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May 25, 2009

(ASU 9, at UA 3)
(UA 3, Oregon 1)
(UA 14, Oregon 5)
(UA 5, Oregon 2)

You win some, and you lose some…and you lose some by a combined score of 63-17.

Yes, the BatCats swept Oregon to close out the year but it was the final loss to ASU that summed up the season. We posted an overall winning record and a respectable 13-14 conference mark, but the Wildcats ended up with a 2-17 record against the RPI top 50. It doesn’t do you any good to play a strong schedule if the schedule is stronger than you.

So when the ASU fans cleverly chanted "NIT" at the baseball game Wednesday night, they spoke the truth. There will be no Diamond Dance for Arizona this year. And since there’s no NIT in baseball, or even a CBI, there’s nothing left to do but hang up the cleats until fall ball.

If you’re looking for positives from the year you can start with this: Arizona is the best hitting team in the Pac-10. The Cats are first in team batting average, doubles, triples and total bases, and second in slugging percentage and runs. We’re rebuilding but we’re doing it with good young hitters, and the right kind of hitters.

At first glance it looks like we need more home run power, but I disagree. Yeah, it would be nice to have a big masher in the middle of the order, but in our big ballpark if you try and live off the long ball you just end up with a bunch of fly outs. The perfect lineup for Kindall Field is one full of guys who can get on base and drive each other in with line drives in the gaps. Instead of three-run homers we want to be playing for two-run triples followed by a sac fly.

The good news is we could be just a couple years away from that perfect lineup.

I suppose the most perfect lineup would be nine Dillon Bairds. When you post the highest batting average your school has seen in 30 years you’ve had a mighty fine year. Debo also finished four games short of the longest single season hitting streak in UA history, but only because his team ran out of games.

Dwight Childs deserves special mention, not because his 2009 numbers are incredibly good, but because his 2008 numbers were incredibly bad. Dwight’s .331 average isn’t earth-shattering in college ball but when you remember he hit .193 last year you have to be impressed. Childs played in 13 fewer games this year and doubled his hit total. He had more extra base hits than his first two seasons combined. Dwight is the permanent poster boy for having patience as a guy continues to work hard. He’s made himself into a draft-worthy prospect and you have to feel happy for him.

Considering we finished with a losing conference record there has to be a flip side to the good news, and that flip side was on the mound. Arizona posted the second worst team ERA in the Pac-10, even worse than Oregon’s “expansion team.” This is when you have to remind yourself of all the pitchers Andy Lopez has put in the pros and let him do his work with the current crop of arms.

So off to next year we go. A quick look at the roster shows a future worth waiting for. Here’s a breakdown of this year’s regulars:

Pitchers: Guilmet, Burns
Hitters: Glenn, Pace

Pitchers: Stoffel, Workman, Allison
Hitters: Baird, Childs, Valenzuela, Weldon, Butler

Pitchers: Veltmann
Hitters: Coyle, Ortega

Pitchers: Simon, Bandilla, Roach
Hitters: Bandy, Selsky, Stiner, Cooper, Harshman

The key is how Simon, Roach, Bandilla and Veltmann develop, and if Workman and Allison come back. Is there an ace in that hand? Can we get three quality starters out of the group?

Remember, Preston Guilmet went from a 4.80 ERA as a freshman to the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year as a sophomore. Granted, in this case we need guys to go from 6+ ERAs to all-stars, but dramatic improvements are possible.

On offense, who will be the next superstar? It might just be a matter of sticking someone at first base. From Bill Rhinehart to C.J. Ziegler to Dillon Baird we’ve had three straight years of MVP play from the guy on first.

2010 has all the makings of our “year away” team. It will still be young but it will be dangerous. Can we get hot at the right time and make a 2004-like run, or do we have to wait till ’11 for our next peak?

Meet me at the ballpark next spring and we’ll find out together.


And…that’s it. I’ll write a “Yee-ha!” or a “Woe is us!” column when Nic Wise makes his decision, but other than that it’s time to step back from the keyboard and recharge until football season. Cheer for the softball team at the Women’s College World Series, see where Jordan and Chase get drafted, and never ever forget to Bear Down.

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