Sunday, May 26, 2013

No-Fear Titans Sweep Through the Valley

Titans at CSUN: Won 5-2 (Thursday), Won 6-4 (Friday),  Won 9-6 (Saturday)

By Don Hudson

(Author’s preface: my apologies for not getting an article posted following the epic series against UC Irvine.  My damned job gets in the way every so often – I was tied up all week on a business trip to Denver.)

The Cal State Fullerton Titans finished the regular season with a road series sweep of the Cal State University Northridge (CSUN) Matadors and advanced to the NCAA playoffs on a seven-game winning streak and clicking on all cylinders.

Look for more coverage and insight in the coming days at this website as the brackets are announced and the analysis begins.  FullertonBaseballFan is the best I’ve ever read at analyzing upcoming college baseball series, so I can’t wait to read what he has to say this week.

Game 1: Titans 5, CSUN Matadors 2

With the Big West Conference (BWC) title clinched last weekend by virtue of the Titans’ sweep of UCI and Cal Poly’s sweep of CSUN, the Titans set about this series to solidify their hold of a national seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament bracket.

But they also wanted to benchmark improvement from last season when they suffered an April Fool’s Day home loss to the Matadors and their “hefty lefty” freshman, Jerry Keel.  The Matadors won that game, 5-1, with Keel pitching a complete game, allowing nine hits and throwing 133 pitches.  It was an ugly loss in an ugly season – one run on nine hits and two walks and players yanked from the game for missing signs or not lining up cutoff throws.

This is a different season.  Very different.

Richy Pedroza served notice quickly as he drove the second pitch of the game back through the middle for a leadoff single.  Pedroza went to second on a sacrifice by Carlos Lopez and scored on a two-out single by Michael Lorenzen, following a walk to Matt Chapman.  Lorenzen went to second when Chapman just barely beat the throw to third, but Keel escaped further damage by inducing a flyball from Chad Wallach.

Keel was matched with Koby Gauna for the Titans, getting a “spot start” with the series starting on Thursday and the coaching staff lining up the pitching in anticipation of hosting Regionals next weekend.

Gauna splendid in start
Gauna pitched a scoreless first inning, but was touched up for two runs in the bottom of the second as the Titans played sloppy defense against the Matadors’ “small ball” offense.  Alexis Mercado led off with an infield single and stole second when Wallach’s throw was far wide of the base and sailed into centerfield for what could have been his first error of the season, but plate umpire Dave Gimbi ruled interference on batter Kyle Attl: Mercado returned to first and Attl was out, which helped this inning from being far more damaging. It was a pretty obvious call, but still one you don’t see often.

Chester Pak doubled down the leftfield line to put runners on second and third with one out.  Ryan Raslowsky dropped down a suicide squeeze bunt which scored Mercado with the tying run.  But there was confusion with the coverage at first-base, with first-baseman Lopez charging and second-baseman playing back and getting a late jump to take the throw from third-baseman Chapman – Raslowsky beat it out and Pak scored from second when Chapman’s throw went beyond the uncovered base.  The Matadors led, 2-1, but Gauna retired the next two hitters to minimize the damage of three hits, a walk and an error, aided by the batter interference.

But the Titans immediately responded with the “counter-punching” that has become the team’s trademark this season.  The pesty Pedroza battled with Keel for seven pitches and singled on a 1-2 count.  After Pedroza moved to second on a passed ball, Lopez attempted to bunt the tying run to third but ended up beating it out for a single that placed runners at the corners with nobody out.  Chapman tied the game with a sacrifice fly.

The next batter suddenly untied the game: J.D. Davis gave the Titans a 4-2 lead with a towering home run to centerfield.  There was a brisk wind blowing in that knocked down balls hit towards right and centerfields, so it was a pretty good shot.  When Lorenzen lined a double to leftfield after the Davis home run, Keel’s day was done.  In 2-1/3 innings, Keel allowed four runs (all earned) on six hits and a walk, registering zero strikeouts.  He has emerged as a top-flight Division I pitcher, so the early knockout is indicative of the improvement in the Titans from one season to the next.

The Titans added their fifth and final run in the fourth inning on singles by Austin Diemer and Pedroza, followed by an RBI groundout by Lopez.

Meanwhile, Gauna was pounding the strike zone and dominating the CSUN line-up.  After his second inning perils, Gauna did not allow another base-runner until a one-single in the bottom of the seventh by Pak.  He retired fourteen consecutive batters before allowing the hit.  But the runner was quickly erased on a 5-4-3 inning-ending double-play: the ball was hit so hard to Chapman that he knocked it down and still had time to recover and send it around the horn, courtesy a pivot by second-baseman Matt Orloff.

Willie Kuhl came out of the Fullerton bullpen and quickly faced the potential tying run with no outs after allowing a leadoff walk to pinch-hitter Anthony Lombardo and a single to Michael Livingston, but he retired the next three hitters in order.  His breaking pitches were moving sharply.

The Titans eschewed the use of Lorenzen in a potential save situation and instead gave the ball to Davis, who efficiently retired the side on just nine pitches, including a strikeout.

Pedroza led with three of the Titans’ nine hits, supported by Lopez and Lorenzen with two each.  Gauna was the winning pitcher, allowing just two runs on five hits and one walk in seven innings of working, including three strikeouts. Davis was the “two way” star, hitting the game-deciding home run and notching his third save of the season.

Game 2: Titans 6, CSUN Matadors 4

The Titans overcame a 2-0 deficit, took a 4-2 lead which was dissipated into a 4-4 tie before Matt Chapman’s late home run gave them the winning margin.  By clinching the series win, the Titans completed the 2013 series winning every weekend series – unbelievable!

The pitching matched Titans freshman phenom Justin Garza (11-0) with the Matadors’ Calvin Copping, with a plan to limit both Garza and Thomas Eshelman to limited duty as a final weekend “tune up” in preparation for the playoffs.  As it played out, Eshelman and Garza ended up the regular season with 11 wins each and identical 99-2/3 innings of work.

Garza surrendered a solo tally in the bottom of the first on a leadoff single by Livingston, a walk to Nate Ring and a two-out RBI single by Mercado.  The Matadors scored again in the third inning on singles by Ring and Cal Vogelsang and a balk.

Copping tamed the Titans the first three innings, allowing just a two-out double by Chapman in the first inning.  But the Titans had better success the second time through the line-up.

Lopez led off with a bouncing double along the rightfield line.  Chapman then ‘push bunted’ between the mound and first-base and he beat it out by a whisker to give the Titans runners at the corners with no outs.  Davis walked on eight pitches to lead the bases for Lorenzen.

Lorenzen was hit by a pitch to cut the deficit in half, and Anthony Hutting hit a sacrifice fly to tie the score, 2-2.  Wallach ripped a single into rightfield to make it 3-2, followed by an RBI dribbler in front of the plate by Jefferies.

Eshelman entered in the bottom of the fourth, staked to a 4-2 lead.  The Titans got a little sloppy, allowing a run on a double by Pak, a passed ball and sacrifice fly by designated hitter Miles Williams.  Nicolas Osuna kept the inning alive with an infield too-hot-to-handle single and stole second when nobody covered the bag on a delayed steal play.

The sloppiness continued in the fifth inning.  Vogelsang singled with one out and went to second on a wild pitch.  Josh Goossen-Brown singled to rightfield, and third base coach Sergio Brown waved Vogelsang home to attempt to score the tying run.  Austin Kingsolver charged the ball aggressively and seemed likely to throw the runner out at home by a mile – except the ball stayed down and went past him to the fence for an error that allowed Goossen-Brown to reach third with just one out and the score tied, 4-4.

The infield was playing back, but when Chapman made a great stop on a rocket hit down the line by Mercado, he had time to throw home for a play on Goossen-Brown, who slid late and with spikes high.  Wallach applied the tag and his body language suggested some irritation for getting spiked, but plate umpire Allen Williams quickly got between the catcher and the runner and cool heads prevailed.  Eshelman worked out of jeopardy by striking out Attl after he had fouled off six pitches.

Chapman delivers
Copping went six solid innings and gave way in the seventh to D.J. Milam, who swapped zeros with Eshelman in the inning.

Pedroza battled Milam and led off the eighth inning with a single after fouling off three straight 3-2 pitches.  Lopez squared around to represent bunting the potential go-ahead run into scoring position, but then swung away on a ‘slash’ play.  He scorched the ball, but, unfortunately, it was a short-hopper right to the shortstop heading to cover second-base, who easily converted it into a double-play.

But nothing dispirits the Titans these days.  Their possible big rally thwarted, Chapman took matters into his own hands by crushing a home run deep to leftfield to give the Titans a 5-4 lead.

Kuhl came in to pitch the bottom of the eighth and his breaking stuff was filthy.  Absolutely filthy.  Attl struck out looking, Pak went down swinging, as did Williams.

Seeking an insurance run, Lorenzen led off the ninth with a single, went to second on a sacrifice by Hutting and to third on a single by Wallach, who was replaced by pinch-runner Diemer.  The Titans tried to steal a run when Diemer took off and was caught between first and second, but Lorenzen was held on third by Chad Baum as Diemer used his speed to escape jeopardy and get back to first.  (I think the Matadors learned how to play pickle from Oral Roberts.)

Davis: 2 saves in 2 days
Matt Orloff delivered a sacrifice fly to centerfield, with Lorenzen making a great slide to score the insurance run that gave the Titans a 6-4 lead, which held up when Davis pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to earn his fourth save of the season and his second in two days.

Chapman led the way offensively with a single, double and game-winning home run.  Lorenzen and Wallach added two hits each.  Eshelman was the winning pitcher, improving his record to 11-2.

There was an interesting circumstance in this game, with a predetermined plan in effect that Garza would start the game but pitch fewer than five innings, with Eshelman coming out of the bullpen to get some work, both on a low pitch count.  Garza entered with eleven wins, tied with Tyler Pill’s record for wins by a freshman Titans pitcher – I felt badly when he turned over a 2-0 lead to the bullpen in the Irvine series, only to see the game tied with the Anteaters’ two-out ninth inning rally.  By starting in this situation, were the rules conspiring to prevent possibility of Garza being unable to be credited with a win by virtue of the requirement for a starting pitcher to pitch at least five innings and leave the game as the pitcher of record with his team with a lead that is not subsequently relinquished?

In a word: no.  Here are the NCAA baseball rules.

In particular, look at Rule 25.b.(3) on page 128: it covers the circumstance of determining the winning pitcher in the event the starting pitcher works fewer than five full innings.  It says, “By pre-arrangement, if three or more pitchers are to be used, the pitcher of record shall be the winning pitcher.”  This is what is referred to as a “designated staff day.”

Had Garza left with the lead and the game was never subsequently tied nor the Titans fall behind, he was eligible for the win.  The only exception would have been had he, as the pitcher of record, had pitched “briefly and ineffectively” in the judgment of the official scorer.

Garza was still the pitcher of record when the Titans scored their four runs in the top of the fourth and he left as the pitcher of record with a 4-2 lead – even though the Titans actually trailed 2-0 when he finished his work for the day after the bottom of the third.  But because the Matadors subsequently tied the score, he became ineligible to be the pitcher of record.

Game 3: Titans 9, CSUN Matadors 6

The series finale on Saturday matched Grahamm Wiest with the Matadors’ lefty John Salas.

After two scoreless innings, it looked like the Titans would turn this into an easy sweep when they took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth.  Fullerton scored the first run in the third on three straight singles by Lopez, Chapman and Davis (RBI).  They pushed the lead to 3-0 in the fourth on a single by Diemer, a two-out RBI double by Lopez and an RBI single by Chapman, chasing Salas from the bump.  Chapman was called out at the plate trying to score on a single by Davis, although my handy-dandy lens seemed to show him safe.

Be sure to "Vote 4 Carlos"
The Titans added two runs in the top of the fifth on just one hit (an RBI double by Diemer), aided by a walk, an error and stolen bases by Lorenzen and Greg Velazquez.

With a 5-0 lead and Wiest coasting – and lots of hydration on this hot sunny day – I thought it was a safe time to visit the rest room, which is in nearby Pacoima.  I made it back in just three batters – which is my all-time best personal record – but the crowd noise gave me a hint that I wouldn’t be happy when I looked up at the scoreboard: it was now 5-3, with first-pitch singles by Pak and Attl before a first-pitch home run by Williams, who had gone deep last year at Goodwin Field against Wiest.  Three pitches, three runs.

(Note to self: no more drinking water during games….and break out the Depends.)  Singles by Livingston, Vogelsang and Goossen-Brown cut the Titans’ lead to 5-4 and brought lefty Tyler Peitzmeier out of the bullpen.  He struck out Mercado with two runners on base to end the threat.

But Peitzmeier got into his own jam in the bottom of the sixth.  He retired the first two batters routinely before allowing a single to Williams.  Osuna then hit a ball back through the box that Peitzy deflected and had plenty of time to pick it up and throw him out, but he couldn’t find the ball in time and it went for an infield hit.

Then came a controversial play.  Livingston pulled a ball sharply over the third-base bag, looking like a certain bases-clearing double – until it was intercepted by Chapman on a great diving backhand play, and he stepped on the base well ahead of the runner.  But as the Titans left the field high-fiving Chapman, CSUN Coach Curtis was pleading with Blue for a catcher’s interference call – which he actually got.  I was standing a few feet away from the dugout when Curtis came back from his confab with umpire Rob Hansen, with a big shit-eating smirk on his face.  It was one of those “nothing to lose” arguments that you never expect to get away with – but every once in a while you put one over on Blue: Livingston was awarded first base on catcher’s interference and the bases were loaded when play resumed.

The deception paid off as Ring delivered a two-run single that deflected away from shortstop Pedroza – the Matadors took a 6-5 lead, but committed a base-running blunder by having the final out notched when the runner from first was easily retired trying to go to third.  Both runs off Peitzmeier were unearned.

The counter-punching Titans tied the score (6-6) in their next at-bats on a single by Jared Deacon and an RBI double by Diemer, who was thrown out attempting to stretch it into a triple – one of three Titans runners thrown out on the bases this game.

After Jose Cardona pitched a scoreless seventh inning, the Titans put him in position to record a win when they scored the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth.  Chapman led off getting plunked and went to second on a wild pitch.  With one out and first base open, with Velazquez due up, CSUN opted to intentionally walk Lorenzen – hardly a decision you could fault.  But pinch-hitter Clay Williamson ruined the strategy by lining the first pitch thrown to him by reliever Goossen-Brown into centerfield for an RBI single that gave the Titans a slim 7-6 lead.

For the third consecutive day, Kuhl was summoned to pitch the bottom of the eighth and he continued to baffle the Matadors, easily setting them down in order.

The Titans picked up two insurance runs in the ninth.  Deacon led off with his second single of the day and advanced on a sacrifice by Diemer and a groundout by Keegan Dale.  With two outs and Lopez up, Coach Curtis opted to intentionally walk Lopez to pitch to the red-hot Chapman.  I understand the whole lefty-righty thing, but this seemed like a mistake from the moment the catcher came out of his crouch with his glove hand extended outward to call for the walk.  Chapman whacked the second pitch he saw into centerfield for an insurance RBI single; Davis followed suit with an RBI single up the middle that gave the Titans a 9-6 lead.

After two days using Davis as the closer, Lorenzen was brought in to nail it down and to get a little mound work before the playoffs.  As has been the case recently, Michael made it interesting, allowing a single, a walk and a wild pitch, but he ended the game with a ten-pitch strikeout of Mercado, who was representing the tying run at the plate.

The 2-3-4 hitters for the Titans went a combined 10-for-15, led by Davis with four hits and three each by Lopez and Chapman.  The Titans 17-hit attack also included three hits by the catchers: one by A.J. Kennedy and two by Deacon.  But of the seventeen hits, perhaps none was bigger than the RBI pinch-single by Williamson that gave the Titans the lead which they never relinquished.


So what did we learn this weekend in the San Fernando Valley, cradle of pornography, albeit one whose commerce has been decimated by the passage in 2012 of Measure B requiring use of condoms during production of adult films?

It was a solid weekend series for the Titans, with the BWC championship already wrapped up and a national seed a virtual certainty.  The CSUN series outcome implications were minimal – perhaps a matter of “how high” they would be seeded nationally, not “if” they would be seeded.  After the tense and highly dramatic riveting series against UC Irvine, the Northridge series felt more like those games last fall against UNLV and UC Santa Barbara – you are definitely playing to win and to make a favorable impression on the coaches, but without a high level of intensity and pressure.  It was actually kind of fun to have a relaxing weekend sandwiched between the UCI series and the Regionals.

I like the balance of the offense: many teams we play have a string of two to four quality hitters in a row, but the Titans have found offense from top to bottom of the batting order.  In the CSUN series, six Titans with 8+ at-bats hit better than .350, led by Lopez (.545, 6-for-11, 5 runs, 2 RBI and 2 doubles); Chapman (.500, 6-for-12, 4 RBI, double and tie-breaking home run in second game); Diemer (.500, 4-for-8, 2 doubles and 2 RBI); Lorenzen (.444, 4-for-9, 3 runs, 2 RBI, double, 3 walks and a save); Davis (.412, 5-for-12, 4 RBI, home run and two saves); and Pedroza (.364, 4-for-11).  Back-up catchers Deacon (2-for-2) and Kennedy (1-for-2) contributed when Wallach was given some much-deserved rest in the series finale.  Williamson contributed off the bench with a clutch RBI pinch-hit in the final game after Lorenzen was intentionally walked.  Orloff made a couple “true Titan” contributions that might get overlooked in the box score: took a dose (hit-by-pitch) in the opener and drove in a key insurance run with a sacrifice fly in the second game.

There were also some outstanding pitching performances, led by Gauna in the series opener.  Kuhl worked in all three games, and after allowing the first two hitters he faced in the opener to reach base (walk and single on 0-2 pitch), he was downright filthy.  It was fun to sit behind the plate and watch how much his ball was breaking: every Matador hitter knew it was coming but they couldn’t do anything with it.

Davis also was excellent in back-to-back games, allowing Hooky to close out close wins without over-taxing closer Lorenzen, who got the save in the finale.  It was Michael’s 34th career save, tying him for the Titans’ record with Chad Cordero and Nick Ramirez.  Let’s hope Lorenzen breaks that record in the playoffs.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how the pitching roles emerge in the Regionals and (hopefully) beyond.

The batting order and positions are locked in with respect to roles:  The first five in the batting order will be Pedroza (SS), Lopez (1B), Chapman (3B), Davis (DH) and Lorenzen (CF) regardless whether the pitcher throws right-handed, left-handed or underhanded like Eddie Feigner.

The sixth through ninth spots will depend on the opposing pitcher.  Hutting and Diemer platoon in leftfield and Kingsolver and Velazquez platoon in rightfield, purely dependent on whether the opposing starting pitcher is right-handed or left-handed.  Diemer and Kingsolver will always be in games with leads in the late innings for defensive purposes.

Wallach starts against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers (e.g. not a pure platoon), but the coaches have confidence in Deacon both offensively and defensively.  Wallach is likely to start every playoff game unless the Titans fall into the losers’ bracket and are forced to play twice in a day, and will also be subject to replacement by a pinch-runner late in a close game.

Jefferies has earned the starting role against all pitchers, with Orloff entering for defense when the Titans hold a late-inning lead.  The plays Orloff made in the Friday and Saturday games against UC Irvine were spectacular and perhaps were the difference between victory and defeat.

But the pitching roles are still evolving, which is a natural phenomenon in baseball – you’re only as good as your last appearance.  In short playoff series, everybody is on a shorter leash and you tend to go with the pitchers who have been hottest recently.  Roles change.

One of the biggest decisions coaches make in playoff series is whether to start with your “Friday Guy” in the opening game of the Regionals.  When you are the #1 team in the Regional - especially if you are a national seed and draw an inferior who qualified as champion of a weak conference - you often have the luxury of starting a pitcher who isn’t your usual Friday Guy.

Who can ever forget how Brian Wilson – primarily a designated-hitter after transferring to Fullerton from Loyola Marymount – made his first career start with the Titans in the opening game of the 2008 Regionals?  He pitched a complete game shutout, struck a career-high eight batters – and he also hit a home run – as the Titans shut out Rider, 11-0.  When the Titans’ depleted staff needed a starter for the Monday night championship game after fighting back from the losers’ bracket after losing their second game to UCLA, Wilson came back on two days rest and made his second career start.  He gallantly battled through four innings and got the “staff day” win in the Titans’ epic 5-4 win against the Bruins.

Wilson brought back memories of Scott Sarver, whose ascent from bullpen obscurity to starting and winning pitcher in elimination games in the Regionals and College World Series made him a hero in the 2004 championship season.

While there was no great significance to the Northridge series on a team basis, the individual success of Gauna as a starter and Kuhl and Davis pitching back-to-back at the end of the bullpen may become pivotal in the playoffs.  The only bullpen roles that have been virtually the same pole-to-pole is that of Lorenzen as closer and Peitzmeier anywhere from the sixth to eighth innings – he is usually brought in with runners on base and has an uncanny knack for stranding runners.  He has developed far beyond a role as specialist to retire one or two left-handed hitters.

Gauna had a great stretch of dominance as an eighth-inning set-up man earlier in the season, but he is versatile and can start, as well as pitch long and short relief.  He and Davis are similar in that respect.

The eighth inning role has been unsettled down the stretch, reaching a peak when Lorenzen was brought in for a five-out save with a 5-2 lead in the eighth inning against Irvine.  I was surprised the ball didn’t go to Gauna or Davis in that situation.  Lorenzen came in from centerfield throwing 97-98 miles per hour and was brilliant that night, but his velocity was down the next night and he got hit by the generally mediocre bottom of the Anteaters’ batting order.

Similarly, I was surprised Wiest went out to pitch the eighth inning against Irvine, allowing two runs when the bullpen was armed and rested.  The dramatic walk-off home runs by Lopez made us forget all of that, but it might have turned out differently and we could be fretting instead of crowing.  Wiest had pitched well through seven innings in the UCI game, but he has an ERA of 8.59 in his last three starts and has been vulnerable to crooked numbers (six-run first inning against Riverside and four-run fifth inning against Northridge.)

Congratulations to four Titans who earned their degrees and graduated this semester:  David Birosak, Michael Lopez, Austin Kingsolver and Anthony Hutting.  (They join Carlos Lopez and Matt Orloff, who had previously completed their undergraduate programs and graduated.)  I am always impressed when a student-athlete performs exceptionally in both capacities: earning a four-year degree requires tremendous effort and time investment, as does playing for a Division I baseball program.

Hutting's 3-run homer vs. UCLA on Senior Day
(Photo courtesy of Alex Calish)
Kudos to Coach Vanderhook for starting all six senior position players and keeping them in the entire game against UCLA on Senior Day; he also started a senior (Michael Lopez) and brought in senior David Birosak in the second inning, and he was the game’s winning pitcher, fueled by a three-run blast by senior Anthony Hutting.  At the time, the game had major impact as the team’s final “RPI booster” heading down the stretch, and it says a great deal about values that the coaching staff did not use the seniors in cameo roles.  It had to be tempting to bring regular hitters like Davis off the bench in one or two critical spots, but Hooky stuck with his seniors and they delivered a crucial victory.

It was nice to see Sergio Brown and I’m glad he is back in the Big West coaching community.  You can see the imprint he has made in his first season with the Matadors: improved defense, winning record (fourth place – first time in top half of BWC standings since they won it in 2002) and execution of ‘small ball’ right out of the Titans book of yore (sacrifice bunts, delayed steals and squeeze bunts).  While Sergio has made a big impact already, look for even more down the road when his renowned prowess as a recruiter begins to bear fruit for the Matadors.

Sergio Brown (right)
I am happy for the improvement in the CSUN program and believe it will continue to get stronger under Coach Matt Curtis.  National respect for Cal State Fullerton is impacted by the company we keep; e.g. the perception of the Big West Conference.  It’s in Fullerton’s interest to have strong programs up-and-down the conference: not only on the field, but in their coaching staffs, administration, media/marketing and facilities.  It’s hard for the Big West Conference to wear ‘big boy pants’ when it has facilities like Northridge and Davis.

The field itself at Northridge isn’t so bad – nothing like what we see at Riverside.  But is has no lights and the rest room facilities are a block-and-a-half off campus. They pepper-spray small children who don’t immediately return foul balls to the rightful owners. A pop-up tent concession stand – they ran out of bottled water and hot dogs by the second inning on Saturday.  It was a beautiful holiday weekend Saturday and you’re playing an opponent whose fans travel well – don’t you think it would have made sense to buy more than a dozen weenies?

The “cozy” tin-can seating section behind home plate is a vast improvement made over the last decade – but still not ideal to have the two partisan groups co-mingled in such close proximity. It’s easier to reach consensus on taxes and gun control laws than whether Blue is “calling it both ways” or whether he is squeezing or stretching the strike zone.  You could just see how irritated the Northridge folks were getting – put yourself in the shoes of the Matador parents who are blissfully watching their son pitch in his home stadium and you find yourself surrounded just a few feet away by a boisterous chorus screaming “Leave him in!” and “Take him out!” when the pitching coach comes out for a chat.

Dumpster Diver
But perhaps the most fascinating ‘local color’ feature of Matador Field is the local women who sneak in once they shut down the ticket booth mid-game and vigilantly monitor the trash cans for refundable beverage containers.  It is highly competitive – each of the three trash cans in the walkway behind the screen is the ‘turf’ of an innocuous little old lady who scoops plastic bottles and aluminum cans out of the trash as soon as they are discarded.  The question begs to be asked – why doesn’t the university pepper-spray the old women, collect the recycling money themselves and use it to buy lights and build a bathroom on campus?

Note the final regular season WTF (Wild Thing Factor) records for the pitching staff – the pitching has been amazing and will hopefully provide recognition for Coach Jason Dietrich in the national “Assistant Coach of the Year” polling.  WTF is the ratio of walks, hit-batsmen and wild pitches allowed per nine innings.  I find it very revealing that this statistic, which has no basis in pitchers’ results when the ball is put into play by the batter or by strikeouts , is a remarkable indicator of pitching effectiveness.  Eshelman’s WTF of 0.72 is sick – WTF!

Small data sizes are not statistically reliable.  The largest sample size is the most reliable; e.g. the Titans’ and their opponents’ team totals.  Do you think the 48-8 record has been aided by the 243-83 advantage the Titans have in walks received versus walks allowed?  It says a lot about the control of our pitchers as well as the patience of the hitters.

If I may end the regular season on a personal note, I want to express my gratitude for your readership and the many kind words you have expressed.  It amazes me how far and wide our readership is – from people who attend nearly every game to others that live somewhere else and can’t attend in person but love to ‘keep up’ on the team or perhaps a friend or relative on the team.  I love it when a person I’ve never met before comes up to me and says, “You like Stockton better than Hawai’i?  Me too!”

It struck me recently when somebody came up to me after a recent series and said, “I was here for all three games – I can’t wait to read what you have to say!”  It struck me that people are actually interested in my perspective – I’m just another dumbass fan with an opinion, a keyboard and a camera that shoots Auto-Focus.

This has obviously been a very special season so far in the Titan Nation – and we hope the magic continues deep into June.  I love taking the photos down on the field on Mothers Day, but it would be an even bigger event if we are all still together on Fathers Day – that can only happen if we make it to Omaha.

Speaking of mothers and fathers, I want to thank the parents, siblings and extended families of the Titans’ players for their kind friendship throughout the years.  I make it a practice of not referring to them individually by name in my articles (lest anybody think their kid was written about preferentially), but they are some of the finest people I have ever met and I deeply appreciate their friendship.  There is something very special about parents who hug all the kids after the game, not just their son; who make out-of-town trips with small likelihood of their kid getting even one at-bat; who become best friends even though their sons are competing for playing time at the same position; who stand up to a fan that makes derisive personal comments about a player other than their own son; who root their ass off for every Titans  pitcher or hitter, not just the one they raised.

We even have “summer ball” parents that have traveled to remote locations to watch their “summer sons” play for the Titans and have become hardcore fans of the program.  Meeting and getting to know people like this is a life-enriching experience that I cherish.

It is hard to write about a game that one loves and respects when it is played by people that you are very close to, walking the fine line between accuracy and insight while being an unabashed fan and friend of those players and their families.

It would be fun to cover a professional sports team and dish out opprobrium like T.J. Simers does in the Los Angeles Times – but that is not what this forum is about.  I think Titans’ fans and families care much more about this team than they ever could about a professional team.  That movie line has stayed with me: “You always loved the Red Sox….but did they ever love you back?”

Thank you for allowing me to be part of your enjoyment and consumption of Titans baseball.


Anonymous said...

Good article, though I found myself quite disappointed in your lack of compassion for those bottle collecting ladies. Really, pepper spray them? Perhaps a joke, but a dirty one.

Anonymous said...

"I am happy for the improvement in the CSUN program and believe it will continue to get stronger under Coach Matt Curtis." ARE YOU KIDDING??? Spend some time in the locker room listening to the screaming Curtis and his name calling, sticking it to his players by making sure he bad mouths them to the scouts that are interested!! HIs way of keeping the best players back to try and protect his job for the next season! He is a loser coach, 3seasons - losing record!! Player abuse cannot be tolerated and this coach should not be given any more chances to belittle, abuse, disrespect and destroy future careers of talented players!!

Anonymous said...

5/28/2013 - FLASH - Matt Curtis Contract Not Renewed; Search To Begin For New CSUN Head Baseball Coach

Anonymous said...

Not the only Coach in D1 to treat his players like this, it's a shame. Many of these guys screw kids lives up for their job protection. I would write a book but my kid is still playing in D1. Till his career, which has been a good ride(so no bitterness), can I come out with the details. These jackoffs should all be exposed for their mistreatment off these young men.

Editor said...

It seems like what you're saying has some merit, otherwise it'd be senseless for CSUN to fire Curtis. If you have more information to share, please contact us, and we can preserve your anonymity.