One Last Dip Into the Ink
3:15 P.M. FRIDAY, NOV. 6, 2009
For those who have not caught wind of the slow fizzle that is the dissemination of information, this is the final edition of Straight From the Pen. Monday, I start as Director of Communication for the Round Rock Express - the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros.
It is with heavy heart that I write this final column, reflecting on my time at Baylor and in Waco. Including a brief four-month stint as a graduate assistant in the summer of 1998, I have spent nine years, eight months and three days at Baylor - by far the most time I've spent in any one place in my life to this point.
This stint began the first week of July 2000 when Heath Nielsen brought me on board along with Scott Stricklin. I had known both for years and even had worked with Heath as an intern following my junior year of college. It was Heath that convinced me to return to Baylor, and I've never for a second regretted that decision. Heath has been a mentor, a friend and a top-notch boss the past nine years, and I will miss all of those things.
Anyone who has spent even a morsel of time around me knows that - when it comes to sports - baseball is my passion. Having grown up in small college towns throughout the Deep South, college baseball always has been my first love. It was a tough decision to leave college baseball and an even more difficult decision to leave Baylor's program, of which I have grown very fond.
However, as Baylor head coach Steve Smith said to me yesterday (and as I've learned in my 15 years of work in baseball), this sport is one big fraternity. "Your family is just getting bigger," Smith told me.
Nonetheless, I will deeply miss my association with Baylor Baseball. The past nine years (and especially the last six years working directly with baseball) have afforded me the opportunity to interact with countless fans, program supporters, media members, media relations contacts from other schools, etc. Although I may have at times been a bit stressed or too caught up in the moment to let it show, I have enjoyed all of it and carry with me nothing but the fondest of memories.
That being said, I'd like to reflect on some of those in this column - my final act as a Baylor Athletics employee. So, here are some of my top memories with Baylor Baseball. Some will be explained. Some are self-explanatory to those in the know. Some need no explanation.
10. 2005 College World Series semifinal vs. Texas
Yes, we lost. But that was one of the best games I've ever seen.
9. 2006 Texas series opener
Yes, we lost. But that was one of the best games I've ever seen. This time, 13 innings and nearly five hours worth.
8. 2009 Baton Rouge Regional vs. LSU
Same song, third verse. Again, one of the best games I've ever seen. This time, 10 innings worth.
7. 2008 Mississippi State series
This one was personal. Those who know me know my link to Starkville, Miss., and Mississippi State baseball. Sweeping at Dudy Noble was a highlight.
6. 2007 Big 12 Championship vs. Oklahoma
Watching Kendal Volz carve up the Sooners that night was quite impressive.
5. 2005 Texas A&M series opener
4. 2005 Texas series finale
Everything from Trey Taylor's horns down to Michael Griffin's walk-off double.
3. 2005 Super Regional vs. Clemson
Kevin Sevigny's at bat in the fourth inning against Clemson was a gem. And let's not forget Josh Ford's leadoff bomb that inning that tied the game and seemed to wake up the Bears.
2. 2005 College World Series vs. Tulane
Zach Dillon's fake-bunt-slash-hit-and-run remains the best piece of handy work with a bat I've seen first-hand in my career.
1. 2006 Houston Regional vs. Arizona State
Ryan LaMotta - in the final pitching performance of his career - turned in one of the greatest individual performances I've ever seen. Seriously, the guy stood up to both head coaches in the same game, going toe-to-toe on the mound with ASU skipper Pat Murphy and then waving off Smith in the ninth. LaMotta, who I always will contend deserves as much praise as any pitcher in Baylor baseball history, went out on top. Others played a key role in that win, but LaMotta and his performance made that game the most memorable in my time at Baylor.
OTHER FAVORITE MEMORIES FROM BOTH ON AND OFF THE FIELD
- That awful seventh inning in the Saturday game at Texas Tech in 2004 (OK, that's not one of my favorite memories, but I just cannot get it out of my head).
- Cody Hall and the Brown Paper Bag.
- Mark McCormick's wave to the fans prior to the Saturday game at Nebraska in 2005, followed by a a dominating performance on the mound.
- Staying up late with Dillon, Tim Jackson and other former players talking about the good old days at last May's Big 12 Championship.
- Dillon's series 2006 at Kansas State in which he had eight of the Bears' 22 hits on the weekend. At one point, K-State played a shift on the lefty; he responded with a stand-up double down the left-field line.
- Knowing without binoculars whether that was Abe Woody or LaMotta coming out of the bullpen in 2005 based on one factor: socks up or socks down.
- Paul Witt's defensive play against Nebraska in the eighth inning of the 2008 series opener. Runner at third with one out, Bears up by one and the infield in. Witt, playing second, snagged a missle back up the middle on a diving, back-handed play; he popped to his knees and threw a strike to home to get the runner from third. That play went a long way into Witt earning Big 12 Player of the Week honors.
- Jake Rippee's ho-hum, pinch-hit, walk-off sacrifice fly in the 2006 Texas A&M series finale. It came after Sevigny's wind-aided triple down the line in right.
- A litany of Beamer Weems defensive gems.
- Away from Baylor, Kendal Volz' domination for Team USA in 2008.
- The entire Omaha trip.
- The press box crew. Primarily, Ray, Carroll, John, Adrienne, Ziggy, David, Austin, Sean, The Rules and Ben Booker's broken helmet.
I'm sure there are a ton more memories I'm just not remembering right now. However, my favorite part about my time with Baylor baseball has been the friendships I've made with coaches, players, trainers, directors of operations (all four of you), managers and the lovely Margaret Smith. Many (too many to name) remain very good friends, and some remain some of my closest friends: Rip, Bitterman, Dubber, Dill and Cody. I'll miss you all.
In closing, let me again say how much I will miss being a part of Baylor Athletics, especially being a part of Baylor Baseball. The diploma on my wall says Louisiana Tech, and I'll always be a Bulldog, but I'm a Bear at heart, as well. At least some of my blood runs green and gold, and not a drop of it ever will be maroon.
So long... and Sic 'Em Bears.
Schedule Nearing Completion
2:15 P.M. FRIDAY, OCT. 9, 2009
Baylor still is a few weeks away from releasing its 2010 schedule, but The Pen can go ahead and let you in on a few tidbits.
The Bears will play a lot of home games and a lot of them early. Baylor is at home for all four non-conference weekends, welcoming Duke and Georgia to town opening weekend followed by series against Western Kentucky, Oral Roberts and Illinois-Chicago. As things are now, the Bears open with 19 consecutive home games and do not hit the road until the first weekend of Big 12 play March 19-21 at Oklahoma.
Speaking of conference play, here's the order of series: at Oklahoma (March 19-21), Kansas (March 26-28), at Missouri (April 2-4), at/vs./vs. Texas A&M (April 9-11), at Kansas State (April 16-18), Nebraska (April 23-25), vs./at/at Texas (April 30-May 2), at Texas Tech (May 14-16) and Oklahoma State (May 21-23).
As the schedule sits right now, the Bears play only two non-conference games away from Baylor Ballpark - one at Texas State and one at TCU. But again, the schedule is not finalized and that could change.
Another thing to expect this season is a few more afternoon Saturday games. Not every week, but don't expect to see the Bears play every Saturday conference game at 6:30 p.m. as they've done the past six or seven years.
Fall Ball in Full Swing
9:45 P.M. MONDAY, SEPT. 28, 2009
Fall practice is now in full swing, and fans will have plenty of opportunities to see the team in action this week. The Bears have intrasquads Monday and Tuesday; practice begins at 3 p.m. CDT with the scrimmages starting around 4 p.m. Friday, Baylor hosts its annual Burgers on the Berm event. Festivities begin at 6 p.m. CDT; admission is free, but donations are appreciated and go directly to support the Baylor Diamond Girls.
Sunday, Oct. 4, the Bears travel to Austin, Texas, for a scrimmage against Texas at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. First pitch is tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m.; but as fall scrimmages go, that could push back to 1:30 or so.
We're less than six months away from the beginning of the 2010 season. Baylor will be at home for each of its four non-conference weekends, starting with a three-way round robin Feb. 19-21 against Duke and Georgia. The three other non-conference weekends are against Western Kentucky (Feb. 26-28), Oral Roberts (March 5-7) and Illinois-Chicago (March 12-14). Baylor's first conference series is March 19-21 at Oklahoma. The Bears' full 2010 schedule will be released next month.
Volz Joins Red Sox Nation
7:45 P.M. MONDAY, AUG. 17, 2009
Apparently, The Pen's gut feeling earlier today was spot on. Kendal Volz became the fourth Bear to sign a professional contract this season. Volz spent part of the weekend with Red Sox executives while the club was in Arlington over the weekend. He then flew to Boston and spent more time with the organization today, going through a physical and various strength tests.
Having Volz back for his senior season would have been nice, but The Pen is happy to see him come to terms with the Red Sox and begin his professional career. KV will be missed.
Signing Day Arrives
11:15 A.M. MONDAY, AUG. 17, 2009
Today is the deadline for players selected in June's MLB First-Year Player Draft to sign contracts. Those who do not sign must wait until next year's draft to enter professional baseball unless they go the Independent League route.
Three Baylor players who were drafted remain unsigned at this point (four actually, but we're not counting Adam Hornung who has decided to retire). As of this morning, here's The Pen's take on the three remaining players:
Campbell (Cleveland Indians) will return to the Bears roster for his senior season. It appeared earlier in the summer that Campbell would sign, but he has decided to return for another year. If Campbell can return to the production of his freshman and sophomore seasons (.317, 9 HR, 55 RBI overall; .335, 5, 28 in Big 12 over those two seasons), that could be a huge piece for the Bears. Plus, his return gives some depth to what would have been a rather young infield with his exit.
Look for Fritsch (Detroit Tigers) to return, as well. An eighth-round pick this year, Fritsch has two years of eligibility remaining; given his mid-90s fastball, he could jump several rounds next year. Fritsch has struggled mightily at times in his Baylor career. However, keep this in mind: he was by far the Bears' best arm in the last month of the 2009 season. Fritsch was 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA from April 29 on, notching 22 strikeouts against 10 walks in 20.0 innings over seven apperances (one start). If he pitches like that next spring, he will be a viable Friday-night guy and potential first-rounder.
The book on whether or not Volz (Boston Red Sox) will sign has been anybody's guess most of the summer. He's a ninth-round pick with first-round stuff who has yet to produce first-round numbers at the college level. Still, he was drafted by an organization that easily can throw first- or second-round money at a ninth-round pick. The Pen has wavered back and forth on whether or not Volz will return, but today we're leaning toward no. Here's why: RHP Branden Kline, a sixth-round selection out of Johnson High School in Frederick, Md., is expected to attend the University of Virginia. That frees up money for the Red Sox to throw Volz' way. Of course, with the way things go, anything could change in the blink of an eye.
Stay tuned to BaylorBears.com for signing updates as the day progresses.
Back From the Dead (of Summer)
10:55 A.M. MONDAY, AUG. 3, 2009
The Pen has been conspicuously silent the past few weeks while recharging the battery and attending to non-baseball related matters. And now that summer is beginning to wind down - at least for those of us who work in this field - let's get the ball rolling again.
WELLS RETURNS TO MAJORS
Kip Wells, who was released by the Washington Nationals earlier this season, was recalled to the Major Leagues by the Cincinnati Reds over the weekend. The Reds signed Wells to a minor league contract July 7. He was 1-0 with a 3.07 ERA in five appearances (one start) for Triple-A Louisville of the International League over the past month; he logged 14.2 innings with 16 strikeouts and five walks and held opponents to a .226 average. ... For more on Wells' call-up is available here.
GRIFF ON THE BUMP ... WAIT ... GRIFF ON THE BUMP?
That's right. Former Baylor infielder Michael Griffin has seen time on the mound for Triple-A Louisville recently. A fifth-year pro, Griffin has seen time at third base, second base and the outfield during his professional career; now he's seeing some action on the mound.
Griffin was a highly accomplished pitcher at Cedar Hill [Texas] High School and actually spent his first fall at Baylor as a two-way player. A career .275 hitter, Griffin has struggled at the plate this year (.232, 3, 15 in 80 games between Double-A Carolina and Louisville); his best season to date was 2007 when he hit .310 with 10 homers and 66 RBI between High-A Sarasota and the Reds' then-AA affiliate Chattanooga.
So, how is he doing on the mound? Pretty well thus far. He's made two relief appearances - both 1.0-inning stints - and allowed no runs on one hit and one walk with one hit batsman and four strikeouts. Griffin still sees time in the field and at the plate; he was 0-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored last night; however, he is 2-for-24 over the last 10 games.
Griffin is not the first former Baylor infielder to try his hand at pitching in the minors. Trey Webb, who anchored the Bears infield as shortstop in 2002 and 2003, has prolonged his career by returning to the mound. He is 1-1 with a 1.69 ERA and one save in 33 relief appearances between Class-A teams Augusta and San Jose in the Giants organization this season. Webb was a career .248 batter in six seasons at the plate; his 2008 season began with a 1-for-20 slump, which forced the position change.
12 DAYS AND COUNTING
Major League Baseball's Aug. 15 deadline for drafted players to sign professional contracts is quickly approaching. Thus far, only three of Baylor's seven drafted players have signed: Aaron Miller, Dustin Dickerson and Shaver Hansen. Craig Fritsch, Kendal Volz, Adam Hornung and Raynor Campbell remain unsigned; although, there should be movement with at least one of those guys before the deadline. Odds are, though, it will not be Hornung; he was scheduled to undergo surgery shortly after the end of Baylor's season and was leaning toward retirement from baseball.
The Pen will lay the following prediction on the other three (and this is highly speculative): Fritsch returns, Volz and Campbell sign. Although, Volz returning would not surprise The Pen at all. Each of those three currently is playing in the Cape Cod League, and Volz has been the sharpest; he has made four relief appearances for Brewster, allowing one run on three hits and no walks with seven strikeouts over 5.0 innings.
GEORGIA ON MY MIND... DUKE, TOO
Release of Baylor's 2010 schedule is still a couple months away, but some things already can be discussed. With the NCAA adding a week to the beginning of the season, most teams spent the summer scrambling for opening-weekend opponents. Baylor especially had to scramble as its scheduled weekend two opponent - Wright State - had to back out due to budgetary concerns. That left the Bears trying to fill two weekends at a time when filling one was hard enough.
The issue has been resolved, and Baylor will play at home all four weekends prior to the beginning of Big 12 Conference play the weekend of March 19 at Oklahoma. The Bears will host Georgia and Duke for a three-day, double-round-robin event the first weekend of the season (Feb. 19-21). Expect Georgia to be in a bit of a rebuilding process as the Bulldogs lost five starters and two pitchers from its rotation off a 2009 squad that was 38-24 and ranked No. 1 nationally at one point during the season. ... The three other weekend opponents for Baylor are Western Kentucky, Illinois-Chicago and Oral Roberts.
After opening with Oklahoma, Big 12 play for the Bears continues with Kansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, Kansas State, Nebraska, Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Baylor hosts Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma State and has two of the three against Texas A&M at home. This will be the first season the Bears have played at home in the final weekend of the regular season since sweeping Kansas State in 2007. In fact, that the only other time the Bears have finished the regular season at home since 2002 was in 2005 against Missouri. It also marks the first time Baylor and Oklahoma State have played in the final regular-season series.
The Big 12 also has finalized the 2011 conference schedule. Baylor's order is as follows: Texas Tech, Kansas State, at Kansas, Texas, at Texas A&M, Missouri, at Nebraska, at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma. The Bears will finish the regular season at home in consecutive seasons for the first time in the Big 12 era.
DILLON NAMED VOLUNTEER AT IOWA
Zach Dillon has been named volunteer assistant coach at the University Iowa. He returns to the Hawkeye State, where he prepped at Dowling High School. Dillon recently completely his graduate degree in sport administration at Baylor after a three-year professional career in the Baltimore Orioles organization. The Pen will go out on a limb and say Dillon will be Baylor's head coach somewhere down the line.