conference play begins. Kentucky welcomes Arkansas, a top-15 program, to Lexington in one of the most interesting SEC series of opening weekend.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mainieri to stick with Forrest

Paul Mainieri likes what he has seen out of Haughton High product T.J. Forrest and he knows where Forrest will be for the forseeable future.

The LSU coach has penciled the freshman right-hander in as his Sunday starter against South Carolina in the opening SEC series for both teams. This should be interesting.

South Carolina ALWAYS hits. The Gamecocks, when they make a run to the College World Series, do it with offense. Couple that with a freshman making his first SEC appearance at venerable Sarge Frye Stadium and it makes for an interesting scenario.

Forrest doesn't appear to be a typical freshman, but going against the Gamecocks on the road isn't exactly pitching at Fair Grounds Field or at home against Southern Miss.

However, Sunday's game goes, we'll find out a lot about Forrest's makeup and his pitching ability in general.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Good news for NSU

Speaking with NSU baseball coach Mitch Gaspard before the 2006 season brought one name to the forefront -- Heath Hennigan.

Gaspard's voice perked up when he spoke of the 6-foot-7 right-hander from Pineville. He thought he had a diamond in the rough. Well, turns out he does.

It's taken a little more time to polish the big right-hander but the Demons finally got a breakthrough performance from Hennigan, who handcuffed Louisiana-Lafayette last week en route to Southland Conference Pitcher of the Week honors.

Any good news the Demons can get right now is welcome, but when it comes to a pitching staff, no team will complain about having a surplus of quality arms. It appears, with Hennigan's improvement and maturity, the Demons have found another one.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Playing with fire?

First-year LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri knows about building a baseball porgram. He knows about shepherding college-age pitchers through the maturation process.

Both of which make his decision to throw T.J. Forrest on Sunday a little strange. Forrest is less than 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery. He made his college debut Tuesday at Fair Grounds Field, starting and throwing 38 pitches in a win over Centenary. Five days later, Forrest threw 52 pitches in three innings of the Tigers' loss to Southern Miss.

Those pitch counts pale in comparison to the triple-digit totals some college pitchers throw, but given that Forrest's recent surgery they could be seen in a similar light.

Mainieri is an astute coach and seems to have his team's attention and respect. There is little doubt he knows how Forrest feels physically. But you have to wonder if it may not be risky to run him out there so quickly when it comes to the long-term picture.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Magazine time

En route to Austin, on the neverending construction stretch that is I-35 south from Dallas, my friends and I spent a good hour or so talking baseball.

The reason? Street and Smith's already has released its Major League Baseball preview edition. It's funny how you forget where some of the lesser-known players ended up.

All in all, the magazine is one of the best, year in and year out, for getting ready for the season and, apparently, for talking baseball.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Weekend preview

Call this Warmup Weekend -- the last weekend before conference play

And LSU isn't backing down from a challenge. The Tigers, who won a terse 2-1 game against Centenary on Tuesday night, host a dangerous Southern Miss team. If the Tigers aren't careful, they could be 9-9 entering conference play next weekend.

Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State will test themselves in road series. Tech heads to Sam Houston State while NSU travels to Jacksonville State.

Tech probably needs a series win more than the Demons, who have seen their junior college transfer-laden lineup turn it on. It's possible no one in the state has been more consistently impressive than NSU's Brandon Richey, who has sparked NSU's surge from the top of the lineup.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, need to get back on track. If Jericho Jones can somehow find the patience to adjust to more offspeed pitches, Tech could get its powerful offense cranking again.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Hitting the road

I'll be heading down to Austin, Texas, in less than 15 hours and the trip got me thinking about great places to watch a college baseball game.

The University of Texas has a great baseball tradition. I went to a game their last year for the first time and came away unimpressed by Disch-Falk Field, but the atmosphere was great.

Same goes for LSU baseball. Alex Box Stadium is the same way (sorry LSU fans). Structurally it's outdated, but put 8,000 screaming fans in there and it's magical.

Rice University has turned what once was a substandard high school-type field into a palace. Take in a night game at Reckling Park and check out one of the neatest views of the Houston skyline.

Personally, I'm partial to watching a game at M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field in Lafayette at my alma mater, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. There's nothing like looking at one of the neater backdrops in the state -- pine trees behind the left-field fence and the track behind the right-field line.

As for underrated places to watch a game, try Louisiana Tech, which has done an extreme makeover on its facility; Southern Mississippi; Tulane and the University of Houston.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Post LSU-Centenary thoughts

Strangely for a 2-1 game, Tuesday's LSU-Centenary game lacked the atmosphere and intensity of past meetings between the teams.

I don't know if it was because LSU has slipped from its lofty national perch and a win over the Tigers seemingly doesn't mean as much as it used to, but no one seemed to be into it like they were two years ago when Centenary upset LSU.

Even the year before that, when LSU beat Centenary handily, the Tigers fans were rocking Fair Grounds Field with the "L-S-U, L-S-U" chant. On Tuesday, eh, not so much.

I guess it all was befitting a game that featured a much-delayed flyover that forced a brief postponement after the first batter of the game.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007


The atmosphere at Fair Grounds Field on Tuesday night was lacking compared to most years LSU and Centenary have met in Shreveport.

Part of that was due to the low-scoring nature of the game. There were no "L-S-U, L-S-U" chants that are as much a part of Tigers games as balls and strikes. It took venturing outside the press box to hear the first "Hot boudin, cold couscous" chant and that came in the fifth inning.

These clearly aren't your older brother's Tigers. If not for a Centenary error and Jared Mitchell's speed, the Tigers would be tied right now with a Gents team that isn't backing down.

Say this for Centenary, the Gents aren't acting like this is an LSU team that has slipped into mediocrity. As of now, the top of the sixth inning, the Gents are in perfect position to pick up their second straight win over LSU at Fair Grounds Field.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Pretty amazing recovery

LSU's T.J. Forrest, a Haughton High product, will pitch his first college baseball game Tuesday night at Fair Grounds Field.

Surprising? A little. Anyone who saw Forrest pitch for the Bucs could tell he had a bright future. The question was big-time college (like LSU) or sign a pro contract.

In April, the answer was made for him when he blew out a ligament in his elbow, leading to Tommy John surgery. Now, less than 11 months after surgery, Forrest will step on the Fair Grounds Field mound against Centenary.

This is a surgery that has sidelined some of the best arms in baseball for at least a calendar year and here's a 19-year-old kid coming back after 11 months. Here's guessing pitching in the SEC may not bother Forrest all that much in the coming seasons.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Weekend wrap

Things to consider as the LSU-Centenary game draws near:

1. Maybe NSU has turned a corner. Offensively, the Demons are finding their stride. Look, no one said it was going to be easy incorporating eight new starters into a lineup. Now, as conference time gets closer, NSU is swinging the bats like a Division I baseball team.

2. LSU got a much-needed win over Lipscomb on Sunday. I can't emphasize how much that win means to the program right now, because they have a not-too-fun trip to Shreveport on Tuesday followed by a tough weekend set with Southern Miss. Then it's the first weekend of SEC play at South Carolina.

3. We might want to hold off on annointing Louisiana Tech as a regional team. The Bulldogs are still looking for a way to get all three elements of their came clicking at the same time. Losing a conference series at home is not the way you want to start.

4. Centenary, despite losing Sunday, carries some momentum into Tuesday's game, which is something they'll need, even against the strugging Tigers.

These guys get it

As part of my story in Sunday's Times, I was able to speak with Georgia baseball coach Dave Perno, someone who's quickly becoming one of my favorite people in the profession.

Here's a coach three states away who has called back TWICE after losses to answer my questions not pertaining to those games. The first time came three seasons ago when after the Bulldogs had lost to Georgia Southern in an early season game. Not thinking, I called Chris Lakos in the Georgia media relations department. Chris relayed the message and probably an hour later I was on the phone with coach Perno.

Same thing happened today, though the Dogs' loss was more understandable (a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Southern California). Perno was, as always, gracious with his time and affable.

Perno and the SEC coaches know where they are in the pecking order and that means they don't have to give time to the media, but they do so freely in order to help the game grow. From the weekly teleconferences to individual phone calls, the SEC baseball coaches do right by the media. That's refreshing.

Friday, March 2, 2007

No. 96 with a bullet

Projecting the path a baseball prospect will take is less than scientific . Some players, like Ken Griffey Jr., are easy to project. Others, like Mike Piazza (once a 62-round draft pick), aren't.
At any rate, Baseball America tries to do just that and, in their latest Top 100 prospects, tagged Sean West (right) No. 96.
The former Captain Shreve left-hander will be 20 years old on opening day and is expected to open the season either at High Class A Jupiter or possibly Double-A Carolina, where the Marlins have had great success with their young pitchers lately.
West is a hard-throwing left-hander. Velocity is something that can be improved. Being left-handed isn't.
Given the paucity of quality left-handed pitchers, it isn't hard to see West making a move upward from his No. 96 status in the coming seasons.

Spring (training) has sprung

So the calendar technically says its still winter, but ESPN says its spring.

Friday marked the start of the network's spring training telecasts, as Pittsburgh and Atlanta squared off.

Now we're less than 30 days away from my Christmas in April -- opening day. Let the countdown begin.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Tough news to take

Hearing the news of Gary Matthews Jr.'s possible involvement with steroids was tough to listen to. In this day and age, no one is above suspicion when it comes to steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs these days.

But when it's a guy like Matthews, it makes it a little harder to hear.

The few times I was able to go to Arlington and do anything on the Rangers, Matthews was always available and accommodating. He came to Shreveport as part of the Rangers Caravan a couple years ago.

Matthews had the ability to blend in a room of youngsters, most 6 or 7 years younger than them, and had the energy to keep up with them. His locker was part of All-Star Row, with Michael Young and Mark Teixeira and had been inhabited by Alfonso Soriano previously.

Matthews' 2006 season was a dream. For a person who seems genuinely nice and likeable, here's hoping this isn't a start to a nightmare 2007.